Hiking the Haiku Way

Head into the heart of the Land of the Rising Sun on an intimate, immersive walking tour led by Walk Japan.

walk-japan

Photo by Gigi Ragland

Discovering Japanese culture while hiking amid tall cedar and pine forests and visiting ancient shrines and colorful temples—could it get much better than that?

Oh, yes, especially for admirers of haiku, the abbreviated form of poetry that contains 17 syllables and three verses. The 17th-century Japanese haiku master Matsuo Basho enjoyed exploring, and writing about, the vast landscapes and historical sites of his country. Now, in the 21st century, my small group of 12 spirited adventurers hiked in the same areas, specifically along the path of Basho’s last journey, which he chronicled in the famous haiku travelogue “Narrow Road to the Deep North.”

Basho’s inspired pilgrimage was carefully re-created in a hiking tour by Walk Japan, an award-winning educational and cultural tour operator that specializes in small group hiking trips with immersive itineraries. Our itinerary touched on the highlights of the “Narrow Road to the Deep North,” which took the poet 156 days to complete. Starting in Tokyo, we traveled north to Tohuku, continued onward to the Sea of Japan along the coast, and ended in Kanazawa. Instead of walking the full 1,500 miles like Basho, we hopped on bullet trains, buses, and boats to visit some of the more spectacular sites, hiking up to 10 miles a day for eight days.

Quite the hearty hiker, Basho wore sandals, while my feet were bound in cushy hiking boots. Afternoons and evenings were spent soaking sore muscles in onsen hot baths, feasting on fresh, local cuisine, and dozing in small Japanese inns. The authentic small-village atmosphere, complemented by interaction with polite, friendly locals, made it an exceptional experience. I even channeled Basho and tried writing haiku along the way, but instead of my own work, I will offer a translation of one of his poems, in which he pays homage to the fallen Fujiwara clan:

“Summer grass,
All that remains of a warrior’s dreams.”

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NACHI TEMPLE. Courtesy Walk Japan

Other walking tours
Once you have experienced one of Walk Japan’s active cultural itineraries, you’ll want to plan another. Below are a few guided tours to get you started. There are few summer tours because summer is typically hot in Japan and not as comfortable for walking.

Winter
HOKKAIDO SNOW TOUR
Snowshoe in the less-visited eastern side of the country.

SNOW COUNTRY TREK
Snowshoe in the high country of Japan’s Central Alps.

Spring and Fall
NAKASENDO WAY
Walk Japan’s pioneering route of the 17th-century highway that led travelers (samurai, nobles, traders) from Kyoto to Edo-era Tokyo.

KUMANO KODO PILGRIMAGE
Included on the UNESCO World Heritage Pilgrimage list, this tour leads walkers on the route where Buddhism originated in Japan.

OITA HOT SPRING TRAIL
Hike hot spring to hot spring in the countryside of Oita prefecture, which boasts the country’s largest concentration of hot springs.

SHIKOKU TEMPLE PILGRIMAGE
Follow part of the 1,200-year-old 88 Temple Pilgrimage, and walk from temple to temple on Japan’s fourth main island of Shikoku.

TOKYO TOUR
On this two-day walking tour, a local guide leads visitors into historical areas, including fascinating off-the-beaten-path finds.

KYOTO TOUR
This two-day walking tour offers the best of the past and present.

WALK JAPAN
Offers active, immersive cultural tours.

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