Nara Prefecture is one of my absolute favourite areas in Japan – no, not only the ancient temples and deer of Nara Park, a former capital of Japan, although I love that too, and definitely prefer it to Kyoto. The prefecture is filled with both historical sites (from pre-history to modern day) and beautiful countryside and less than an hour by train by the bustle of Osaka.

a very cute scarecrow
The area is fantastic for wannabe hikers, who love nature but hate actually having to climb mountains. Yamanobe no Michi is one of the oldest roads in Japan, connecting Wakayama and the Kii peninsula to Osaka and the former imperial capital of Kyoto. Literally, this is the road that food and goods would have been transported to feed those two cities in the old days. Even today, this is a major agricultural area and on a walk around the “foot of the mountain” (the Japanese meaning of Yamanobe no Michi), it’s easy to see why.

There is a well signed for hiking path between Tenri and Sakurai, which spans around 25 km in total, but you can easily split the walk if you like, as there’s a train station about every 5 km (not directly at the road, but 2-3 km off it). I’ve hiked different sections of the road before and this time, in late October, we decided to go from Tenri to the second to last stop before Sakurai (solely because we started a bit late and it was getting dark), taking about 3 ½ hrs. Even in late October, it was still well over 20 degrees.

Apart from abandoned temples and the picturesque, traditional villages (yes, plenty of these exist in Japan, and even in densely populated, seemingly all urban Kansai), there’s another highlight to the walk: There are small farm stalls which operate on a honour system all over the route. So, bring a backpack, because you will want to buy delicious fruit and vegetables at usually just 100 Yen per bag, which usually works out 1/3 or less of the price you’d pay in a Japanese supermarket. During our October walk, we managed to get persimmons, medlars, tomatoes (real, ripe tomatoes, not the anaemic ones you usually find in Japan), sweet new season rice and aubergines. So, even if you hate hiking, you can just see this walk as a long winded shopping trip ;) 

Don't worry, there are better maps along the road (couldn't take a good picture of the because it was too sunny)

I was glad to see that the signage on the trail has been improved, and there are maps all over the area as well. Signs are now in English, Korean and Chinese and easy to see (where before, there were only some random wooden posts with withered kanji). There are plenty of public toilets along the trail and of course, vending machines all over the villages. Still, we didn’t meet any other foreigners except one Japanese girl who seemed to lead a small American tour to visit some of the temples. The trail wasn’t crowded at all, although plenty of Japanese retirees seemed to also be on the hunt for food.

I’ll let the pictures do the rest of the talking of why it’s worth visiting. It was high season for persimmons, which were glowing in the autumn sun all over the area. Even if you just have a short holiday in Japan, I highly encourage you to check this trail when you are in based in Kyoto or Osaka - it's by far the most beautiful I've seen in Japan, and without the crowds of the well know "rural" places like Nara City, Nikko or Kamakura (which actually all are cities). This roads traverses several villages that will give you an idea of what rural Japan really is like.
All persimmon, no leaves
Time for vegies!
Just a random farm house along the road
Any more persimmons?
Vegetable porn
Rice farmer's house, signaled by the rice peddle at the door (no idea why they have the bear!)
Halloween assortment of fruit and veg
This was a private family residence along the road, unbelievable that this is "crowded Kansai", right?
Chicken temple at the beginning of the trail in Tenri

One Comment

  1. Hi, Steffi, thanks for the post. We were there in April and it was the highlight of our trip. Wrote a book about it: "Precious Stones; the Poetry Monuments of the Yamanobe no Michi," now available on Amazon.


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