Old Tōkaidō Highway // Walking From Tokyo to Kyoto : A Day to Day Blog

Japan!

There’s so much hiking to be done in Japan, but if you’re interested in walking the Tōkaidō trail, then you’ve come to the right place.

I know it’s tricky to find information and other people’s accounts on this trail in English, especially if you are interested in walking the entire route following the 53 stations of Tōkaidō, and not just a small section. I hiked the 514 km / 319 mi ancient Tōkaidō route from Tokyo to Kyoto last winter and I thought it may be useful to others if I write up my day to day account of the hike. It might inspire you, or help you plan things, or if anything, it might just entertain you for a little while!

Mount Fuji following my every move

If you are interested in any of the planning and logistics involved to prepare for the hike, I have written a separate blog about this, which you can find here.

A few stats: I started hiking the trail on 14 January and finished on the 3rd of February. The route took me 19 days to walk, and on top of that I took one zero (rest) day in Nagoya, and I spent one day detouring to Hakone to visit the open-air museum. All in all I spent three weeks walking along the Tōkaidō.

The weather was bitingly cold, which is why I stayed in hostels and cheap hotels along the way, despite carrying all my camping gear with me. But you could do the trail any time of year – whatever you are most comfortable with!

As a side note – the distances in my journal below add up to about 585 km / 364 mi because I measured the daily distances from hotel to hotel and not just the sections along the official route itself. Taking this into account, I walked an average of 29.3 km / 18.2 mi per day.

Tokyo Nihonbashi, where the trail starts

Here’s my day to day account:

Day 1 : Tokyo Nihonbashi – Kawasaki (21 km / 13 mi)

The Tōkaidō trail starts at Tokyo Nihonbashi, right in the centre of the city and all of the busyness. I stay in a hostel nearby but have to run off for a quick pre-trail visit to L Breath (a Japanese outdoor store), before I get to Nihonbashi to start. When I get there, there are all sorts of statues and I’m not sure which ones (if any) relate to the Tōkaidō, so I snap a few pictures with all of them and begin to walk.

It is January and winter, but I immediately notice that I’m wearing the wrong clothes: Tokyo is freezing cold but in the sun I really need a windbreaker. To my elation I remember that the route is actually about to take me past my favourite outdoor store Montbell so I hop in and find one quickly. I wear it immediately and it’s perfect.

After picking up a hot coffee I continue through Tokyo’s busy centre. An hour and a half later, I’m back at Nihonbashi. Wait, what? Yes. I managed to walk in the wrong direction after exiting the coffee shop and I somehow walked in a huge circle until I got back to where I started. I generally have a very good sense of direction so I am absolutely gutted. Along with my visit to L Breath, this means I’ve just added 10 kilometres to my otherwise 21 kilometre day. The only thing I can do is to just start again, so I take a deep breath and go.

Some of the plaques and statues at Nihonbashi

The day takes me through Tokyo and its suburbs. The city is huge and all the buildings are muted and grey, but I also pass a lot of typically Japanese shrines and signs and perfectly manicured trees. There are people everywhere and I realise it’ll be difficult to take good pictures in such urban areas – it’s one of my favourite things about hiking but it’ll take some additional effort to do it here.

As the day passes it gets dark and cold early and physically it gets increasingly uncomfortable. After all the hiking I did in Tasmania, my feet are in desperate pain during the final 10 kilometres of the day, and it gets so cold I end up wearing all of my layers.

One of many Tokyo streets

By the time I get to Kawasaki it’s so cold I can’t even imagine being outside anymore. Everything hurts and my body feels stiff with cold. I couldn’t be happier by the time I find my accommodation, and I’m pleasantly surprised when I realise it’s just about the nicest hostel I’ve ever stayed at. I’m at the Hotel & Hostel On The Marks and I’ve got a my own little bunk bed / pod with a curtain for privacy. It’s warm and cosy, and I never want to leave.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any food along the way and need to go back outside to get some. I put all my layers back on and pass a lot of restaurants I’m dying to go inside – I should just walk in but I am thrown off guard by the Japanese menus and get too intimidated to try. I end up getting a ready-made dinner from a conbini and eat it at the hostel.

Arriving in Kawasaki in the cold and dark

Day 2 : Kawasaki – Yokohama (17 km / 10.6 mi)

I’ve only just started but while I’m adjusting to the new trail, food and weather, I’m happy to have a short and easy second day ahead of me. It’s another solely urban walk but I conquer an alternative battle: I eat in a Japanese restaurant!

During the day, I pass a small eatery with a vending machine outside. It shows pictures of all the dishes you can select and you can buy a ticket from the machine itself. Some vending machines only have text in Japanese, so I want to take advantage of this one with images. It still takes a while to pick up the courage to actually do it but in the end I go for it: I select a noodle soup and buy my ticket.

When I enter, I’m greeted by the chefs who always give a loud welcome and goodbye to their patrons, something that always fuels me with an odd feeling of embarrassment. A server takes my ticket while I sit myself in a booth. Shortly after she returns with my food. The restaurant is mostly inhabited by Japanese men in suits but there are a few other people so I don’t feel too awkward. I feel like I’ve conquered a small fear by eating here, and it feels great.

A real Japanese lunch!

When I arrive in Yokohama I stay in a dorm at Futareno. It’s a beautiful old Japanese guest house, but I realise quickly that this also means that the building gets very cold. In the evening I move to the front room, which is cute but small and absolutely freezing. There are some space heaters dotted around and the people there give me a few small Japanese bites to eat. However cute the place is, after a day of walking in the cold outside, I wish I was back in yesterday’s warm hostel.

Secret pleasures: Japanese vending machines

Day 3 : Yokohama – Fujisawa (23 km / 14.3 mi)

Before I leave, the hostel gives me a few sachets of what I will later discover is the nicest hot chocolate drink ever.

I leave by 9 so I can arrive at today’s accommodation early. So far, I’ve been booking my hostels very last minute because I don’t want to tie myself down to walking predetermined distances every day, but this also limits my choice in places to stay. For tonight I was only able to book a room in a more expensive hotel. I leave early and plan to pick up some food along the way so I can enjoy the room for as long as possible.

Japanese route check

The walk is very much like the days before. I pass through grey urban streets and am patiently waiting for a challenge to start. The skies are clear and it’s sunny, but it remains very cold. I hope it’s going to snow one of these days, but so far I haven’t seen a sign of it. Although snow would mean even colder temperatures, it would also add that magical winter hiking feel to the whole experience. Maybe that could be my challenge – to hike the Tōkaidō in the snow.

During the walk, I reach a high point and overlook a townscape of endless roofs and for the first time, Mount Fuji appears from behind all the buildings. I watch the perfect cone top as it’s covered in snow. When I take a few pictures I meet several older Japanese men who are section hiking the Tōkaidō on the weekends. My first fellow hikers!

Mount Fuji rears it’s head over the many houses

When I get to the hotel I take advantage of the long afternoon and decide to do my laundry for the first time – soon facing a very typical language barrier where I can’t figure out how to select the right settings on the machine. The hostess is as confused by my English as I am by the machine, so I let it continue on… whatever programme is running. Everything comes out again and hasn’t shrunk, so I’m happy enough.

Unfortunately, my feet are less happy – apart from the normal, constant pain from walking so much all the time, the Salomon quicklaces of my new pair of cushiony shoes have begun to dig into the top of my right foot, causing a lot of disproportionate pain. I end up putting thick blister plasters in my socks to create a buffer, which works quite well. It’s discouraging to know that so far, I haven’t been able to walk without any foot pain and it’s making the hike a lot more difficult than it otherwise would be.

Day 4 : Fujisawa – Odawara (36.5 km / 22.7 mi)

My first long day, but I manage to hold up pretty well. Views of Mount Fuji follow me all day, and I see the sea for the first time. I feel like I’ve reached an important landmark and it feels great. The sea is a very unaffected sight of dark blue water, a yellow glow on the horizon and perfect black sand. I walk on the beach for quite some time and try to finally take some good pictures – I fail miserably.

The sea! The beaches were black sand, which I had not expected

The last kilometres hurt more than usual but I manage to get into a very focused state of mind, and amazingly fly through! I arrive at the hostel in the dark and it’s a strange place, as though someone converted a huge garage into a dorm. I sit in the lounge and make hot drinks with the macha latte powder I picked up earlier. It’s my favourite Japanese post-hike treat.

Day 5 : Odawara – Hakone-Yumoto (13 km / 8.1 mi)

I’ve been pondering my route for a while and decide to walk a detour via Hakone-Yumoto. Friends of mine repeatedly mentioned the Hakone open-air museum so I thought it would be nice to take the opportunity to visit it. The route so far has been almost solely urban and rather monotonous, and I’m not set on following the exact route of the Tōkaidō – I’m happy to try an alternate detour, as long as I still have a continuous line going from Tokyo to Kyoto. After visiting the museum, I plan to continue along the main road and join the trail again at Hakonemachi, at the bottom of Lake Ashi.

It’s only a short way up to Hakone-Yumoto, but the moment I begin to walk up the busy, steep mountain road, I know I’ve made a mistake. The windy road is packed with buses and there is practically no shoulder. I’m constantly switching to the other side of the road so that the traffic in front and behind can see me. It’s certainly not the safest road to walk, but there are no other options.

Walking up the meandering mountain road

After I check into my very cute but pricey accommodation at Hostel 1914 for the night, I walk the confusing streets to the open-air museum. I should probably clarify that I’m not really a museum person. But I thought I might like it since it’s outside and free. Wait, let me say that again: I thought it was free until I arrive and realise that open-air does not equal open-entry. Sigh.

I take some time to determine whether I really want to pay the price for entry, until I have to admit to myself that I made this huge detour and walked up that horrible road just to visit this museum, so I should go. I walk around all afternoon and quite enjoy the funny pieces scattered all over the place. Still, I really wish I’d stayed on trail.

Hakone open-air museum

In the meantime I discover that the section of trail I am currently bypassing is actually one of the few more interesting sections of the Tōkaidō. Now I am even more frustrated with my choice to come to the museum and decide to backtrack the next day. Back to hike the Tōkaidō!

One of the many Shinto shrines that line the roads

Day 6 : Hakone-Yumoto – Mishima (33.2 / 20.6 mi)

I get up early and take the train back to Hakone-Yumoto station. It’s a funny little train going down the mountain and I sit at the front, enjoying the views ahead.

Taking the train back to the bottom of the mountain, to resume the trail

When I continue the hike I am so, so happy I backtracked. This part of the route follows the old stone footpath of the Tōkaidō and it’s the first time I’m somewhat away from civilisation and walking in nature. I jump from stone to stone, up and down the mountain, surrounded by pine forests.

Elated by the trail! Finally in nature
Hakone is a popular section of trail that a lot of people walk

The trail often intersects the highway but it’s a great bit to walk and rejuvenates me after all that road walking through the city. My feet enjoy the softer ground as well, and feel much better. But the best moment comes when I spot old snow for the first time. I’ve been wishing for snow and I’d expected to walk in snow in Japan, but that wasn’t the case. Seeing some old snow lining the trail makes me unproportionally happy.

Later in the day I reach Lake Ashi and it suddenly gets busy with tourists. I watch Mount Fuji across the water and slowly continue the trail until it heads back into town.

Lake Ashi, with Mount Fuji looming in the background, which was much easier to spot in person!
A typical Japanese road

Day 7 : Mishima – Fujisawa (30.3 km / 18.8 mi)

My feet are getting more painful with the longer days and unfortunately, the coastal walk today isn’t that interesting either. The day is pretty grey and when I finally reach town I accidentally take a shortcut to the hostel. I didn’t intend to deviate from the trail, but my feet are nevertheless happier walking a little less.

A grey day with views over the sea

Day 8 : Fujisawa – Shizuoka (41.8 km / 26 mi)

I’ve been dreading this long day for a while. It starts off nice: the first 20 kilometres are enjoyable and pass the old Tōkaidō lodging station of Yui. It’s a cute little street with old Japanese houses and quite a few tourists. The woodwork is beautiful. I can’t figure out if I’m allowed to go inside some of the buildings so I pass slowly and take in the details.

Mount Fuji looked enormous from town

I keep panoramic views of Mount Fuji as I continue along the trails next to the highway but as time goes by it gets increasingly difficult. I’m back in the city and it’s absolute torture. I can’t stop being hungry. I desperately want to take the train to the hostel but the last thing I want is to make tomorrow’s short day longer.

Captivating old streets with beautiful architecture

The day passes slowly and I get so exhausted that I find myself almost toppling over. When I’m just a few hours from my destination, a Japanese man spots me and in his excitement tries to talk to me. All I can say is ‘Tōkaidō’ and I try to keep moving because I am desperate to reach my hostel and rest. Shortly after I continue my way, a man jogs past me and motions for me to turn back – the Japanese man from earlier is running towards me again.

I have no idea what is going on but when he reaches me he gives me a collection of hand drawn post cards and I can’t help but be touched by his excitement for a foreigner hiking the trail. My exhaustion has gotten the better of me though and after somewhat of a bowing competition that goes on endlessly, I finally decide to be the one to turn first and go back to walking.

Watching Fuji from up high

When I finally make it to the hostel I feel huge relief. I can rest, at last. The hostel is a funny one: the rooms are private but the partially height partition walls are like toilet cubicles and the overhead lighting is communal.

Surprisingly, the girl that works there speaks perfect English and I’m glad to be able to properly speak to someone for the first time since arriving in Japan. When she shows me how to do laundry, I finally realise why I got so confused by the machines at the last hotel, when I couldn’t figure out how to select the right programme: laundry machines in Japan are cold water machines only – there’s simply no temperature setting to change.

The day began with some interesting sections of trail
Ending the day in town again

Day 9 : Shizuoka – Shimada (34.8 km / 21.6 mi)

I find out that the short day I had been dying for isn’t actually until tomorrow. I am devastated. On top of that, I calculate the distance to be about 28 kilometres, but as I walk I realise it’s a lot more than that. The views are varied. Most of the route passes through the city but there are small sections of trail and some old towns.

The day turns out to be as hard as the one before, physically and mentally. On top of that, it also gets really cold. There are some small pleasures though: such as the Japanese man on a motorcycle who hands me a mandarin.

The trail affords some nice views as it climbs up into the forest
A nice bit of trail

Day 10 : Shimada – Kakegawa (20.7 km / 12.9 mi)

Finally the short day I have been craving! It still takes me ages to walk the 20 kilometres but the scenery is different from before. I walk through smaller towns and hilly roads, up and down tea plantations. I enjoy the change and spend some more time relaxing and taking pictures.

Leaving Shimada and approaching the big bridge over Ooi River
Enjoying the hilly hike through the tea plantations

Day 11 : Kakegawa – Hamamatsu (32.1 km / 19.9 mi)

Today is very uneventful when it comes to the scenery, but I keep a steady pace without too much pain so it makes me feel like I’ve finally had a successful day.

One of Hiroshige’s interpretations of the stations along the Tōkaidō

Day 12 : Hamamatsu – Kosai (16.8 km / 10.4 mi)

I originally planned to walk all the way to Toyohashi from Hamamatsu, but I need a break badly, and decide to cut the long day into two short ones instead.

I start the day at FamilyMart. My nose and ears have been suffering from being exposed to the cold and wind all the time. I thought I just had some sores from exposure but I’m afraid I’m actually suffering from frostbite. It’s either that or I’m sunburnt. I realise I need to keep my ears safe and buy a thickly knitted hat. It’s a cheap one and pretty ugly but i don’t have a choice: I need it in this cold.

I walk on through the grey Japanese streets until I reach Lake Hamana and walk the long bridge between the lake and the sea. My hotel is in Kosai, further up north and quite far off trail, but close to the lake. When I reach Araimachi station, I take the train up to Washizu JR station, and it’s an easy journey.

When I check into the hotel I have views over the lake and a Japanese tea set with a fridge. I am so happy to relax and enjoy the rest of the day. I have all afternoon and evening and I find a great supermarket where I buy tons of food that I prepare using the tiny tea set. Even though the small pot is only meant for heating up water, I realise you can use it for cooking hot food as well. It feels great to have all this time to rest and eat and have this entire room to myself.

Approaching Lake Hamana
My view from the hotel

Day 13 : Kosai – Toyohashi (22.8 km / 14.2 mi)

I continue with a heavy pack because I didn’t manage to eat all the food I bought yesterday. This isn’t uncommon – I always get too excited with all the options available and consistently buy way too much food.

Today turns out to be a nice walk and I enjoy the views of the sea at the start of the day. It’s cold and sunny. It’s the perfect day to buy my favourite Japanese ice cream: sticky white balls with vanilla ice cream inside. It’s an odd treat in winter, but they are ridiculously tasty.

Winter ice cream!

When I walk through some back streets, a Japanese lady appears out of nowhere and gives me a hot can of vending machine coffee. The vending machine drinks are great, especially when you’re always outdoors, and the machines that sell hot drinks are even better.

When the lady tries to talk to me I am slightly embarrassed by her kindness. I don’t understand any of the words she is saying to me, so I just keep saying ‘Tōkaidō Tōkaidō’ and nod a lot. She appears disappointed when she realises I don’t speak any Japanese, and unfortunately she doesn’t understand any English either.

The encounter leaves me somewhat flustered. Not just because of the language barrier – I also feel like a mess. My nose and ears are covered in scabs and my hat looks ridiculous. It makes me thankful that, at least, I’m hiking on my own.

Hot coffee!

At night I prepare another hot meal. The hotel room only has a standard plastic kettle but after some cleaning I deem it usable for cooking food. I throw in a bunch of things, but the moment I add tomatoes I realise my mistake: the white plastic kettle has instantly stained yellow on the inside and even the mouth through which you pour the water, is stained. I have a slight nervous breakdown and spend the rest of the evening freaking out and cleaning the kettle with the one spray bottle I found in the room. It takes me all evening to realise it’s a Japanese Febreze.

A beautiful seating area next to the road, overlooking the sea

Day 14 : Toyohashi – Okazaki (32.8 km / 20.4 mi)

My morning is in turmoil. I’m scared the hotel will discover that I stained the kettle and charge me. I consider sneaking into another room while it’s being cleaned so I can switch mine around, but realise the ludicracy of the idea just in time. Instead I take the plug out of the socket and tie up the cable as though I never used the device in the first place. I check out of the hotel and hope they don’t notice it or don’t speak enough English to confront me. The phone call I fear all day never comes.

The walk starts quite bleak when I cross the big river in Toyohashi and continue the trail close to the Route 1 highway. Today is not very stimulating. The Tōkaidō continues along the usual Japanese suburban environment, but at least I’ve got something to look forward to: I’ve planned my first rest day for tomorrow and I simply can’t wait for it to start.

I take my first break after just ten kilometres and after that I pretty much collapse. I just can’t go on anymore. I keep walking and standing still and I just don’t want to move anymore. But I can’t stop. I need to reach Okazaki where I will take the train to Nagoya for my day off. If I get on a train before Okazaki it will make my next walking day much too long. I struggle through until I finally make it to the station. A day off, at last!

They put a sign up for me: little old lady with a backpack hiking the trail…

Zero day : Nagoya

I celebrate the perfect zero day: I walk around a little, eat food and then stay in to watch tv shows. I couldn’t be happier.

The only picture I took in Nagoya

Day 15 : Okazaki – Nagoya (37 km / 23 mi)

I actually walk this section in the reverse direction, from my hostel in Nagoya back to Okazaki, where I left the trail two days ago. I’ll take the train back to Nagoya at the end of the day, so I walk without a pack and everything feels so much lighter. Unfortunately, my feet hurt all the same which disappoints me, but I still enjoy the freedom of walking without all that weight strapped to my back.

I take my first break after twenty kilometres and I hope I can keep up the good progress, but after only five kilometres I’m exhausted and have to sit down to rest again. The day is long and boring and I can’t help but wish the trail was different. I’m happy when I find myself passing an interesting street with old Edo architecture. I find out it’s the historic townscape of Arimatsu and a popular tourist destination. It’s nice to walk somewhere a little different for once.

Beautiful and touristy Arimatsu

When I finally reach Okazaki it takes me ages to find the right train back to Nagoya. This Japanese train system is frustratingly confusing!

Day 16 : Nagoya – Asahi (40.5 km / 25.2 mi)

I couldn’t find any affordable accommodation around Asahi so I’m leaving my pack at the hostel in Nagoya. Today I’m walking to Asahi and will then take the train back to the hostel.

I have some long days ahead of me. It looks like I might be meeting a friend in Kyoto for the weekend and I want to finish the trail before I see her. So I decide for a bit of a push.

The section I’m walking today was actually a boat ride back in the day, so instead I make up my own route. I keep it simple so I don’t have to check where I’m going the whole time: I stick to Route 1, counting the big bridges along the way and follow the road all the way down to Kuwana where I join the trail again and walk the final seven kilometres to Asahi.

The sign announcing the ferry ride across the water. This is where I make up my own route for most of the day ahead

Unfortunately I get bored after 17 kilometres. There are a few interesting streets but it’s mostly your usual grey urban Japanese landscape. I also underestimated the distance today and begin to worry about the coming days. They will be long and the train line doesn’t run along the trail, so I can’t back out if I have to. As a coping mechanism, I spend most of the day thinking about my upcoming hike in Iceland, and I wonder what it will be like compared to this urban jungle.

Dreaming about living here

When I finally reach Asahi I am on the verge of tears. My ankles are killing me. Its beginning to get dark and it takes a while to figure out how to use the train. The station is tiny and there is nowhere to buy tickets. The platform is deserted. When a few people arrive, I am too scared to ask – most likely their English is limited and I’m not very good at talking with hands and feet.

I finally notice a sign that explains how the train works. It’s kind of like a bus. You take a ticket when you enter and a display at the front of the train will tell you how much you need to pay. You place the money and your ticket in the box on the way out. I check my money and realise I only have large notes.

I feel devastated. This means that after walking 40 kilometres I now have to go out in the dark and find a supermarket to buy something so that I can get some change. I’m absolutely shattered. I think about the people that do this walk in two weeks. How in the world do they do it? How can they just keep on walking? I wonder if it’s normal to walk 40 kilometres every day or if I’m just really bad at this stuff.

The trail went through this small park next to the canal

Day 17 : Asahi – Kameyama (43.4 km / 27 mi)

I check out of the hostel in Nagoya and find my way back to Asahi station, where my route continues. Just like yesterday, I’ve highly underestimated the distance I need to walk so I try and focus on the small things. I have fun photographing some plumes under a bridge, and admire Japanese architecture and building materials. I like the timber houses with the long planks down the side that slowly turn black. I get curious about all the slatting on the houses that keeps the sunlight out. I continue to pass some pretty sights and streets and wonder what it would be like to live in one of these houses.

More romantic canal views

As it slowly gets late I realise I am still quite far from my hotel. I end up walking in the dark, moving much too slow in the violent cold. For the first time, I’m a bit scared. Street lighting is scarce and cars struggle to see me in the dark and pass recklessly as I walk the narrow streets without pavement. I miss out on the sights of the winding streets in Kameyama with their traditional timber features.

The hotel sits a bit further out of town, a chunky building surrounded by a huge intersection of highways and I take some time to find the right pathways to bridge the roads or run across. It all seems a bit sketchy and I feel lost out there in the middle of nowhere. I am relieved to get inside and the safety of my own warm room.

My hotel the next morning

Day 18 : Kameyama – Minakuchi Ishibashi (36.6 km / 22.7 mi)

The route is a lot more interesting today: there’s a lot of old architecture on the little roads that meander around Route 1, and much to my delight, there’s even a small section of trail. I love being back in the forest and climbing the incredibly steep stairs up the trail. I even get to a snowy area at one point.

River views

Surprisingly, I’m not too bothered about the piercingly cold wind that haunts me for most of the day, even though I barely manage to keep warm enough with two base layers and four coats. It makes me glad I made it all the way to Kameyama yesterday, because today is also longer than expected.

Photographing all the details of this old street

I plan to walk to Minakuchi Ishibashi, but since I couldn’t find any affordable accommodation along this final stretch, I booked a hostel in Kyoto for the coming nights and will train back and forth to walk the last remaining sections the coming days. Although I’d ideally arrive in Kyoto on foot, it just doesn’t seem possible.

Another walk through nature

When I get to Minakuchi Ishibashi I quickly begin to regret my decision to stay in Kyoto to save money. I assumed there would be a direct train line running to Kyoto, but there isn’t. I’m in an odd corner and it takes three different trains to get to Kyoto. It’s a bit of a mission.

The first train I take only goes about every hour or so, and it looks like a bit of a toy train. The man who sells my ticket at the following station is luckily very helpful and points me in the right direction. I notice most commuters also jump from the first train onto the one he points me to, so I’m quite reassured I’m headed in the right direction. I make it to Kyoto unscathed. Now I just hope I’ll find my way back in the morning.

Country roads

Snow!

Day 19 : Minakuchi Ishibashi – Kusatsu (28.6 km / 17.8 mi)

I have a bit of a nightmare morning trying to catch the train back to Minakuchi. First I struggle to find out where to even go in Kyoto station. It’s huge and there are different sections for different trains. In my desperation I throw myself at some poor man who appears to work at the station and although he doesn’t really speak English, he understands where I’m trying to get to. He takes me to a ticket machine and then escorts me to the right platform. What a relief!

Unfortunately, as I wait for my train I begin to realise that there are delays (surprisingly enough, considering this is Japan). My train never arrives and I have no idea if the following trains from this platform are going to my station. The track branches off in several directions before the station where I need to change, and I have no idea how to find out where I need to go. At first I stay calm, until I realise that my third train only goes once an hour. Then I stress out – I don’t want to end up waiting an hour on the other end.

When the next train pulls up on the platform it shows a different destination. I have no idea if I can take it. After some hovering, I pick up the courage to walk to the front and knock on the conductor’s window. They are hugely polite and when I name my destination they concur that I can get into the train. Phew! I finally make it back to Minakuchi Ishibashi at about 11:30. Time to continue the trail.

I follow the residential roads for another day. Gorgeous houses with elegant timber slatted details and deep green plants with pebbled gardens. It is quite enjoyable and at last the day is also a little bit shorter compared to the previous ones.

Always excited for the perfect dwellings
A typical day on the Tōkaidō

Day 20 : Kusatsu – Kyoto Sanjo Ōhashi (30.8 km / 19.1 mi)

My last day on the Tōkaidō! If anything, I can say that I am getting good at reading the platform train signs, and I know exactly where to stand for the train I’m taking. I start the day by taking the train to Kusatsu where I continue walking through suburban Kyoto, and I get my last day of Japanese urban architecture.

Finally a signpost!

A small park on the water

I am happy to start my final day – I’m almost there. But as the day progresses, I get more and more frustrated. There are too many people around and I’m sick of being a city. It’s all getting a bit too much.

Getting closer to Kyoto

As I move closer to the end point, I pass Lake Biwa and slowly the urban landscape thickens even more. I walk pavement after pavement and everything hurts, but I move closer into Kyoto and then, suddenly, I’m there. I’ve reached the bridge. Kyoto Sanjo Ōhashi. I made it.

It’s crowded with tourists and it’s weird to walk around with my backpack and know that I’m the only one here who walked to this bridge in Kyoto all the way from Tokyo. I take my time and photograph the random statues to mark the end of my journey. All the way from Tokyo to Kyoto along the old Tōkaidō highway.

Another adventure completed!
Kyoto Sanjo Ōhashi bridge!
Exhausted, but I promise I was happy to make it!

Published by

Rosanne Luciana

A Dutch-born London-based hiker who has swapped an East Asian backpacking experience for the opportunity to truly immerse herself into nature, by quite simple, walking.

11 thoughts on “Old Tōkaidō Highway // Walking From Tokyo to Kyoto : A Day to Day Blog

  1. Hello
    I’m very interesting by making the tokaido walk, so i find your blog, it’s usefull and very interesting
    do you have the exact way you take on google map or other ? and the hostels where you stop ?
    actually the only realy well documented book I found is a japanese one
    https://www.amazon.fr/gp/product/4635600793/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
    and https://www.amazon.fr/gp/product/4635600807/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
    do you know other documents ?
    thanks for this blog !!
    have nice Walks 😉

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    1. Hi Kahn! When I did the Tokaido I hadn’t found any other information either, apart from having read a few blog posts here and there. I don’t speak any Japanese so no books for me either! I found the route online (https://gpscycling.net/tokaido/tokaido_e.html) and added it to the map on my phone. I booked hotels and hostels a few days ahead, just by looking at the map and trying to figure out how far I could walk and what town I would end up at. And I would just book my accommodation on booking.com, trying to find the cheapest places because it gets very expensive! Most town have lots of accommodation so I would say go online and see what is available when you’re there. I didn’t keep a record of the exact places because there are many to choose from, so it doesn’t really matter. Good luck with your long walk!!

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      1. OK, thanks for you answer
        I don’t speak Japanese either, but the books are very usefull because all the trail is shown on a map, you don’t have to read japanese to understand, it’s a little different than gpscycling map, I’m trying to put it on google maps (you can see the bigining here : https://drive.google.com/open?id=1GYjmBry6qAHAyaC-6cWono6DS0_Ip0OP&usp=sharing )
        I understant that i’ts difficult to book the hotels before the trip because the time depends on the weather and the rythm
        thanks for all

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      1. Thanks! I’ll update you on my progress. Although I plan to walk part of it, I’ll hitchhike some of the trail since I don’t have enough time unfortunately

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      2. Good luck! There are some very boring urban sections (you can probably use this post to figure out which ones) so you can easily skip those. You may already have experience with this but I hear hitchhiking may be difficult in Japan. However there’s a train line that runs mostly alongside the route so you could always skip ahead by train! Look forward to hear how you are finding it.

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      3. So, I walked from Kyoto to Otsu today, and now I find myself in an empty guesthouse all for myself. Quite a weird experience.
        Half of the walk from Kyoto was indeed quite boring, so I’ll check in your post what I can skip. Only problem is that I don’t know the trail! There are some signs but I mostly walk the main path I can find hoping for the best. Did you succeed finding a map of the trail?
        About hitchhiking, so far everytime I tried I found one eventually. Lets hope for the best

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      4. Very exciting to hear you’ve started! The trail is not always marked but I managed to find a map for you here:
        https://gpscycling.net/tokaido/tokaido_e.html
        I hope that helps! Have a browse through the diary to see what you can skip. Some sections go through lovely old neighbourhoods and there are nice bits of trail, but there is a lot of road walking involved as well…

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