Some trips are a relaxing meander through town and country, taking in the sights at a slow pace, mindfulness in motion. There are others where we combine this with other components to really let you get to grips with what a country or region has to offer. While on this trip, there are portions of peace, they are sandwiched in between experiences of pure, eye-opening, jaw-dropping joy. The length of the trip title is a giveaway on how much wonder you are going to experience on this trip, so welcome to the Nakasendo Trail, Tokyo, Kyoto, Mount Koya and Nara.
In a Nutshell:
Where: Japan. This is basically a focused tour of some of the very best of the central part of Japan and I can completely promise you that it will be a trip you will never forget. The trip starts off in Tokyo, then by Shinkansen (bullet train) you move from the frenetic, 24/7 nature of Tokyo to the completely silent (a real shock for the senses) Nakasendo trail. Here you walk part of the old road between Tokyo and Kyoto, before getting on the impeccable rail system once again to head to Nara. Nara is a city of ancient Japanese wonder, and you have time here before heading up Mt Koya, for a night of solitude in a Buddhist monastery. Then the last stop takes you down to Kyoto, the ancient capital and often touted as the most beautiful city in Japan. Here you wile away your last few days of a packed and unforgettable trip.
Distance: The actual walking distance of this trip is about 36km, but this is just taking the Nakasendo into account. Due to the number of things to see and do in Tokyo and Kyoto in particular, you will definitely rack up a good 6-10km per day looking at things and navigating massive railway stations.
Grade: This trip is graded Moderate. The walking on the Nakasendo trail is short, but there are some prolonged climbs. However, my 7-year-old daughter did it, so it is not that difficult! The paths are great, the navigation is simple with a combo of great route notes, GPS, and maps. It can get a little slippery when wet, but there is no real reason why everyone can’t go out and walk this route.
Why Walk Here?
Honestly, I could write a separate blog post for each day of this trip, so trying to keep it concise is going to be the problem. The highlights of the trip are basically in the title, but the hidden highlights are the million tiny details that you spot, the generosity and genuine friendliness of the Japanese people, the way the trains work, sleeping on the floor with only the sound of the river rushing by. This trip is outstanding.
First up is Tokyo. Too big and crazy to fit into a couple of days on this trip, but an excellent taster, and our route notes will give you some great ideas of where to go and what to see. Tokyo never stops, but it is a contrasting city. While you can lose yourself in neverending rivers of people, chirping adverts, and retro-future electronic billboards, you can also find great peace. It is a greener city than you might imagine, with parks and tree-lined avenues throughout. In many of these parks, there is a Buddhist temple, a complete sanctuary of peace dropped right in the heart of the hustle and bustle. Oh, and the food, and the shopping and the people watching and the trains…….Tokyo is genuinely outstanding.
The Nakasendo Trail. This is ancient Japan come to life. The walk itself is stunning, twisting amber paths through deep forest, with the clearest rivers you will ever see to accompany you. The towns you stay at are deeply beautiful, full of people bursting with pride in where they live, all trying to recreate the beauty of the historical version of the town, but flecked with modernity. The accommodations and the Onsen lifestyle is unforgettable and the food……..Rarely have I eaten so well. A couple of the Kaiseki set meals you are served are Michelin star standard, absolutely incredible in every way. And it just keeps coming. When you think you are finished, someone appears with yet another stunning little dish.
Nara is packed with history. Its crowning glory is the gargantuan 8th Century Daibutsu (Great Buddha) statue, but there are another 7 UNESCO world heritage sites to be getting on with too. The whole layout of the city is beautiful and the majority of the sites and museums are centered around
Nara-kōen, is a large park, full of tame (ish) deer.
Mount Koya shows you a different side of Japanese life. While you will have flitted with temples everywhere you have been, traveling to Mount Koya will immerse you in the peace of this sacred site. Mt Koya is a truly special place in Japan. Home to the highly regarded Priest Kukai, it is the center of Esoteric Buddhism and you will stay in a Monastery here, eat with the monks, and if it so moves you, pray with the monks too. An experience never to forget.
And lastly, but by no means least, there is Kyoto. The center of Japanese beauty, is the jewel in the crown. Kyoto is the ancient Japan of your imaginings, wrapped in a thriving modern city. Here, you will catch glimpses of Geisha delicately clip-clopping their way to work in wooden sandals. It is incredible temples, gardens that inspire peace, wooden shutters, and tall bamboo. It truly is a beautiful city, somewhere to get actively lost in and just look around and the perfect end to a perfect trip.
Planning and Preparation
Getting on the Nakasendo Trail, Tokyo, Kyoto, Nara and Mt Koya trip means a bit of traveling, but all definitely worth it. You can fly into one of the two Tokyo airports and fly back from Osaka, or simply take the Shinkansen back to Tokyo (it really is as fast and efficient as everyone says). Once you land, apart from traveling around the cities, all the transport is taken care of for you, so you can just relax and immerse yourself in the Japanese way of life.
If you have any questions about the trip, don’t hesitate to contact one of our Destination Specialists, who will be more than happy to help.