Japan is well known for its cuisine, culture, and advanced technologies. But unbeknownst to many travellers, Japan is actually also a hiker’s paradise. From mountains to the sea, there are endless hiking trails with different climates and levels of difficulty. If you’re not up for something as strenuous as hiking Mount Fuji, can we interest you in a historic trail that is the Tokaido Highway?
At 514km long, the Tokaido Highway was one of the most important routes in the Edo Period, connecting Kyoto to Edo (modern day Tokyo). Along the route, there were government-sanctioned shukuba (post stations) for travellers to rest. These stations had inns, temples and shrines. Today, some of the religious sites remain, but most of the posts and inns are gone.
The first thing you need to know about hiking the Tokaido Highway: it’s not a wilderness trail! There are still original sections of the highway, traditional Japanese architecture and nature to experience, but the route is now a predominantly urban walk. You will be walking on pavement mostly, which may or may not be good news to you! As the route is mostly urban, you won’t need to worry about finding places to sleep, eat, and stock up on necessities. If you are ambitious (like Rosanne here) you can hike the entire trail in about three weeks. Most local people only hike sections of the route, with the most popular being the preserved trail around Hakone.
Alternatively, you can do the entire trail using local trains and Tokaido Shinkansen and get off to explore the main sites on foot. You will also be using the Tokaido Line, so don’t worry, you’re not ‘cheating’, you are still on the Tokaido Highway! This mode of travelling will take you about a week, more if you choose to have longer stayovers.
The Tokaido Highway starts in Nihonbashi in Tokyo and heads toward Kawasaki. From there, it continues on to Yokohama. The next stop is Hakone in the mountains. Then, it descends to Mishima near Mount Fuji. The trail then follows the coastline passing Shizuoka, into Nagoya, and finally arriving in Kyoto.
We’ll be covering the route using the train (with a JR Pass) and making stops along the way. Follow along on our itinerary!
Tokyo – Odawara – Hakone
Nihonbashi is now a business district with not much to see, unless you’re into shopping. It’s a short walk away from Tokyo Station, which is where you will hop on the Tokaido Shinkansen to Odawara Station. We suggest making a booking for accommodation near the station and basing yourself here for this part of the trip.
In Odawara, you can make your way to see Odawara Castle. Or if you’ve started your day early, you can transfer to the Odakyu Romancecar to Hakone-Yumoto Station. From here, you can either hike or catch a bus to Hatajuku.
This is where a portion of the Tokaido Highway has been preserved, original stone pavement and all! There is also a reconstruction of the Hakone Checkpoint that is true to its original form. Along the way, make sure to stop by Amazake Chaya. This teahouse has been around for over 400 years, and they’ve been serving travellers since the Edo period!
Odawara – Okitsu
Back at Odawara, you will hop back on the Tokaido Shinkansen to Mishima Station. From here, you will transfer to the Tokaido Line and get to Okitsu Station. In Okitsu, we suggest staying at Kappo Ryokan Okaya. It is one of the last Edo inns operating on the Tokaido Highway!
Okitsu – Shizuoka – Hamamatsu
From Okitsu, hop on the Tokaido Line to Shizuoka Station. You can explore the area and hike along the Abe River, which was crossed by travelers back in the day. Or, transfer to the Tokaido Shinkansen to Hamamatsu and spend the night here.
There is plenty of recreational fun in Hamamatsu which includes Lake Hamana and onsen resorts. Another draw is Hamamatsu Castle, which was built by the Imagawa clan in 1532. This is also the home of Tokugawa Ieyasu during his rise to power.
Hamamatsu – Nagoya – Kusatsu
You will continue on the Tokaido Highway by taking the Shinkansen to Nagoya. There’s lots to see in Nagoya, which includes the Nagoya Castle. You can also make a day trip from Nagoya to Kusatsu, a small town on Lake Biwa in Shiga Prefecture. Kusatsu was another post on the Tokaido Highway, and the checkpoint can still be visited today.
If you have time, make sure to explore Lake Biwa too. Hikone Castle is literally a national treasure, being one of only 12 Japanese castles with the original keep. Shirahige Shrine with its ‘floating’ torii gate in the water is also a must-see!
Nagoya – Kyoto
Taking the Shinkansen to Kyoto, the final stop of the Tokaido Highway is the Sanjo Ohashi Bridge. There’s lots to see and do in Kyoto, from shrines to local food that you must try. We suggest you take your time here. From here, you can choose to continue on to Osaka which is a later extension of the Tokaido route!