Japan is a land of legend and mystique. A place of ancient paths leading to imposing castles, dark temples, and forested mountain trails, there is no better place to get off the beaten path and follow the roads of old than in Nagano; into the heart of this fascinating country and culture.
In that spirit with are happy to announce our new 3-Day Snow Monkeys & Nakasendo Walking Tour. Led by an English-speaking guide this three day tour combines visits to some of the region’s most popular destinations before taking you away from the crowds and along memorable walks on the ancient mountain trade route through the Kiso Valley – the historic Nakasendo Trail.
During the Edo Period (1603-1868), several trade routes linked the major cities of Japan with the two most important centers of power being Kyoto and Tokyo (then called ‘Edo’). The Nakasendo Trail was one of the primary roads between the two, running through the mountainous interior of the country unlike other roads which skirted along the coast. Known for its rugged beauty, this road was busy with travelling merchants, dignitaries and their families, and pilgrims.
Trade and movement along the Nakasendo Trail was closely monitored and (of course) taxed at postal towns called ‘juku’ in Japanese. In total, 67 postal towns controlled movement along the road and luckily several survive to this day, having retained much of their traditional character. Walking along the original road between towns, through an undulating landscape of mixed farmland, rice fields, and forests is one of the highlights of this tour – and sure to be one of your most memorable experiences while in Japan.
Starting at JR Nagano Station, this tour first heads to the Zenko-ji Temple – one of the oldest and most important Buddhist temples in Japan and a registered National Treasure. This near-1400 year old precinct is full of legends and dark repositories and is in every sense the spiritual heart of Nagano.
From the temple, your guide takes you for lunch at a nearby restaurant before starting the afternoon portion of the tour. Sake-tasting. The guided portion of your day concludes with ‘sake’ tasting, as your guide introduces you to the indulgent and warm world of sake – Japan’s most traditional drinks.
After the lunch you will be heading to the world famous hot spring-bathing snow monkeys of Jigokudani. As the only troop of monkeys known to bathe in the natural hot springs endemic to this region, the Snow Monkey Park is an unforgettable experience and a unique opportunity to observe these curious creatures in close proximity before the tour returns to Nagano City where the day concludes with drop-off at your accommodation, Hotel Kokusai 21.
As one of Nagano City’s most established and international hotels, Hotel Kokusai 21 is conveniently located within easy walking distance of the city’s restaurants and entertainment area, and prides itself on its many in-house services and English-speaking staff.
Hotel Kokusai 21 is Nagano City’s most established international hotel with a reputation built on its effortless blend of Western facilities and Japanese service. We are proud to partner with Kokusai 21 and your night’s accommodation includes a twin-share room and buffet breakfast the following morning (pictured below).
One of the highlights of any visit to Japan is the food and with that in mind, dinner on your first night is booked for Monzen Terrance Enya, one of Nagano’s newest and most exciting restaurants with an extensive menu profiling the best local produce and meat and seafood sourced from the nearby coastal markets on the Sea of Japan.
Having enjoyed breakfast at your accommodation, your guide will collect you from the lobby of Hotel Kokusai 21 at 08:30 and quickly have you onboard the tour bus to begin your journey toward the beautiful Kiso Valley and your first stop on the Nakasendo Trail, the historic post town of Narai.
Known as ‘Narai Senken’ or ‘Narai of a Thousand Houses’, this beautifully preserved town marked the midpoint of Nakasendo – the thirty-fourth of sixty-nine stations which monitored, controlled, and taxed traffic along the road. Today the remaining historic town runs approximately 1km in length and is 200 meters wide, home to numerous shops, restaurants, traditional accommodation and peoples’ homes. Your guide will give you time to explore before taking you for lunch at a nearby restaurant, then at approximately 13:00 it’s time to start walking.
The first day’s walk takes you from Narai through a forested hinterland and onto the quaint mountain town of Yabuhara. Your guide will make sure you’re well prepared for the walk and ensure you move at a comfortable pace with plenty of time to discuss and enjoy interesting points along the way. Taking most people 1.5 hours to walk, this section of the trail includes some steeper climbs making it one of the least travelled sections of the trail.
You’ll soon be descending into Yabuhara where your guide will give you time for a well-deserved rest and chance t enjoy this pleasant little town. Boarding the tour bus you’ll then be transported directly to the next postal town, Magome.
Arriving around 17:30, your guide will accompany to your accommodation before wishing you good evening. The night is yours to relax and unwind at the guesthouse including their in-house dinner service.
The final day begins with breakfast at your guesthouse before meeting-up with your guide around 9:30. You’ll have time to explore the town which has been extensively restored including a broad stone walkway lined by museums, traditional stores, and restaurants interspersed with regular homes. Around 10:30 you’ll start the second days walking, a longer but more gentle 8.4km trail to Tsumago.
This approximate 2.5 hour walk takes you through an undulating landscape of rice paddies, farm fields, streams, forests and even some waterfalls. Your guide will lead you at a comfortable pace including a longer break around the halfway point to rest your feet and soak in your surroundings. This section of the Nakasendo Trail is particularly well-preserved and walking the same path as those hundreds of years before, gives you a unique appreciation of the journeys and lives of the Japan of old.
As the forest thins and the landscape opens up, you will arrive in Tsumago – the 42nd post town and your final destination. Your guide will first take you for a well-deserved lunch followed by time to explore perhaps the best preserved and enchanting of the post towns for yourself.
At 16:00 you’ll meetup with your guide and board the tour bus to begin the journey back to Nagano. Stopping along the way to break-up the journey, you’ll be transported directly to JR Nagano Station, where the tour is scheduled to conclude by 19:30.
Our 3-Day Snow Monkeys & Nakasendo Walking Tour is designed for your comfort and convenience, combining some of the most popular destinations in the region with a road less traveled and the absorbing experience of walking the historical Nakasendo Trail. All led by an English-speaking guide, this tour promises to unlock a region of Japan that you might otherwise not discover and take you far away from the maddening crowds of Tokyo or Osaka.
In every sense we hope to transport you deep into the Japanese heartland, a place where the past still breathes and tradition is not found in a museum but instead lives in the open, in daily life…