If you’re travelling from Tokyo to Kiso Valley, expect some serious culture shock as the transition from Japan’s bustling metropole to the traditional and laid-back villages will feel more like a time travel than a geographical one. The post towns or ‘juku‘, guarded by imposing cliffs, used to serve as buffer spots for weary travellers on the Nakasendo trail. We’’ve covered that and more about Kiso Valley, so brace yourself for the quiet beauty of this remote destination in Japan. By Shubhanjana Das
Very few places in Japan have managed to preserve their history and Magome is one such village perched on a slope with its broad stone walkways lined with trees, traditional houses, humble restaurants, souvenir shops and museums like Waki-Honjin and the Toson Memorial Museum showcasing the work of legendary artists from the area. The top of the slope walk promises views of Mt. Ena that are worth grabbing a drink for to enjoy from one of the restaurants.
Located in the heart of Southern Kiso, Tsumago was one of the first historical preservation projects in Japan. The unassuming, unpaved streets lined with double-storey wooden houses and paper lanterns guiding the way speak volumes of that preservation project. While Tsumago is located in (almost) flat land, views from the Tsumago Castle are absolutely magnificent. The Nakasendo hike from Magome to Tsumago is something you can undertake if you’re one of those always onlooking adventures.
3. Naegi Castle
Located in Nakatsugawa-juku, Naegi Castle is often referred to as the ‘Macchu Picchu of The East’. While Nakatsugawa may have its own comfortable and modern-day facilities, this castle nestled atop Mt. Takamori remind one of the strategic importance of this castle in the years gone by. The castle is located at a height of 432 metres and holds command to the views of Nakasendo passing through the mountains of Kiso Valley.
The hike on this ancient Nakasendo is so epic, it deserves a special mention! Sprawling through forest, temples, small ancient villages and rustic tea houses, this eight km hike is worth taking and how! Stop at the Tateba Tea House in the middle of the hike or at the farmhouses on the way which are open for guests to rest and communicate with the locals. P.S. We hope you can speak Japanese.
5. Mt. Ontake
One of the most spiritual and religious trails in Japan is an ode to the monks who climbed Mt. Ontake (3,067m) for meditation and worship. However, don’t worry about hiking all the way up, as the Ontake Ropeway takes you from a point at 1,570m to 2,150m on the mountainside. The ropeway overlooking Kiso Valley and Central Japanese Alps through thick clouds offers spellbinding views. A viewing platform with an illustrative guide to the surrounding mountains, a shrine surrounded by alpine flowers and a café awaits your arrival at the peak.