In this article we will take a look at some of what's on offer in Yagyu and Yamazoe village, two picturesque destinations to the east of Nara city.
The Japanese word used to indicate the border zone area between mountain foothills and arable flat land is "Satoyama." Literally, "sato" means village, and "yama" means hill or mountain. More than a convenient descriptive, the word "satoyama" conjures up feelings of peace, healing and nostalgia among the Japanese and in just a 20-minute drive from the center of Nara, you can also experience "satoyama" for yourself.
Yagyu and Yamazoe village provide the perfect environment for you to relax and spend a leisurely time away from your daily routine. Bountiful nature, gorgeous natural surroundings wrapped in the warmth of the local people; it is an area that you will want to come back to time and time again.
Yagyu, in the eastern part of Nara city is known as the village of master swordsmen and is the birthplace of Yagyu Shinkage School of Swordsmanship, which was founded by Yagyu Muneyoshi.
His style emphasized not only mastery of the sword, but mastery of the mind.
Many sites around this quiet mountain village still invoke the memory of the Yagyu clan - Hotoku-ji Temple, Masakizaka Dojo and official clan residencies, Yagyu offers visitors a tranquil journey to the past.
The Yagyu Kaido is a samurai trail which meanders through Kasuga Mountain's Primeval Forest.
The trail connects Kasuaga Shrine and Nara City with the sword making village of Yagyu in the east of the prefecture. Historical sites along the path point to it being in use from the Nara period, almost a 1000 years before it became synonymous with samurais heading to procure and service their swords and learn the secrets of the Yagyu Sinkage style.
The trail rewards hikers with spectacular scenes of giant oak and cedar trees, babbling brooks, ponds and waterfalls interspersed with several mysterious historical artifacts such as Buddha statues carved from boulders, cave engravings and the Kubi-kiri Jizo. （首切り地蔵）
Jizo is the patron saint of travelers in Japanese Buddhism and you will come across this kind of statue all over Japan, so it is no surprise to see him along this ancient trail. What is different about this Jizo though is that it appears to have had its neck cut. In Japanese "kubi" means "neck" and "kiri" means "cut."
Legend has it that the master swordsman Araki Mataemon used it to test the strength of his blade.
Among the many fascinating sites along the route lies "Jigokudani" or Hell Valley.
The valley has since been transformed into a gorgeous pond, but until the Meiji period, this was where the bodies of dead poor people were brought and dumped, hence the moniker "Hell Valley."
The Meiji period (1868 - 1912) heralded the start of Japan's modernization when the nation transitioned from being an isolated feudal society to an industrialized one, heavily influenced by Western scientific, technological, philosophical, political, legal, and aesthetic ideas.
After the introduction of western medicine the practice of mass graves was understood to be a dangerous health hazard. To stop the spread of disease, this area was turned into a pond for irrigation, making the area quite beautiful, but the name Hell Valley remained.
The Yagyu Kaido is about 19km in length and has many more sites to see other than the ones mentioned here, and there are other hiking trails up Mt. Kasuga and its neighboring mountains. They are extremely accessible, not exceedingly difficult and provide a satisfying dose of outdoor adventure.
Ittoseki Split Boulder
住所 (Address): 奈良市柳生町789 (789 Yagyu-cho, Nara City)
電話番号 (Telephone): 0742-94-0002
営業時間 (Open Hours): N/A
休業日 (Closed on): N/A
This megalith is about 7 meters square, split in two vertically and has recently become a booming tourist destination thanks to the hot anime series Kimetsu-no-Yaiba or "Demon Slayer." A scene in the anime has the protagonist slice a boulder in half with his sword and the inspiration for this is said to have come from Ittoseki.
Legend has it that this rock was split by Yagyu Munetoshi, a masterful samurai who founded the Swordsmanship school of "Yagyu Shinkage."
The legend is explained further in the short video below.
Yagyu Cosmos Farmers' Market
Address: 奈良市阪原町818−1 (818-1 Sakahara-cho, Nara City)
Hours: 8:00 AM – 12:00 PM Saturdays & Sundays
Closed on: Weekdays
You will find this quaint farmers' market along route 369 opposite an old rustic bus stop set against a back drop of mountains and traditional Japanese houses.
The vegetables are all grown locally and many people travel in from as far as Osaka and Kyoto to take advantage of the freshness and cheap prices.
The mellow scent of yomogi-mochi made with freshly picked wormwood and "Grandma's hand-made secret recipe country konjac" are a real gem.
Address: 奈良市丹生町1402 (1402 Nyu-cho, Nara City)
Closed on: N/A
Izayoi Sanso is a picturesque farmer's inn guesthouse directly opposite Atelier La Zucca nestled in front of the mountains. The relaxing surroundings, fresh air and quiet have proved to be very appealing for artists who often come here to work on a project or find inspiration.
In the main living room there is a grand piano and wood stove with functional kitchen, making long stays all the more comfortable.
At Izayoi Sanso you can also enjoy tea ceremony, home-cooked meals, an "irori" sunken hearth and a spacious bathroom offering you the chance to unwind at your leisure while enjoying views of the moon while you bathe.
Izayoi Sanso Japanese Sweets Making Experience
We visited Izayoi Sanso to experience their Japanese Sweets Making Workshop.
The types of sweets made change with the season and when you are done, you can indulge yourself with a complimentary cup of Yamato Kogen Matcha.
Fee: ¥1,800 per person (¥1,620 for hotel guests)
Duration: 1 hour
Reservations are for groups of 4 Workshop time : approx 60min
All of these sweets were made by guests staying at Izayoi Sanso.
Atelier La Zucca
(1385 Nyu-cho, Nara City 630-1235)
Closed: July, August, September
Atelier La Zucca is a unique Japanese style modern log house that serves Italian cuisine. Their menu is centered on seasonal Yamatokogen vegetables and fresh fish from Owase. You can also enjoy rare wines from Tuscany, Italy and wood-fired kiln baked pizza.
There is an option to have breakfast here when staying at Izayoi Sanso.
Atelier La Zucca also offers a Fermentation Workshop in a dedicated refurbished Japanese house. Each month a different food-stuff is either fermented or hand made with a focus on learning, community and health.
Atelier La Zucca and the Fermentation Workshop are closed in July and August as the owners go to Mie Prefecture to run their summer camp.
Lunch set: ¥ 1,200 ~ Dinner course: ¥ 3,240 ~ Seafood and seafood course delivered from Owase: ¥ 4,320 ~ Reservations are required for both dinner and lunch.
Address: 奈良市柳生町83-3 (83-3 Yagyu-cho, Nara City)
Hours: 9:00 AM – 5:00 PM
Closed on Mondays
This traditional shokudo (cafeteria) is very popular with the locals for its cheap and tasty menu, rustic atmosphere and friendly service. Jubei Shokudo is run by a charming elderly couple and retains its Show era retro feel as Yagyu's oldest eatery.
You will often find cosplayers in here having a bite to eat after a hard days cosplaying, especially young kids in Demon Slayer garb.
Address: 奈良市忍辱山町1273 (1273 Ninnikusen-cho, Nara City)
Hours: 11:00 AM – 2:00 PM
Closed on: Wednesdays
Sato is run by a group a local ladies and is extremely popular, having developed a favorable reputation over the years thanks to its gorgeous surroundings, delicious menu and historic ambiance.
Their most popular menu item is the set meal of seasonal vegetable tempura. The restaurant is nestled in the grounds of Enjo-ji temple which is awash with amazing pinks during the hanami cherry blossom season and deep reds and oranges during autumn.
Located in the northeast corner of Nara Prefecture, Yamazoe village is the full on inaka, countryside, experience. Two thirds of the area is mountainous or forested, there are no convenience stores and no train lines pass through the area. The only way in without a car is by bus, or one of the area’s guesthouses’ courtesy shuttle services.
Yamazoe Village is several hundred meters above sea level, so the winters can be brutally cold but conversely the summers are milder in comparison to the city.
Small countryside shrines and temples are littered throughout the area.
The buildings and structures at some of these temples are beautiful enough to be enjoyed in their own right, but many of them are best appreciated against the backdrop of sakura cherry blossoms or autumn foliage.
Tea Making Experience Kasuga Garden
(151 Onishi-cho, Yamazoe Village, Yamabe-gun)
Telephone: 0743-85-0048（山添村役場, Yamazoe Village Office）
Experience Hours: 10:00 AM – 2:00 PM
Experience Available: Once a Month
Fee: Adult ¥1,500 | Elementary School Children ¥800 | Ages 3 and Over ¥500
This family friendly hands on tea making experience is held in cooperation with local volunteers and Yamazoe Village to promote exchanges between cities and rural areas.
The event varies slightly depending on the season but mainly consists of a combination of picking tea leaves, wringing and rolling the leaves in a cloth (to decrease the water content and release the flavors,) roasting the leaves, designing your own tea package and finally a group tasting session.
The event also includes a tasty lunch box.
The event is hosted by local tea master Kenichi Ikawa who has been involved with the production of Yamato tea since he was a teenager. His brand, 'Kenichi Natural Farms' comprises over 30 tea fields in Tsuge, Yamazoe Village, Muro and Tawara, an area collectively known as The Yamato Plateau.
His farming and production techniques are all completely natural without the use of any pesticides or fertilizers and great care is taken to cut the leaves as beautifully as possible and harmonize with the local region.
Address: 奈良県山辺郡山添村北野 (Kitano, Yamazoe Village, Yamabe-gun)
Hours: 9:30 AM – 4:30 PM
Closed on: Wednesdays, Year End and New Year Holidays
The farm takes its name after the onomatopoeic word for the sound sheep make in Japanese, Mee-Mee, pronounced "May-May." The farm is home to 2 breeds of sheep, Corriedales and Suffolks and just like the deer in Nara park, you can buy special rice crackers to feed them. As the sheep can grow to be quite large, they are kept in fields with fences making it safe for children to feed them.
There are toilets, a shaded picnic area and open grass making it an ideal place to enjoy some nature while having your bento lunch box. Each February, the new lambs are a big draw and many people come to watch them frolic around the farm - a truly delightful sight!
At the neighboring Yomo-kan, you can see how fleece collected at the farm is processed into yarn, and even try spinning and dyeing your own original fabric.
Café Restaurant Eizanko
(888 Fushiogami, Yamazoe village, Yamabe district)
Hours: 11:00 AM – 5:30 PM
Closed on : Wednesdays & Thursdays (exceptions: national holidays)
A Café restaurant where you can enjoy a panoramic view from the window.
They offer delicious cuisine that features locally-sourced ingredients.
With seasonal specials and live music events, Café Restaurant Eizanko has developed into a polestar for the local community as well as a popular stop off point for tourists.
(452 Kitahara, Yamazoe village, Yamabe district)
Ume, Yamazoe is boutique hotel nestled at the foot of a mountain, tucked away from the hustle and bustle of modern life, surrounded by the sounds of nature, a space in which guests are invited to wake, reconnect, restart and recall the true essence of Japan.
Ume, Yamazoe is a newly renovated 100 year traditional house and the effort to maintain its original character and combine it with minimalistic modern design is apparent from the moment you step foot inside. There are 3 rooms, each spacious and charming, and a log burning sauna.
(1837 Oshio, Yamazoe Village, Yamabe-gun 630-2212)
Telephone: 0743-85-0081 (山添村観光協会, Yamazoe Village Tourism Association)
Closed on: N/A
Located on the hillside of Kono-yama mountain, this unusual expanse of black rocks which is 650 meters long and averages 25 meters in width, looks like black flowing lava frozen in time down the side of the mountain.
The origin of this intriguing landscape feature is unknown, although there are a couple of theories. The one theory is that the ancients arranged it to depict the Milky Way Galaxy on the ground. The other theory is that it was made by quarreling tengu (long-nosed, red faced goblins).
A tengu living on Mt. Aoba in Iga, threw vegetation and rocks at the tengu living on Mt. Kono. The rocks landed is such a way as to form the Nabekura-kei Valley.
The rocks are lit up in early-to-mid-August, providing visitors with a strange and mysterious sight. If you listen carefully, you can hear a trickling sound flowing underneath the rocks, though no water can be seen.
The underground water from here has been selected as "Yamato no Mizu (Water of Nara)".
The amazing rock formation of Nabekura-kei is truly one of a kind - nothing else like it exists in Japan.
A car is the best way to get into and travel around Yagyu and Yamazoe village. National Route 25 connecting Osaka and Nagoya, or Prefectural Route 80 are the most major roads into or out of the village.
Without a car there are limited bus services to the Hari Interchange (針インター) or Kokudo Yamazoe (国道山添) Bus Stops from Tenri Station in Nara or Nabari Station in Mie.
If you speak Japanese contact the Yamazoe Tourism Association (Kankokyokai) and ask about their volunteer guides. They can pick you up at Nabari Station and show you around Yamazoe village for the cost of a full tank of gas.
Author: NARA Visitor Center & Inn