The map of the Kiso-ji trail.

Walking the Nakasendō/Kiso-ji – Shiojiri to Niekawa

Why not subscribe to Restless – a new journal for 2021? Nothing crazy or too long I promise. Just a supplement to this blog once in a while. Don’t worry you can unsubscribe too.


The Kiso-ji (木曽路), a small section of the Nakasendō (中山道), runs through the Kiso valley in Nagano prefecture. I wrote about walking it between Kiso Fukushima and Agematsu here and decided last week to walk it some more.

There’s no denying it, I’ve been immensely inspired by Craig Mod’s walks recently and have also come to terms with ‘adventure’ cycling becoming a distant memory. A memory because nowadays I want to walk and explore. That realization alone has opened my eyes to longer distances on foot. Not crazy long distances of course – I don’t have time for that nowadays – but chunks of the route walked over weeks or even months. There’s no rush. Cycling is great but as I’ve mentioned plenty of times before, I’ve done my fair share and need a change (a little part of me does feel sad when I think of those adventures coming to an end and I’m still not 100% sure they’re over. Maybe I’m just taking time out).

Looking back at the Nakasendo and Shiojiri.
Stalk hats on trees? I have no idea.

The Kiso-ji then, at this moment in time, constitutes the perfect adventure – just the right distance and within easy reach of Nagoya. I can do day trips chalking off blocks of kilometres on each outing.

So last Sunday morning I hopped on the Shinano Express to Shiojiri and started making my way back home, first along the Nakasendo, and then the Kiso-ji when the two merged. Easy. The weather forecast was for sun but it rained constantly. No matter what the plan for the day experience had taught me to always take a rain jacket when in the Japanese mountains.

Alps Tenbō, an alpine themed ramen restaurant in Shiojiri.

This was just the start – the warm up – and if I’m honest there wasn’t that much to write home about or photograph. I hardly saw anyone all day except for dads – lots of dads everywhere – switching over the family car’s tyres to ones fit for the harsh winter snow. (That got me thinking – as my annual trip to Hokkaido is off this year could still get my snowy wilderness fix by doing the northern part of the Kiso-ji instead? Probably.) I saw a few stone markers, an abandoned tunnel straight out of Spirited Away (千と千尋の神隠し), that ramen restaurant that made the cover of Craig’s wonderful Kissa By Kissa, and lots of grey sky.

Sunset from the train over the Kiso Valley.

I got as far as Niekawa Station (贄川駅) last week and will pick up where I left off when I have more free time. Repeat again and again until I’ve walked the full Kiso-ji.


By the way, I’ve set up a complimentary journal to this website. Once we get to the lofty heights of ten subscribers I’ll start sending them out. Nothing crazy, just a supplement to this blog. You can subscribe (and unsubscribe) here.

I’ve also changed the email address for this site because Google messed up big time a few days ago. Having all your eggs in one basket is a very dangerous game so I’ve diversified. We should all own our own small part of the internet anyway.

Have anything to say? – Email me.

Based in Japan since 2001 I spend free days adventuring into the mountainous regions of central Honshu and occasionally Hokkaido. In 2021, I plan to slow down and talk to more people. Feel free to email me.

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