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Newer Page 264 of 968 Older Full Trip Report
Japan Nakasendo Hiking Karuizawa Autumn Colors

13 November 2017

Central mountain route

Hiking the Nakasendo from Yokokawa to Karuizawa

Today I hiked over the most difficult section of the Nakesendo trail, one of the original routes between Tokyo and Kyoto.
It really wasnt that difficult, but I am reliably informed that the central mountain route, which is the translation of Nakasendo, over the Usui pass which is where you cross from Gunma to Nagano prefectures, is the hardest part of any of the ancient roads between the two Japanese capitals.
Getting there was easy enough, I decided to start at the bottom and hike up hill all day, because thats what I do, I much prefer the up hill than the down hill.
I first took a bullet train from Ueno, where I am staying, to Takasaki, where I changed to a normal train to the end of the line at Yokokawa. I am fully aware all these places sound the same.
From Yokokawa, you first hike along the old abandoned rail line, although its not quite abandoned yet, there is a train museum that still runs diesel locomotives along the line to keep some old retired train drivers happy.

After about 4km of that nice trail accompanied by Japanese old folks, I found the place where you can join on with the trail proper.
At first it was a really steep climb, but it doesnt last long, it then becomes a 3 hour gentle constantly up hill climb.
I passed no one at all, which was surprising, until 100 people all at once came in the other direction as part of an organised tour. Including Australian old folks. 3 of whom were proudly wearing 'old farts slow hiking club' jackets. They told me they had selected this section of the trail because it was gently downhill the whole way.

You would think on such an established trail I couldnt get lost, but I kind of did. After about 3 hours I came to a fork in the trail. One side was clearly marked Zhong Shan Dao (chinese and japanese characters are the same for this), the other side was not marked. So I followed the marked path.
Soon after my choice of path became pretty overgrown, with huge logs crossing the path, streams to forward. I was sure I had gone the wrong way so I doubled back and took the other path.
This one was actually marked on google and I knew it would get me to my eventual destination of Karuizawa, but I was confused.
Eventually the Nakasendo rejoined this 'road', so it seems I could have stayed on the marked trail.

Soon after I got to a temple which marks the end of this section, and I thought my day was pretty much over, just walk back to the train at Karuizawa. Well thats another 8km!

Karuizawa is an amazing place. It is a modern ski resort / shopping resort / Onsen town that somehow convinced the rail people to put a bullet train station in town.
Then there is the gigantic upmarket shopping mall, Karuizawa Prince, with adjoining outlet shopping mall, ski slopes with man made snow, and up the other end of town, Ginza tourist street.
The place was packed, on a weekday, out of season.
Whoever thought up the idea should win business person of the year award.

After wondering how the hell the place could exist, it was time to board the direct bullet train back to Ueno, very convenient, and all covered on my 3 day pass.

Somehow over my 30km of walking today I have managed to take 31 photos, they dont seem to be much good, but perhaps my expectations are now too high after my last mountain experience with Fuji from Tanzawa.

Japan-Nakasendo-Hiking-Karuizawa-Autumn Colors - This is where the train line ends, at a train museum, in the colorful town of Yokokawa. I would be going up and over the pass seen here around to the

This is where the train line ends, at a train museum, in the colorful town of Yokokawa. I would be going up and over the pass seen here around to the left.


Japan-Nakasendo-Hiking-Karuizawa-Autumn Colors - First part followed an abandoned rail line, with a train running on it. I think I need to clean my lense, direct sun bothers it too much.

First part followed an abandoned rail line, with a train running on it. I think I need to clean my lense, direct sun bothers it too much.


Japan-Nakasendo-Hiking-Karuizawa-Autumn Colors - After the track curves around, I will be heading up there. I did my best to hide as many wires as I could in this shot.

After the track curves around, I will be heading up there. I did my best to hide as many wires as I could in this shot.


Japan-Nakasendo-Hiking-Karuizawa-Autumn Colors - The tunnels today were very well lit, tracks removed, no need for a torch at all.

The tunnels today were very well lit, tracks removed, no need for a torch at all.


Japan-Nakasendo-Hiking-Karuizawa-Autumn Colors - Ahhh, heres the sign I have been waiting for, the hard part now begins.

Ahhh, heres the sign I have been waiting for, the hard part now begins.


Japan-Nakasendo-Hiking-Karuizawa-Autumn Colors - First there was great light amongst the cedars, and no bears in site despite the warning signs.

First there was great light amongst the cedars, and no bears in site despite the warning signs.


Japan-Nakasendo-Hiking-Karuizawa-Autumn Colors - A view across a valley of a golf course and some wires.

A view across a valley of a golf course and some wires.


Japan-Nakasendo-Hiking-Karuizawa-Autumn Colors - There were a huge amount of historical markers and ruins along the ancient road. I chose to photograph just this one, so appreciate it.

There were a huge amount of historical markers and ruins along the ancient road. I chose to photograph just this one, so appreciate it.


Japan-Nakasendo-Hiking-Karuizawa-Autumn Colors - That is the famous old town of Sakamoto, where people would stay before going over the Usui pass. I know its famous because I read that it was. Becaus

That is the famous old town of Sakamoto, where people would stay before going over the Usui pass. I know its famous because I read that it was. Because I followed the train line at first I didnt actually go through this town, but you can.


Japan-Nakasendo-Hiking-Karuizawa-Autumn Colors - It was constant up hill all day, the leaves were past their best, but still at times spectacular, especially in the first half of the hike.

It was constant up hill all day, the leaves were past their best, but still at times spectacular, especially in the first half of the hike.


Japan-Nakasendo-Hiking-Karuizawa-Autumn Colors - Serow again! These things seem really dumb, no wonder they were hunted almost to extinction. It just looks at me waiting to get an arrow between its e

Serow again! These things seem really dumb, no wonder they were hunted almost to extinction. It just looks at me waiting to get an arrow between its eyes.


Japan-Nakasendo-Hiking-Karuizawa-Autumn Colors - And now we do a trio of color, 1 of 3.

And now we do a trio of color, 1 of 3.


Japan-Nakasendo-Hiking-Karuizawa-Autumn Colors - 2 of 3.

2 of 3.


Japan-Nakasendo-Hiking-Karuizawa-Autumn Colors - 3 of 3, after this it all became dead and brown. At this stage I was annoyed I had brought my jacket, it was hot! Felt like 15c. That would change.

3 of 3, after this it all became dead and brown.
At this stage I was annoyed I had brought my jacket, it was hot! Felt like 15c. That would change.


Japan-Nakasendo-Hiking-Karuizawa-Autumn Colors - I actually got up quite high today, but there are no summits as such, its all a mountainous area, the city of Karuizawa is quite high up I think.

I actually got up quite high today, but there are no summits as such, its all a mountainous area, the city of Karuizawa is quite high up I think.


Japan-Nakasendo-Hiking-Karuizawa-Autumn Colors - First sign of modern civilization, apparently an old school, and its bus. I have no idea how the bus ever got here, the road is gone now.

First sign of modern civilization, apparently an old school, and its bus. I have no idea how the bus ever got here, the road is gone now.


Japan-Nakasendo-Hiking-Karuizawa-Autumn Colors - It was at this point that I thought I had gone the wrong way, so I doubled back. I think what has happened is people know the water is over the main p

It was at this point that I thought I had gone the wrong way, so I doubled back.
I think what has happened is people know the water is over the main path so take the old road pictured below. I could have actually gone either way.


Japan-Nakasendo-Hiking-Karuizawa-Autumn Colors - This is the old road which presumably went to the school. Its dead and brown now, and nothings driven down here for many years. There were logs over i

This is the old road which presumably went to the school. Its dead and brown now, and nothings driven down here for many years. There were logs over it in many places.


Japan-Nakasendo-Hiking-Karuizawa-Autumn Colors - And after a few km on the old road, you end up at the top of Karuizawa, and 8km of real road. At least it was a very nice road.

And after a few km on the old road, you end up at the top of Karuizawa, and 8km of real road. At least it was a very nice road.


Japan-Nakasendo-Hiking-Karuizawa-Autumn Colors - This is their newly made Ginza tourist street, very popular.

This is their newly made Ginza tourist street, very popular.


Japan-Nakasendo-Hiking-Karuizawa-Autumn Colors - Lots of bakeries, shops selling chopsticks, the usual things. Very expensive restaurants.

Lots of bakeries, shops selling chopsticks, the usual things. Very expensive restaurants.


Japan-Nakasendo-Hiking-Karuizawa-Autumn Colors - I have no idea why this shop is advertising for Ferrari.

I have no idea why this shop is advertising for Ferrari.


Japan-Nakasendo-Hiking-Karuizawa-Autumn Colors - Hello, my name is Bee-man, thank you very much.

Hello, my name is Bee-man, thank you very much.


Japan-Nakasendo-Hiking-Karuizawa-Autumn Colors - And then behind the station is this bizzarre very high end mall, and attached outlet mall, and as you will see, giant food court.

And then behind the station is this bizzarre very high end mall, and attached outlet mall, and as you will see, giant food court.


Japan-Nakasendo-Hiking-Karuizawa-Autumn Colors - It had brands I have never seen anywhere else ever. Barneys of New York is something you hear people talk about on TV shows set in New York for exampl

It had brands I have never seen anywhere else ever. Barneys of New York is something you hear people talk about on TV shows set in New York for example.


Japan-Nakasendo-Hiking-Karuizawa-Autumn Colors - It was about 5c this side of the pass, so much colder, I was glad I bought my jacket. Cold enough for the snow making machines to work. There are a lo

It was about 5c this side of the pass, so much colder, I was glad I bought my jacket. Cold enough for the snow making machines to work.
There are a lot of skifields in every direction, but only a few have man made snow already.


Japan-Nakasendo-Hiking-Karuizawa-Autumn Colors - Have a bit more snow, its the only snow I will see on this trip.

Have a bit more snow, its the only snow I will see on this trip.


Japan-Nakasendo-Hiking-Karuizawa-Autumn Colors - The entire area is filled with cute little lodges, some like this, some bright and colorful, and one area set aside for people with dogs.

The entire area is filled with cute little lodges, some like this, some bright and colorful, and one area set aside for people with dogs.


Japan-Nakasendo-Hiking-Karuizawa-Autumn Colors - A bit more of the mall.

A bit more of the mall.


Japan-Nakasendo-Hiking-Karuizawa-Autumn Colors - Another huge part of the mall, it was very strange, and much bigger than the pictures convey, enormous car park!

Another huge part of the mall, it was very strange, and much bigger than the pictures convey, enormous car park!


Japan-Nakasendo-Hiking-Karuizawa-Autumn Colors - And an enormous food court. It was too late for me to have a proper lunch, and they had no cheap bakery, so I sat and ate my calorie mate block.

And an enormous food court. It was too late for me to have a proper lunch, and they had no cheap bakery, so I sat and ate my calorie mate block.


NewerPage 264 of 968OlderFull Trip Report