Nakasendo is an old Japanese feudal highway following the route of the ancient imperial highway, Tozando, established more than 1300 years ago. After Tokugawa shogunate took power, the road was reformed to connect Kyoto and Edo (former Tokyo) through the Japanese alpine region, Kiso-sanmyaku (Kiso Alpine Range) and extends for 533km. The name Nakasendo literally means “road through mountains”.
Following the battle of Sekigahara and the unification of Japan under Tokugawa Ieyasu, five highways leading to the capital Edo, were established. Of those highways, Nakasendo was one of two highways, the Tokaido and Nakasendo highways, that ran between Edo and Kyoto and served important arteries connecting the ancient cities.
Tokaido runs along the coastline facing the Pacific Ocean and compared to Nakasendo, which runs through a mountainous area known as Japan’s rooftop, is relatively flat and easy to walk along. However, those travelling along the Tokaido encountered several large rivers and depending on the tides sections became covered in water. Travel along the highway was monitored carefully and local authorities could shut down the road or prevent travel across sections if danger was perceived. There were also several sections that according to regulations had to be crossed by boat and was enforced by authorities. The climate along the highway is also changeable with heavy rain and strong winds being common and flooding of rivers was frequent which prevented people from progressing on their journey. Records show that travel was disrupted in some sections for periods of up to two months due to such problems.
While those travelling along Nakasendo had to go through several steep mountain passes, it was rare for travellers progress to be stopped due to rivers or flooding, making it easier create predictable travel itineraries. As a result it was a popular with those for who delays were a sign of bad fortune or problematic such as bridal parties for princesses. In fact it was also known as the Princess Highway.
After the Edo period ended Japan entered a period of rapid industrialisation but given the character of the landscape along the Nakasendo these areas were largely untouched by developments experienced by the rest of the country. While the original Nakasendo route is still used today, protected by its isolation its villages and surrounding landscape still resemble that of the Edo period and provide a rich heritage of this region. Given the continued use of these roads they are also reasonably well maintained offering a pleasant riding experience for those that visit them.
The route of Nakasendo
The elevation of Nakasendo