Running on the border between Nagano and Niigata prefectures, the 110-kilometer Shin-etsu Trail is Japan’s premier long trail. It connects many different villages, forests and peaks along the Sekida Mountains and Mt. Naeba ranges. Along the way you’ll discover Japanese nature, history and culture, and enjoy fantastic woodland and mountaintop views.
The concept of the Shin-etsu Trail and the activities to be carried out along it was laid down by long-trail pioneer Noriyoshi Kato in the Shin-etsu Trail Charter. Today it forms the underlying philosophy of the Trail, and has been accepted by the people of the regions in which the Trail runs.
The Sekida Mountain range lies on the border between Nagano and Niigata prefectures, located about 30 kilometers from the Sea of Japan. For centuries, 16 passes across the mountains served as important links for both commerce and culture between Echigo (the old name for Niigata) and Shinshu (Nagano). Along these trails have passed merchants, holy men, blind musicians and even armies in the Warring States period heading for battle.
Rising to about 1,000 meters in height, the Sekida Mountain area receives some of the heaviest snowfall in the world, due to the proximity of the Japan Sea. Annual snowfall can exceed 10 meters in places, providing a rich source of water that nurtures the primeval beech forests, countless mountain wetlands, and even the rice fields far below.
In the upper waters of the Nakatsugawa River, bordered by Tsunan town in Niigata and Sakae village in Nagano and at the foot of Mt. Naeba is an area known as Akiyamago. It is a mountainous area, with a deep valley running from Mt. Torikabuto to the west and Mt. Naeba in the east that makes for short days, especially in the winter. Despite this, and the heavy snows that blanket the region, this area has been inhabited for centuries. The deep snows meant that, until recent years, transportation basically came to a stop in winter, so a unique culture has emerged one still nurtured in Akiyamago.
The Shin-etsu Trail is a chance to enjoy the walk, as you pass through nature and towns. It is a passage where you will be healed by the beech forests, a resource that impacts so many lives; where you may well be at a loss for words as you take in the spectacular views of the Sea of Japan and other distant mountain peaks; where you walk in the footsteps of ancient travelers coming over the passes; where you can experience the lifestyles and cuisines of the often-isolated villages.
There is a nature and a culture that is unique to this area, and walking the Shin-etsu Trail is the best way to gain a deeper awareness and enjoyment of everything you encounter along the way.
The Shin-etsu Trail is the legacy of the local people and communities, of its sponsors and the many volunteers who maintain the trails. Coordinating these activities is the Shin-etsu Trail Club, which is committed to the conservation of biodiversity by creating and maintaining nature-friendly trails, ensuring that the beautiful natural world of the Trail will remain for centuries to come.
What is it about the Shin-etsu Trail that attracts people, and drives them on to complete this long hike? There’s obviously something here in the original concept of the Trail, its birth and development as the local people grew to support it. To rediscover that special something, the editorial team of Trails web magazine, which has long covered the Trail, have produced a series of articles exploring the attraction of the Shin-etsu Trail.