Kiso Valley 木曽路 – Walking the Nakasendo Trail 中山道 – Day Two: Yabuhara 藪原宿 to Narai 奈良井宿

The next morning saw us being dropped off by the Hotel Kisoji free shuttle to Nagiso (南木曽) Station. From Nagiso, we caught the train to Yabuhara since we were supposed to be facing a hard climb over the Torii-Touge Pass (鳥居峠) to Nagiso (about 6.2km). Therefore we figured there was no point in being winded before we even got there.

About 45 minutes into the 1 hour ride, one of us aunties started sputtering while gesticulating wildly. “SNOW!” she finally managed to enunciate. At this point, we were faced with two conflicting emotions – excitement and dread. Excitement because for some of us, this would be the first encounter with snow whilst on a walk. Dread because for all of us, the weather forecasted a high of 15 to 16 degrees celsius, with possibility of rain. Not snow. So naturally, we were underdressed (one of us aunties even hoping that she would be able to don her denim shorts!).

A chilly Yabuhara greeted us at the station around 11am. Fellow passengers who alighted were zipping on more hiking gear and gloves. We figured that we might as well set off since donning everying that we carried in our packs might just bog us down. And we would still be cold.

The well-posted signs to the Torii-Touge Pass led us along the main road; some construction uncles pointed us towards a small tunnel and from there, it was to the start of a forested area. Traipsing on, we snapped wefies and marvelled at how pretty the forest looked especially with snow flurries starting to drift down.

Delicate snowflakes turned into a snow shower and when that starts pelting you in the face while you are negotiating the uphill in a series of switchbacks, things get a bit tiresome. This was when the ponchos hastily purchased from a 300 yen shop in Kyoto, came in really useful. At the base of the Torii-Touge Pass (around 1,000 metres), we were faced with something like a blizzard and had to decide whether to press on further up over the pass or to pass it by. Our inner auntie feared a white-out at the top so we decided to give it a pass in the end. Live to walk another day, we thought. Here is a snapshot of our walk in the snow:-

We eventually got into Narai at around 1.30pm, making it a 2.5 hour walk from Yabuhara, in the snow, mind you (even if we didn’t make it up all the way to the Pass). Narai, of a thousand inns, as it is referred to, turned out to be even colder than up in the hill we traversed. At around 950 metres, it is the highest of all the post towns along the Nakasendo. By this time, we were the frigid aunties so had to duck into a random soba shop for yes, steaming hot duck ramen.

Warmed up, we wandered the somewhat deserted town for a bit before hopping on the train to Matsumoto where we were to spend the night. While it seems a bit strange to veer off the trail on Day 2 to get back on the trail the next day, it was also because again, accommodation options were limited and expensive in the Narai area.

In Matsumoto, we stayed in the Ace Inn Matsumoto which is next to the station. For a decent price, it provided adequate breakfast and free onsen entry to the luxurious Shouho Hotel up in the hills. There was even a shuttle bus service provided. What more could we ask for than a nice onsen to warm up in after spending an unexpectedly cold day on the trail?

Note: All of us believed that spring walking along the Nakasendo Trail would be warm with temperatures of 15 to 20 degrees. Thank goodness for some warm clothes from Uniqlo Kyoto and ponchos from a 300-yen shop, we made it through SNOW on the 2nd day.

Spring weather is as unpredictable as the hormones of a menopausal woman

Auntie Noi

So always pack a light down and a waterproof shell and a pair of tights if you can. And oh yes, don’t leave home without your umbrella, ella, ella …


About the Nakasendo Trail:-

About Narai:-

Ace Inn Matsumoto:-

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