Hikes have always been a popular pastime in Japan. However, self-guided tours have been taking the lead in recent years. With innumerable sublime trails roaming all over Japan, hardcore hikers and leisurely strollers are truly spoiled for choice when scoping out exploratory jaunts for their trip to the Land of the Rising Sun.
One particular route whose celebrity and beauty have never been feigned is the Basho Wayfarer - a historic journey based on the iconic poetic travelogue, Oku-no-hosomichi, written by Japan's legendary haiku poet Matsuo Basho.
Said to be one of the nation's most illustrious walking trails, this multi-day-and-night tour sends explorers on the Narrow Road to the Deep North of the Tohuku region, along which sensational samples of the country's stunning nature, distinct culture, welcoming people, and historic sites can all be experienced as authentically as the day Basho first stumbled upon them himself.
Hike The Self-Guided Basho Wayfarer Trail - One Of Japan's Most Beautiful Routes
The Basho Wayfarer is among the most authentic experiences in Japan with no lack of self-discovery along the way. At 100 miles in length, the prodigious path offers an entertaining opportunity to experience Japan’s uniquely different northern Tohoku region, where its distinguished culture and friendly locals welcome walkers as they explore their proud homelands.
Alongside a menu of history, culture, and beauty, what makes this trip all the more revered is that participants follow in the very footsteps of renowned wandering haiku poet Matsuo Basho, who once told of the journey in his classic poetic travelogue, Oku-no-hosomichi - the "Narrow Road to the Deep North."
He famously wrote what was translated to: "Seek not to follow in the footsteps of wise men of old, but seek what they sought" - and the route is a testament to those exact words, delivering a truly authentic chance to do just that while in search of Japan's generous offerings.
Basho did indeed complete the journey over three hundred years ago, but even so, it would seem that the robust locals - who've adapted to the region's harsh winters - have not forgotten about his visit.
At each point along the way, residents welcome visitors with warm greetings and recitations of Basho's eloquent poetry, while the region offers delights that are equally enriching: the gift of sumptuous onsen hot springs, irresistible local cuisine, and decadent amounts of authentic sake.
Throw in cozy accommodation that's beautifully traditional in style, and tired eyes and aching feet are effortlessly soothed come the evening - the perfect end to each day's hiking ventures.
The route begins in Sendai and ends in Yamadera, the starting point being a historically important and culturally exquisite part of Japan that once served as the stronghold of the Date Clan - a powerful samurai family that dominated the region for over three centuries, whose home city in Sendai is still the largest in all of Japan.
From Sendai, hikers continue along the path to the site of a ruined fortress at Tagajo, after which they head on to the striking Matsushima Bay, whose beauty was said to have left Basho himself speechless. And if such awe isn't quite enough to strike the same chord with explorers just yet, then surely the list of temples to discover along the next sections of the route might just do the trick; hikers will come across Entsuin, Zuiganji and Chusonji, all of which are more than sufficient to leave visitors without words as they did for Basho.
Furthermore, passing through luscious forests with flora flourishing in myriad shades throughout the ever-changing seasons is also responsible for the trail's splendor, entailing the crisp, wintry icy hues in the colder months, rich golden autumnal leaves in fall, and the warm verdant foliage of spring and summer. And it is in one of these lush forests where hikers descend upon the famed Hojin No Re - a picturesque thatched building cited to be the only remaining structure in which Basho is documented to have stayed.
It's in this old-world establishment where fatigued explorers retrace Basho's footsteps and enjoy a refreshing cup of green tea before retiring to their comfortable accommodation that's gorgeously traditional in nature and aesthetic. And, with riverside onsen baths and a mouth-watering meal of locally-sourced ingredients cooked by a welcoming local host, exhausted hikers basking in the therapeutic hot spring waters are left asking themselves this during their evening and morning soak: can a Japan vacation really get much more genuine than this?
The beginning and end of each day are indeed as heavenly as this picture is imprinted in one's mind right now; hikers staying in quintessential Japanese ryokans and family-run inns, most with distinctive, traditional surroundings with paper-sliding shoji doors and straw tatami flooring.
If experiencing a true sense of the classic Japanese lifestyle, its historic buildings, and the overwhelming beauty of the nation's natural environment are on one's bucket list, then this incredible journey of discovery is a must.
It showcases some of Japan's finest samples of nature, history, and culture, all on one magnificent route that's guaranteed to give a unique perspective and incomparable insight into the country and its treasures unlike any other experience to be had in all of Japan.
What To Know Before Attempting The Basho Wayfarer
The self-guided Basho Wayfarer is simple to follow and not so strenuous in comparison to many other hikes in Japan. Walking distances range from five to 14 kilometers per day (three to eight and a half miles) and involve an elevation differentiation averaging between 100 and 400 meters. The route is also as flexible as it is easy; hikers can shorten or lengthen each day's mileage in accordance with their daily stamina.
Generally speaking, the journey is comfortable, though it does see some portions that are notably steeper, such as the more remote section of Natagiri-toge pass whose challenges are repaid in full in the form of panoramic vistas of the blissful countryside.
The last point to note, visitors are welcome to explore the Basho Wayfarer from mid-May through early November during the season's more inviting, warmer months. So pack those hiking boots, book that ticket to Japan, and prepare to tackle one of its oldest, most beautiful hiking trails to ever grace explorers in the Land of the Rising Sun - a possessing path that evidently captivated the poetic heart of Japan's celebrated Matsuo Basho himself, whose famous words were inspired by the unrelenting series of spectacles along this cinematic path - but not before they were first stunned into silence by its majestic beauty.