Hiking Nara’s Ancient Paths
One of the pleasures of visiting Nara is the natural environment. Blessed with hills and wide plains in the centre, and mountains with fast running rivers and waterfalls in the south, there are hiking courses for all levels of fitness.
As you travel Japan's oldest byways, it's like walking through the pages of a fascinating history book. These paths through history resonate with the adventures of thousands before you, as working farms and picturesque villages coexist with ancient tombs and sacred shrines. Popular walks with locals, these paths are a great way to connect with Nara's heartland.
Running north to south, this ancient path takes you between Katsuragi and Gose, an area that was populated by the Yayoi people (bronze age). Mt. Katsuragi is famous for masses of pink azaleas in late spring and vivid red amaryllis flowers, which draw crowds in early autumn.
It takes around two hours to walk the meandering path from Mt. Katsuragi and Kamoyamaguchi Shrine, through farmlands and small villages, to Takagamojinja Shrine.
In many places, the ancient road is lined with Jizo statues. This Buddhist deity is known as the protector of children and of travellers. Always carved from stone, they watch over us as we endure dangerous journeys, marking the boundary between the physical and spiritual worlds.
You will see the name “Kamo” or “Gamo” in many local shrines and temples; the powerful Kamo clan controlled most of this area and were said to have descended from the three-legged crow that lead Japan’s first emperor to Nara in 660 BC.
From Takagamojinja, you can catch a bus to Gose Station, or if you feel like exploring further, you can continue 8km south to Gojo, a picturesque town famous for its historic townscape.
Part of Japan’s oldest road, the Yamanobe-no-Michi leads you through many historic and rural areas, dotted with shrines, temples and tombs. The whole route from Tenri to Sakurai takes about four hours and the walk is quite easy, but there are several train stops along the way, should you tire.
- Isonokami Jingu Shrine is a popular stop on the Yamanobe-no-Michi; don’t miss the roosters.
- The path takes you through fields and farmlands that reflect the changing seasons.
The road meanders through farmlands and fruit orchards and locals often set up small stands to sell their fruit and vegetables along with drinks and snacks. It’s a great opportunity to meet the friendly local people and take a break. In summer you can buy oranges and in autumn, sweet persimmons. If you are lucky, you might find homemade hiyashiame, a refreshing sweet drink made with fresh ginger.
- In autumn, farm houses along the way hang astringent persimmons to dry.
- Along the way, there are small farm stands using the honour system; choose what you want and put the correct money in the box.
This area is full of fascinating myths and legends. The sacred mountains which rise suddenly from the flat plains are believed to house gods, some of whom fell in love with humans. It is also said that a shaman queen called Himiko ruled these lands around 170AD, with a thousand female attendants.
The Yamanobe-no-Michi continues to Hasedera Temple, but many people finish at Miwa. Sake makers come from all over Japan to pray for good sake at Ohmiwa Jinja Shrine. The town has a small but lively neighbourhood of traditional shops and sake breweries and a famous sword maker. Be sure to try the local specialty, Miwa Somen. You can take a train from Miwa Station back to Nara City or continue your journey through Sakurai.
- The imposing black torii leading to Ohmiwa Jinja Shrine is impossible to miss.
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