Marking the Way on the Tokaido

This waterfall runs down a mountain and crosses the original path of the old Tokaido near Hakone. During the Edo period (1603-1868) the Tokaidō was one of five major travel roads, and one of the two most important linking the former capital city of Kyoto with the then-new capital, Edo (now called Tokyo). The Tokaidō, or “East Sea Road” roughly paralleled the southeastern coast of Honshū (Japan’s largest island). Its 53 stations, or post towns, were (and remain, to an extent) famous subjects of Japanese art and literature. I hiked a section of the old Tokaidō near Hakone last autumn, and visited again in

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Introducing … Hakone!

During my research trip last autumn, I spent several days in Hakone, a hot spring resort in the Fuji Five Lakes region of Japan. Hakone is famous for many things, including views of Mount Fuji, onsen (hot spring baths),  and the ability to enjoy “sightseeing through different modes of transportation”–including trains, cable cars, ropeways, and a ride on a pirate ship.  I went to hike a preserved section of the Tokaidō–once, a famous travel road connecting Kyoto with Edo–but added a few extra days to the trip to ensure I had time to enjoy Hakone, too. (Spoiler alert: I loved it so much I returned with my

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Dawn on the Nakasendo

(Click here to start the series of posts on the Nakasendo from the beginning.) During Japan’s medieval age, the Nakasendo was the primary northern travel route connecting Edo (now Tokyo) with Kyoto. The southern end of the Nakasendo tracks the course of an older travel road, the Kisoji, which connected the mountain towns of the Kiso Valley. A preserved and restored portion of the old Nakasendo/Kisoji runs through the mountains between the southernmost post towns of Magome and Tsumago. The 8.5 km (just over 5 mile) journey takes between 2 and 4 hours, and includes some breathtaking views of the Kiso Valley. On the morning I made the

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Autumn Treats in a Japanese Mountain Teahouse

(To start this series from the beginning, click here.) As the sun went down on my first day in the restored Edo-period post town of Magome, I decided to rest my hike-weary feet in one of the teahouses that lined the sloping street. Although I had several options, I decided to try Yomogiya, an inviting-looking teahouse that sat next door to my minshuku (guest house or traditional inn). The sign out front suggested the teahouse also offered coffee – and although tea is the traditional choice, I love good coffee, so I decided to go inside and let the menu make the

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Hiking in the Forest of the Gods

(Click here to start the Mount Mitake series from the beginning.) The portion of Mount Mitake’s upper slopes just below the summit is called the Forest of the Gods. With only half a day on the mountain, and half of that dedicated to the hike to the summit and a visit to Musashi-Mitake Shrine, I opted to spend the remaining hour on the path that winds around Mitake’s upper slopes and through the sacred forest. The path begins near the Tengu’s Seat–a giant cedar whose branches grow in unique curves that would, indeed, make perfect perches for the infamous mountain demons of Japanese lore. Just beyond the wooden torii, a

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A Visit to the Tengu’s Seat

After visiting Musashi-Mitake Shrine, which sits on the summit of Mount Mitake, I descended the stairs to the base of the shrine and followed the path around the mountain toward the hiking trail that leads through the “Forest of the Gods.” The trail wound through a towering forest. Crows called overhead, and every once in a while they flew across my path. One even landed on a nearby branch and stared down at me as if wondering why I chose to intrude on his territory. Even though the rain had stopped several hours before, I didn’t see anyone else on the path. Aside from the crows, and

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Hiking Mount Mitake Part 2: A Path Through Shrines & Flowers

(For the story of the cable car ride up Mount Mitake, click here.) After leaving the cable car, I spent some time at the viewing platform enjoying the misty view of Tokyo.  Although the platform sits almost an hour’s walk below the summit of Mount Mitake, it still has a fantastic view. On the morning I arrived, mist swirled up from the valley and distant clouds obscured the view of central Tokyo, which lies a little over an hour by train from Mount Mitake. Even so, the view made me realize just how quickly Japanese trains can transport people from the crowded city to

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