Hiking in Japan is both really easy and very fun. With many mountains and well maintained trails, everyone from young to the old can enjoy an invigorating hike. One of the most famous and popular hiking trails in Nara is the Yamanobe no Michi [山辺の道]. Dotted with shrines and historic sites, the Yamanobe no Michi is the oldest road in Japan and many people hike this trail on the weekends and during holidays.
About the Yamanobe no Michi Trail
The Yamanobe no Michi trail runs along the base of the mountains on the east side of the Nara Basin. This trial is even mentioned several famous ancient Japanese texts, such as the Kojiki. Also many poems in the Manyoshu, a poetry collection compiled in 729, write about the distinct beauty of the trail. There are also many old temples and even a burial mound along the trail.
Yamanobe no Michi starts at the base Mt. Kasuga and ends to the foot of Mt. Miwa at Isonokami Shrine. In total, the trail is 26km (16.16 miles) long. The exact route of the north half of the trail from Mt. Kasuga to Isonokami Jingu has likely shifted over the years— but what do you expect? That was 1,500 years ago! That being said, shockingly the south half of the trail is still the same. The southern part of the trail is 16km (10 miles) long and goes from Isonokami Jingu to Mt. Miwa. The southern trail takes 3-4 hours and many people hike it, enjoying the beauty of this ancient countryside.
Since the southern part of the trail is the most popular, we are going to focus on that part of the trail.
Difficulty of the Yamanobe no Mich Trail
The Yamanobe no Michi trail, is not a difficult hike but it’s not a straight shot. It winds through persimmon farms, rice fields, forests and even residential areas. There are many boards that indicate the trial, but they aren’t always very clear. Be sure to keep your map handy!
Also, there is some several bathrooms along the trail though I cannot vouch for their cleanliness.
Getting to the Yamanobe no Michi Trail
Let’s get on the Yamanobe no Michi Trail from Isonokami Jingu! Isonokami Jingu is 20 minutes from Tenri Station and is very easy to access. To get to Tenri Station, take the JR or the Kintetsu Tenri Line from Nara. Considering Kintetsu has more frequent service, it may be better for you to take Kintetsu, but keep in mind you have to change trains at Yamato Saidaiji Station for Tenri.
Hiking the Yamanobe no Michi Trail
Once you get off at Tenri, head to Isonokami Jingu.
Lots of people make a beeline straight to Isonokami Jingu, but we recommend taking some time to explore Tenri.
Tenri is home to Tenri-kyo [天理教], a denomination of Kyoha [教派神道], a branch of Shinto that originated roughly 100 years ago. Since the main shrine for Tenri-kyo is in Tenri, people from all over the country come here to pray. Since it’s on the way to Isonokami Jingu, why not stop by?
Tenri-kyo is very welcoming, but since this is a very active religious site please remember to be respectful.
Isonokami Jingu is only 10 minutes from Tenri-kyo’s main shrine and is one of the most famous temples in Nara. Definitely explore it too before starting the trail! We wrote a separate article about Isonokami Jingu, so you can read up on the shrine here.
Yamanobe no Michi starts right next to the chicken pin.
Yamanobe no Mich Trail Highlights
I think I will let the pictures do the talking here.
If you decide to hike the Yamanobe no Michi in the fall you will have the pleasure of walking through a number of persimmon farms. The colorful bursts of orange really add a certain charm to the scenery.
There are even many farm stands where you can buy said persimmons. They’re cheap too! I would recommend waiting till the end of the trail to buy them though, since they may be a bit heavy.
The first shrine you will encounter is Yotogi Shrine which enshrines the Kasuga gods, the same gods in Kasuga Taisha.
The haiden of Yotogi Shrine has a very interesting thatched roof.
A small version of this shrine was once on the Yamato, once the world’s biggest and strongest warship.
Kofun of Emperor Suijin
The kofun, or burial mound, of Emperor Suijin is one of the most important historic sites along the trail. Don’t mistake it for a hill! If you are curious about kofun, we have two other articles about them if you’d like to learn more.
After the burial mound, you will be in the home stretch!
In about the last 1/3 of the trail is a very small shrine, but it’s actually pretty interesting! Allegedly, this shrine is where Nomi no Sukune and Taima no Kehaya held Japan’s first ever sumo match! Nomi no Sukune the 13th head priest of Izumo Taisha defeated his opponent with a fierce kick to the ribs, ultimately killing him. Maybe that is why there is no kicking in sumo today?
Fittingly, the shrine’s official name is Sumo Shrine.
In front of Sumo Shrine you can get a good view of the Makimuku Ruins, where records indicate the Yamatai Kingdom once stood. Maybe its ruler, Himiko once came here to view the vastness of her kingdom. Anyway, let’s go back the trail once again. We’re nearly done!
After a little bit more walking, you will see Hibara Shrine. Hiraba Shrine is the very first shrine that enshrined Amaterasu before Ise Jingu was made.
From Hibara Shrine you can see the Hashihaka Kofun, which has a high possibly of being the grave of the Yamato Kingdom’s ruler, Himiko. I think that this area is really very special. In one spot is the grave of Himiko, Amaterasu’s first shrine, and behind it all is Sacred Mt Miwa where Omononushi, one of the main gods in Kojiki, is enshrined.
After another 20 minutes you will (finally) be at Omiwa Shrine. Make sure to drop by and pray! For all the details of the shrine, you can read more here.
End of the Trail
After visiting Omiwa Shrine, you can go to straight to JR Miwa Station, but in order to full complete the trail completely you have to walk another 30 minutes to Tsubaichi.
Finally, we arrived at Tsubaichi, the final stop of the Yamanobe no Michi.
This area is up stream of the Yamatogawa River. In ancient times, many people visiting Japan from China or Korea would switch to a smaller boat at Naniwa Port before going up the Yamatogawa River to visit capital in Nara.
Then, they would disembark at at Tsubaichi. And finish the journey on horseback. Today, many old streets for Ise Jingu and Hasedera intersect here.
That is it; mission complete! This is the end of Yamanobe no Michi trail. From here to Sakurai station is 20 minutes away. Phew!
Coming next time,
The first of our Koyasan series, The Life of Kukai
The adventure continues…