|Explosion of colors along the Nakasendo trail|
The trip became a sort of reunion since it was ten years ago that we (sans Bettina) all climbed Mt. Annapurna in Nepal. Of course being mountaineers, we squeezed in a hike in between to Nakasendo.
The timing was perfect! This is the season when the leaves change colors and when the Japanese flock to the mountains and even to Kyoto to see the leaves, particularly the leaves of maple trees, turn red. The practice is called momijgari, which means hunting of red maple leaves. So, we were lucky that we confirmed early because when we got there everything was fully booked.
Nakasendo or "path through mountains" is the ancient highway used by the shogunate and the samurais during the 8th century to travel from the imperial capital Kyoto to Edo (now called Tokyo). The road is 533 km long and cuts through the central mountains in the Kiso Valley. There are actually 69 stations or posts along the highway.
Since we allocated two days to hike, we chose the popular ancient post towns of Tsumago and Magome which are the 42nd and 43rd stations.
Our entry point was in Nagiso and exit point in Nakatsugawa (refer to left map). The train ride took about 3 hours, two hours from Tokyo via shinkansen to Nagoya where we changed trains and took the express train to Nagiso in 55 minutes. Note that we purchased the JR Pass in Manila so we could just hop in and out of any JR line.
|One of the trail posts to Tsumago|
Nakasendo was surprisingly easy to get to and likewise, the path was easy to hike. At first we were afraid that we might get lost with our DIY (do-it-yourself) plan. And considering that I just recuperated from dengue, I was not too sure that I would be able to hike the distance. Tonyboy was kind enough to load my stuff in his backpack as well as load Bettina's and Jun's too (who had some kind of back problem at the start of the trek).
The trail was well marked with sign posts every kilometer or so and trail maps were readily available at the Tourist Information office at each postal town. The first leg was a 4 km hike to Tsumago and the jump off was behind Nagiso train station. The trail led to rice fields and through the forest which was dotted with maple trees.
|bumped into Alfonso|
While we were having lunch, we were interrupted by a Caucasian-looking fellow who asked if we were pinoys. It turned out that he grew up in Manila and coincidentally enough, is a cousin of a friend of mine and attended the same elementary school as TonyBoy. Alfonso. who is now based in Australia, speaks fluent Japanese and guides tourists, specifically bird watchers and photographers around Japan.
After lunch, we headed out for a bit of sightseeing. We spotted a historical museum and several souvenir shops along the road. We then stopped at the tourist information office to get a trail map to Magome, 8 km away.
The first 5 km of the hike was an easy, gentle ascent to the crest of Magome Pass (2,500 feet in elevation). We passed through forests, waterfalls and stopped to rest at a little hut where we were served matcha (green tea). There were some tourists inside who warned us of the steep climb up to our next stop.
True enough the climb was indeed steep. When we got to the peak, we were greeted with a clear blue sky and a fantastic view of the snow capped Mount Ena. Several photographers were there readying their zoom lenses and waiting for the sun to set.
|Mt. Ena behind the marker|
After a few snaps, we walked to Magome where we spotted more zoom lens-toting photographers along the road. We found out that the town was celebrating its annual lantern festival that week and thus, there were several tourists
Our accommodation in Tajimaya was a typical ryokan (inn) where the rooms were divided by shoji screen sliding doors, futons laid out on tatami mats and the bath and toilet facilities were shared (separate male and female though). The cost of the room comes with a sumptuous kaiseki dinner and breakfast.
Before dinner, I decided to try out for the very first time the piping-hot onsen inside the female bathroom. It was soothing especially after a long hike under the rain. The onsen is supposed to have healing properties. (Tip: best to soak in the onsen, after dinner, before going to bed).
|some sake in our Japanese style room before dipping in the onsen|
|typical Kaiseki dinner|
|follow the yellow-dotted paved road|
Be warned - this section of Nakasendo is not popular among Western tourists. Most of the hikers we met were Japanese and also the trail signs were in Japanese. We would stop and ask the local residents where to go and they would point to the road and say 'follow the yellow-dotted road.' Thank God Bettina who reads hanzi (Chinese) which is also Kanji (Japanese), could make out the characters and led us to the right direction.
The hike was downhill all the way. The first town Shichaya, 2 km distance, consisted mostly of farmlands. We passed several shrines and gorges along the way to the next town, Ochiai. As we neared Nakatsugawa, it was getting to look more of a city with more cars and flat roads.
|one of the Shinto Temples along Nakasendo|
|Jun posing infront of one of the gorges|
|boarding the shinkansen|
Note that the best time to go to Nakasendo is when the season starts to change. However, be warned. From our experience, this is also when the locals take the time out to witness the changing of the leaves (momijgari) and I'm sure Spring will likewise be busy for the hanami when the cherry blossoms from the sakura tree bloom.