Yoko-Oji: The Ancient Road in Nara

While Japan’s most ancient road, the Takenouchi, ends in Nagao Shrine, this shrine is the beginning of another ancient road, the Yoko-Oji. Though Yoko Oji does look like just an ordinary road, there are many historic spots along the road. In ancient times, many ambassadors from Korea and China used the Yoko-Oji to visit the capital, Nara. Later, the Japanese people used it together with the Ise Hon-Kaido to journey to Ise Jingu. While only 15k (a little over 9 miles) long, the Yoko-Oji has so many interesting historic spots and is a great chance to learn about Japanese history!



Nagao Shrine – Takada

The starting point of Yoko-Oji is at Nagao Shrine. Nagao Shrine is only a few minutes away from the Kintetsu Shakudo Station (via the Osaka Line). From Nagao Shrine, all you need to go is just straight. And when I say “Go straight” I mean you’re going to go straight for hours. Since this road existed long before many other cities were built, this road did not have to wind around/through any city structures, meaning it’s pretty direct! As a bonus, since the Yoko-Oji is largely a straight shot, it is unlikely you will get lost. 

From Kidoike Park: If you look in the distance you can see Kongo Mountain Chain!
The Yoko-Oji going through Takada City, Nara, Japan
It looks like an ordinary road around here.

Just after only walking for about 30 minutes or so, we arrived at Onaka Park. Onaka Park is famous for cherry blossoms in the spring. The part is also known as Takada Senbonzakura since here, there are a thousand cherry blossoms on either side of Takada River for more than 2 kilometers. It is such a really pretty place! 

Takada Senbonzakura
Onaka Park near the Yoko-Oji
Right in front of Onaka Park is the start of the Yoko-Oji

Yoko-Oji Histoci Spot: Takada City

From Onaka Park, the road becomes quite narrow like other old roads in Japan. However, this is still a national road, which means there is quite a lot of traffic even though this is one way. There are so many small roads like this in Nara…

Hase Hon-dera: The oldest temple in Takada City, dating back to the 8th century

A few minutes away from Hase Hon-dera is a small historic district in Takada. Takada is originally a temple town centered by Senryu-ji built in the early 17th century and later prospered at a merchant city. 

Senryu-ji: Takada’s Main Temple
Stone lantern indicating the path to Ise on the Yoko-Oji in Nara
Lantern indicating this is the road to Ise

Takada – Kashihara

After going straight and passes Ise lantern on the side road, it is the Katsuragi River. This was the only place during our whole 15km hike where we had to turn twice to cross the river.  After crossing the river, the Yoko-ji becomes straight again. 

The intersection of the Yoko-Oji and the Shimo Kaido
Intersection of the Yoko-Oji and Shimo Kaido
Just before the Katsuragi River. Obviously, you have to turn here.

The Katsuragi River is the border between Takada City and Kashihara City. Kashihara City is one of the biggest cities in Nara Prefecture, so as we got closer to the center of the city, there were many newly built houses. Even so, among those houses, were the occasional historic landmarks or items. Namely, old stone lanterns that were used hundreds of years ago to guide people on the Ise Pilgrimage. There were also several historic shrines and temples such as Iruka Shrine and Ofusa Kannon Temple. And, just before Yamatoyagi Station, you can see one of Yamato Sanzan mountains, Mt. Unebi; a mountain beloved by the people of Nara since ancient times. 

Mt. Unebi
Mt. Unebi: One of the three Yamato Sanzan mountains
Iruka Shrine
Iruka Shrine: Enshrines Soga no Iruka. It is really rare to see the shrine for Soga no Iruka!
Japanese cherry blossoms blooming along the Yoko-Oji
The cherry blossoms were really pretty when we walked the Yoko-Oji!


Yoko-Oji Historic Spot: Kashihara City

The central area of Kashihara City is the Kintetsu Yamato-Yagi Station. While there are many things around Yamatoyagi Station, the nearby JR station, Unebi Station, is quite small. I guess this is the case with many stations in Nara. The Kintetsu Railway pretty much dominates Nara Prefecture, with more popular and convenient stations typically being close to those rail lines.

Yamatoyagi Station

A 20-minute walk from Kashihara Station is a historic district, Imaicho. There are quite a lot of Japanese traditional houses here. I am quite sure this is one of the biggest historic districts in the Kansai region. It is a bit far away from the Yoko-Oji so if are interested in you should drop by. But don’t worry, it’s not going anywhere so you can always come back later!

Imaicho: it is a huge historic district!

Past Kashihara Station is the Fudanotsuji Intersection, which runs into the Shimotsu-michi. In ancient times, there were three roads that connected Nara from north to south: the Shimotsu-michi, the Nakatsu-michi, and the Kamitsu-michi. The Yoko-Oji ends at the Kamitsu-michi Intersection in Sakurai City.

Yoko-Oji crossing with the Naka Kaido, aka Shimotsu-michi
Fudanotsuji: Yoko-oji crosses the Naka Kaido (Shimotsu-michi)

Kashihara – Sakurai

After going through Kashihara, the Yoko-Oji goes back to the countryside again. Along the way, you can see the other two mountains of the Yamato Sanzan. Mt. Miminashi is on the left, and then Mt. Kaguyama is on the right. Shortly after you see these mountains, you enter Sakurai City. Sakurai City is a place famous for its ancient ruins, but sadly there aren’t any special ruins along the Yoko-Oji. Of course, you can take a detour if you wish, but it is also nice to just have a quiet walk too.

Mt. Miminashi. The mountain is small but so quaint!
Yoko-Oji merging with the Katatsu-michi
Here the Yoko-Oji merges with another ancient trail, the Nakatsu-michi though much this trail not there now.
Mt. Kaguyama! It is a bit hazy today. Look how small JR Station is!

Just before Sakurai Station is the Konishibashi Higashizume Intersection. At this point, the original Yoko-Oji road ends here. However, the Yoko-Oji was later used as part of the path for the sacred pilgrimage for Ise Jingu Shrine, and the road was expanded so that it would merge with other famous trails leading to Ise.

This section of the Yoko-Oji snakes around quiet a bit!
Konishibashi Higashizume Intersection: There is a little jizo hut here.


The End of the Yoko-Oji: Historic Sakurai City

Sakurai is a very historic town, but around Sakurai Station, there were not so many things. From Sakurai Station, just go through the main shopping street. You will be at the end of the Yoko-Oji in another half an hour!

Sakurai Station: it is a big station because Kintetsu Line stops here too.
Going through the shopping street. Notice that it says “Ise Kaido” on the sign for the shopping street.

So, finally, we arrived at the end of the Yoko-Oji. It is a block away from the Jion-ji Kita Intersection on National Route 165. However, in ancient times, this intersection was called the “Jion-ji Oiwake” and the term “oiwake” typically indicates the junction of important roads. At this point, the Yoko-Oji merges with the Kamitsu-michi, better known as the Kami Kaido or Ise Hon Kaido. From here, the Hon Kaido leads all the way to Ise!

The Jion-ji Oiwake and the end of the Yoko-Oji Road
Jion-ji Oiwake. There is nothing but a little stone marker to indicate this was the intersection of these famous roads

Yoko-Oji was only a 15km road, but there were plenty of historic things along the way! I guess it is really fun to walk the ancient road to learn about Nara’s history!

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