Walking through Japanese History

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The Nakasendo Way explores one of Japan’s ancient highways. Photo by Victor Block
The Nakasendo Way explores one of Japan’s ancient highways. Photo by Victor Block

Hiking in Japan was a rewarding endeavor. Our daily eight to 10-mile hikes with Walk Japan followed deep valley floors, passed rushing waterfalls and wound through dense forests. We crossed over sweat-inducing mountain passes, and while switchbacks in the trail eased the way up, there were other incentives to keep going.

Our band of hardy trekkers came upon ancient Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples. Here and there, an unadorned rock structure paid homage to emperors and other human deities, as well as spiritual beings.

We passed by lonely farmhouses adjacent to centuries-old mills and wooden waterwheels powered by the rushing streams that cascade down many hillsides. Some houses in tiny farm villages are surrounded by rice paddies, and an occasional grove of bamboo reaches toward the sky.

Along the trail of Nakasendo Way while hiking in Japan. Photo by Victor Block
Along the trail of Nakasendo Way in Japan. Photo by Victor Block

These are among visual rewards that await travelers who follow an ancient path that shoguns (military dictators), samurai (military officers) and other nobles trod centuries ago when traveling between Tokyo and Kyoto, Japan. They were accompanied by an entourage of underlings who tended to the horses, prepared meals and took care of the other chores that provided the comforts to which those who occupied the upper levels of society were accustomed.

The roots of Japan were planted during the Edo period, which began in 1603 when Tokugawa Leyasu became the shogun and ruled from his palace in Edo (present-day Tokyo). While the emperor lived in Kyoto, the shoguns of the Tokugawa clan actually controlled the country. Their rule ended in 1868, with the opening of Japan to the outside world.

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