Yamanobe no michi – Japan’s oldest road
The Yamanobe no michi (山辺の道) is a beautiful walk through Japanese countryside along Japan’s oldest road. The trail was originally part of the Shinkaido trail all the way from Hasedera to Edo (modern day Tokyo) and it is the first road mentioned in Japanese historic records. The pathway is now mostly a dirt track that hugs the base of the mountains along the Eastern side of Nara Prefecture. It is a pretty easy trail to follow, and there are plenty of sign posts between each shrine or ancient sight along the way. I’ve wandered along this route at several times of year and it is always a pleasure. Just make sure you bring warm clothes if you plan to do this hike in the snow!
Yamanobe no michi map
Yamanobe no michi – the basics
Distance: 16-17 km from Sakurai to Tenri
Elevation gain: 90m(ish) (the highest point is 147m)
Time: 5-7 hours depending on how long you stop at each temple/shrines/look at views!
You will go through several shrines, temples and villages so there are quite a few loos on the trail. Bring some cash as there is lots of fruit and vegetables for sale along the side of the road too.
What to Bring:
The ten essentials
How hard is it?
It is an easy walk, but it might seem long. My colleagues and I organised a friendship hike along this route, and we had a whole range of participants from young children and grandmas/granddads. If you *do* find it is too long, you can stop earlier as there is a trainline running along the base of this route.
You can normally pick up a map from local tourist information offices. If not, I found a pdf map of Yamanobe no michi here. Look for the Sakurai and Uda section of the map.
Starting from Miwa
If you start the trail from Miwa, it’s quite fun to wander down to the massive torii gate in town before you get started. This huge gate is part of the Omiwa shrine. The shrine venerates the entire mountain (mount Miwa), so this giant gate is like an entrance to the mountain.
The area of Sakurai is really pretty to explore. You can make your own route East from the Torii. You just need to head east towards the mountain and follow a trail of shrines.
Starting from Sakurai
Alternatively, you can start this walk from Sakurai station. This route is a little more complicated, as you need to wind your way through the streets towards the mountains, but you get some lovely views along the canals.
I love the Sakurai views. There are sooo many interesting buildings, temples and shrines as the walk gets going!
I loved this section of pathway through a small bamboo grove.
Omiwa Jingu Shrine
The first major shrine on the route is Omiwa Jingu shrine. This is one of Japan’s oldest shinto shrines.
There are several gorgeous buildings and interesting torii gates within the shrine complex.
Sake Festival at Omiwa Jingu
Omiwa jingu is also also important for sake brewers. Each year, on November 14th, there is a sake festival within the shrine. Marc and I followed the Yamanobe no michi trail several years ago and we stumbled upon the sake festival by mistake!
We chatted to several sake brewers who encouraged us to try their amazing sake (even though we told them we were heading out on a hike!) All of the sake we tried was delicious.
Yamanobe no michi pathways
After Omiwa jingu, the path climbs up a hill. You’ll see some gorgeous views down to Sakurai and the giant torii gate at Miwa.
There are so many temples and shrines along this walk! The photo below is Katsubi shrine, but you’ll also walk past Saijinja, Hibarajinja, and Sumojinja just to name a few.
Meet some friendly kitties
We found a small park near the sumo shrine that had quite a few friendly kitties. We didn’t intend to stop for cat cuddles, but these little dudes were quite insistent that we needed us to stop and pet them.
How could we keep walking when someone needed a cuddle this much!?
Jizo statues along the Yamanobe no michi
Jizo statues are guardians of the weak and travellers. So, it isn’t too surprising that there are a lot of these Buddhist statues along the route. They are really well looked after by local people! I took these two photos about 13 months apart; The Jizo’s had gained several new aprons in that time!
One thing you won’t be on the yamanobe no michi trail is hungry! In quite a few places along the trail, local farmers leave fruits or vegetables for sale. You just leave money for the goods in a box, and you can take mikans, kaki, strawberries or whatever is available.
I normally end up buying at least one bag of mikan.
If you walk along the route in spring, you might even be able to buy strawberries. We found these gorgeous strawberries for sale in early March.
There are quite a few pretty villages along the edge of the mountains on this route. I could write a second post with just photos of these villages! Here is just one detail from a wall along the route.
Keyhole shaped burial mounds
As well as all the old shrines and temples, this walk will take you past some truly ancient sights. Kofun (古墳) are megalithic tombs or tumuli, there are several of them lining this route. If you look on google maps you can see that each of these kofun are keyhole shaped. It’s actually easy to walk past them without knowing what you’ve seen. Look out for man-made-looking mounds with moats around them. There are four of them along the route – the first one is for Emperor Keikō, the second is for Emperor Sujin.
Japan is a very popular destination for tourists, but very few people bother to get out into the countryside and see the prettiness of the Japanese inaka.
I love that the Yamanobe no michi will take you through so many agricultural areas. You may not see this side of Japan on tourist brochures, but in some ways, that makes it even more special.
Arriving at Tenri
There are some lovely views looking down to Tenri near the end of the walk.
This is another of the oldest shinto shrines in Japan. It was even frequented by the Imperial Family and has a whole range of ancient objects including swords, armor mirrors and jewels. I love this shrine for the architecture, and because it is on a hill, surrounded by woodland. It always seems serene and relaxing.
The main gate is an important cultural property, and the hall of worship is a National Treasure of Japan. It’s pretty mad that such an important shrine is so relaxing and empty. Most non-Japanese tourists have never heard of it.
On your walk through the town to Tenri station, you’ll see a few more incredibly impressive sights. This is the main gate for the headquaters of Tenrikyo, which is the head of over 16,000 churches in Japan (and around the world.)
If you have time, do pop in to see this as well as the buildings are beautiful.
I hope you like the look of the Yamanobe trail. If you’re planning a trip to Japan, this is a great way to see more traditional, and less tourist-filled areas. If not at least you can live vicariously and do the hike virtually. All of these photos are 10 years old or more, so at some point I will need to go back and do this lovely hike again.
You might also be interested in my favourite walking route to explore Nara City. Or maybe my post about everything you should eat in Japan.
18 thoughts on “Yamanobe no michi – Japan’s oldest road”
I am all about the off beaten path, this looks perfect for a trip to Japan, Josy!
It’s a really relaxing walk. You know, I think you would looove the mountains in Japan Shannon (with way more epic walks than this!)
I plan to hike those, too. Remember, my very first post of yours was Mt. Fuji! There is a Mountaineers group here that goes once a year to Japan, I hope to join them soon. 🙂
Oooh if you go with a mountaineering group you’ll probably head to amaaazing places! Yay!!
(I totally forgot that we met online after my fuji post!!)
It looks and sounds like a wonderful way to see the real Japan. 🙂
Heheh I guess all parts of Japan are “real”…it’s just I quite like places that are less polished (or full of tourists.) 😉
Very cool. It seems like you’ve got a pretty good grasp of the culture and how to get around as well. You must have spent some time there.
w/a Jansen Schmidt
I lived in Nara for a couple of years and loooved it. <3
Part of my job was translating information about tourist sights and local festivals...so I'd often translate them, and then go and check things out. It was such a fun job.
Thank you! <3
A fabulous sounding walk. So many things to see and off the usual tourist trail as well. I assume it took most of the day, then you caught the train back?
I love those little food stalls with the honour box for money. Hopefully I’ll get a chance to try this walk someday It’s good to get out of the cities..
Me too! My friend calls this the “yummy nabe no michi” because he bought ingredients for a nabe along the walk.
I should add information about how to get to this…but you’re right both ends of the walk are easily reachable by train from Nara, Kyoto or Osaka. 😀
my family keep saying, when asked where we should visit next ‘Japan’. This so tempts me. If the Vet wasn’t getting married (and draining the holiday find next yer int he process)… onwards to 2020!
Yay for getting married! 😀
If you go in 2020, you’d be there for the Olympics! That could work out really well!
Great post Josy…..the whole walk looked like a time travel into ancient Japan…..the pictures are great, so are the views and the locales….we have a Japanese garden here in Calcutta, my home city, which I visit quite often, the serenity is beautiful…
Oooh I am sorry I didn’t reply Anindya, but thank you so much for your comment! It is awesome to hear Calcutta has it’s own Japanese garden too. 🙂
Absolutely terrific…my wife and I were in Tokyo and a friend took us to the city’s oldest neighborhood – magical
Oooh which neighborhood did they say is the oldest? That makes me curious if I have been there too!