Go gently – to Kiso Valley, Japan

water fountain in japan

Journeying with my family along the Nakasendo Trail, we followed in the footsteps of samurai, merchants, and pilgrims of the past.

This historic route linked Kyoto, the old imperial capital, to Edo (modern-day Tokyo) during feudal Japan, but today, it offers a picturesque walking experience through Japan’s central mountains.

Our trek covered a small section, from Magome to Tsumago, where we discovered a dozen distinct and beautiful worlds.

Waking in the mountain town of Magome at dawn, we meet Yoji. He’s been living here most of his life. He starts his day with a stroll to the foot of the mountain and back up again with his dog Haruna. Every morning he walks with her up the path and looks back across the valley to the mountains in the distance. From up here he pointed at the glittering lights of the town below and showed us the Unkai, the sea of clouds.

We start our trek to Tsumago. The dense wooden houses become father apart and the landscape quickly shifts from urban to rural. We hear the soothing and rhythmic sound of the water wheel before it comes into view. It's creaking timber and the gentle splashing and trickling of water. The path takes us under a canopy of maple leaves and leads us to a bamboo forest. I imagine if look for long enough, I'd see Totoro and Satsuki through the trees.

The morning becomes afternoon and passing through tiny villages, we nod politely at ladies going about their day. Rinsing rice in huge wooden sieves on their porches. Sweeping the entryways to their homes. Just as we’re ready for a rest, we come to a wooden inn. We’re warmly welcomed inside with tea brewed in a cast iron kettle over an open fire pit.

The path meanders and the landscape changes again. It becomes denser and greener and we come across a stream. The crystal-clear water invited my boys to play among the rounded pebbles on the riverbed for hours. 

When we finally get to Tsumago, it welcomes us with its cobblestone streets and traditional wooden houses. At a small store with just a window, a beautiful lady prepared Mitarashi Dango (sweet rice dumplings) for us. It’s one of the memories my youngest recalls as his favourite from the whole of Japan.

Years later, the memories of that day still fill my thoughts. It’s a place where daydreams take me, a moment in time that continues to enrich my soul.


ryokan bedroomman and his dog

japanese woman in her store

Mitarashi Dango

kettle steaming
sweeping the entryway