Japan is a country that places much value and emphasis on its culture and the origins of its traditions which have been cornerstones of Japanese society for decades now. Many of the historical centerpieces of the centuries past still remain as landmarks today and make for some great attractions throughout the Land of the Rising Sun.
The Nakasendo Highway is such an attraction. Among the many things to do in the Japanese outdoors, hiking along the Nakasendo Highway is perhaps one of the most complete cultural experiences one can get when visiting the country.
Much history surrounds the highway, its roots found all the way back in the Edo period, perhaps the single most influential period in shaping Japan towards what it has become today. During that time, the Nakasendo Highway was very important as one of the five highways connecting the capital, called Edo back then, to the nation’s outer provinces. This particular highway was one of the two that connected modern-day Tokyo to Kyoto and was regulated by the state.
The highway is measured to be around 540 kilometers (330 miles) and crossed through five provinces at the time, which are now called Shiga, Saitama, Nagano, Gunma and Gifu. Its name can be roughly translated to “central mountain route” as it lead inland and was often preferred by travellers for not crossing any rivers.
Nowadays, the Nakasendo Highway is a great to soak in the history of the country. Some of the stretches are even today still as they were originally, some have been restored to reflect the history behind the highway.
The most popular part of the Nakasendo Highway is in the Kiso Valley, between the Tsumago-juku post in the Nagano Prefecture and Magome-juku post located in the Gifu Prefecture. This section is roughly 8 kilometers long and is a definite location to visit for anyone enjoying the outdoors, Japanese culture and history, or simply hiking. To cover the entire 8 kilometers will take the average traveller anywhere between 2 to 4 hours depending on weather and walking speed. There are plenty of sights to see and spots to take breaks at on the way. There are historical post towns to explore and purchase souvenirs at, perhaps a good place to grab a bite to eat. The path is paved and hiking down the highway leads to magnificent sights of waterfalls and the local forests, in some occasions even some local wildlife.
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