Some travelers who plan to visit central Japan are worrying about any trouble by the eruption of Mt. Ontake, the 3067-meter volcano. It is a big tragedy that more than 50 climbers died by the sudden eruption of Sep. 27. Mt. Ontake is popular for climbers and also pilgrims who believe in its mountain religion, and the eruption occurred at noon on a weekend of the peak hiking season.
Now, however, troubles by the eruption are limited. You cannot enter ONLY the 4km-radius cautionary zone from the summit of Mt. Ontake. It doesn't affect ordinary lives and travel in other areas. All trains, buses, roads in Nagano Prefecture are operating as usual.
Tsumago, Magome, and Narai historic post towns of Nakasendo, which are popular sightseeing spots with walking courses among foreigners, are more than 30 km away from Mt. Ontake and can be traveled safely.
Oct 11, I actually hiked between Yabuhara to Narai post towns via Torii Pass, the highest point on the historic Nakasendo highway that connected Kyoto and Tokyo in the Edo Period and before.
A very convenient point of the Yabuhara-Narai hiking route is that the start and end points are JR railroad stations. Besides, it is much quieter than the Tsumago-Magome route.
Yabuhara is a small post town and there are shops selling handmade wooden combs, a traditional product of the town.
On the top of the pass (1,250 m), there is a shrine where you can see Mt. Ontake when the sky is clear. It is a "substitute" shrine for prayers who can't climb Mt. Ontake, so many statues of gods exist there.
After you walk down from the hiking pass, you can see Narai Post Town, which has more than 50 historic buildings lining in one kilometer. They are used for nice shops of traditional handmade goods, coffee and food, small museums, and hotels even now.
This hike takes two and half hours, then you can catch a train.
The Kiso area is very nice and is my favorite place. Mt. Ontake is introduced in the Lonely Planet's guidebook "Hiking in Japan" and also has ski resorts at the mountain foot. Many workers in the tourism industry are much harmed by decrease in tourists. I hope the eruption would calm down, the 7 still missing climbers would be found soon, and tourists would come back.