top of page

Yamanobe-no-Michi | A Walk Through Time on Japan's Oldest Road


The Yamanobe-no-Michi is part of Shinkaido, the most ancient road in Japan. It is a unique opportunity to experience the harmonious blend of Japan's rich history and vibrant present all enveloped in a hiking trail of 4 to 5 hours suitable for all levels. The most popular stretch of the road runs between Isonokami-jingu Shrine in Tenri City and Omiwa-jinja Shrine in Sakurai City, but we will also introduce you to a few charming sites along the path further north in Nara city.


Yamanobe-no-Michi, Japan's oldest road, hiking, Nara top tourist attractions, Things to do and see in Nara Japan, things to do around Nara Japan, things to do at Nara park, things to do in Nara for the first time, things to do in Nara in 1 day, things to do in Nara Japan guide, where is Nara Japan, Nara city in Japan, Nara backpackers, Nara hotels, how long to spend in Nara, Nara in Japan, Nara  location, Nara Nara Japan, Nara map, best hotels in Nara, Nara Japan attractions, Nara Japan things to do, things to do in Nara winter, things to do in Nara with kids, things to do Nara Japan, top 10 tourist attractions in Nara Japan, top attractions in Nara Japan, top best things to see in Nara Japan, top ten things to do in Nara Japan, top things to see in Nara Japan, top tourist attractions in Nara Japan, tourism Nara Japan, tourist attractions in Nara Japan, travel to Nara Japan, unique things to do in Nara Japan, Nara tourism office, Nara city tourism, Nara Japan travel info, Nara Japan tourism, Nara Japan travel

The Yamanobe-no-Michi is mentioned in the Nihon Shoki (The Chronicle of Japan) meaning it dates back to at least the 8th century. The road originally meandered around wetlands, forest and settlements, but as these disappeared over time, the road straightened out and evolved to match its surroundings.





As you walk, the past seamlessly blends with the present. You might find yourself strolling past a traditional wooden farmhouse, then an ancient tomb of a past grand Emperor, only to turn a corner and find yourself face-to-face with a modern convenience store, offering a welcome respite and a refreshing drink. This seamless integration is a testament to Japan's unique ability to honor its history while embracing modernity.





In this article we won't stay strictly along the trail, but wander just a little off it to introduce a few alternative places to visit, as well as some of the more famous stops along the way.


Here's a quick overview-map of the places we visited along the trail. As always, if you have any specific questions about the Yamanobe-no-Michi, or for that matter anything related to tourism in Nara, feel free to drop us a line at info@sarusawa.nara.jp






Index


 



 Shin-Yakushi-ji Temple


The Nara city part of the trail runs right past Shin Yakushi-ji Temple. Founded in 747 by Empress Komyo for the ailing Emperor Shomu, the temple's original grandeur has given way to a more intimate presence. Only the main hall remains of the original structures from the 8th century, but what lies within is a breathtaking Buddhist sculpture.





The entirety of the hall is almost taken up by a circular plinth measuring 9m in diameter and 90cm in height. At the center is the principal image of Shin Yakushi-ji Temple, a magnificent 191.5cm early Heian period seated Yakushi Nyorai. On the outskirts of the plinth facing outwards and encircling the Yakushi Nyorai are the Twelve Heavenly Generals. They range in height from 153cm to 170cm and serve as protectors.


Dating back to the Nara period, the standing group of Generals is the oldest extant in Japan. 11 of the 12 are designated as National Treasures, one being excluded on account of it being replaced in 1931 after the original was damaged in an earthquake over 150 years ago.





The Temple Bell

The temple bell, designated as an Important Cultural Property, originates from Gango-ji Temple's belfry during the Nara period. Its significance lies in the tale of an Oni, (demon, ogre, or troll in Japanese folklore) as recounted in the Nihon Ryoiki. During the Asuka period, an Oni named Gagoze was killing the attendants from Gango-ji's belfry during the night. At that time there was a child acolyte at the temple who had extraordinary strength. This strength was bestowed upon him as a result of his father sparing the life of a raijin lightning spirit that had fallen from the sky. The child decides to confront the Oni. In a dawn encounter, the child seizes the Oni by the hair, dragging it around and causing the Oni to flee after losing all his hair.


The child, later becoming the monk Dojo Hoshi, witnesses the bell's transfer to Shin Yakushi-ji after Gango-ji's belfry burns down. The visible scratches on the bell are said to have been caused by the Oni's fingernails. The hair of the defeated Oni was kept as a treasure of Ganjo-ji Temple and is passed down still to this day.



Access:






Address: 1352 Takabatake-cho, Nara, 630-8301

Phone: 0742-223-736

Hours: 9:00 - 17:00

Admission: Free

Main Hall: Adults: ¥600

Children: ¥150




 


 Byakugo-ji Temple


There are few written explanations of the Buddha's actual physical appearance and no extant

representations in artistic form until roughly the 2nd century CE. However, the Buddha was said to have displayed the 32 signs of a great man, with number 31 being:


uṇṇā ... bhamukantare jātā odātā mudutūlasannibhā...

the tuft of hair between the eyebrows on his forehead is very white like cotton.


The uṇṇā, or byakugo in Japanese, is from which this peaceful temple located above the gentile slopes of the western foothills of Mount Takamado derives its name.



This was once the location of the luxurious residence of Prince Shiki, (posthumously known as Emperor Kasuga) the 7th son of Emperor Tenji. He spent a life devoted to the arts and 6 of his poems were included in the Man'yoshu, the oldest extant collection of Japanese waka poetry compiled during the Nara period. After his death, the temple we are enjoying today was established, although the exact date remains unknown.





Byakugo-ji Temple is known for its serene atmosphere, delightful bush clovers in autumn and its fabulous views overlooking Nara city. You can clearly see the 5-story pagoda of Kohfuku-ji Temple and if you can just stretch your neck past some large trees, the golden rooftop shibi of Todai-ji Temple.


The following is a poem composed by Prince Shiki upon visiting Naniwa Palace (706)


Ashibe yuku

Kamo no hagai ni

Shimi furite

Samuki yūbe wa

Yamato shi omōyu


In among the reeds

Go to mallards through the frost

Falling on their wings:

Cold twilight, the still hour

Of longing for Yamato.



Access:






Address: 392 Byakugojicho, Nara, 630-8302

Phone: 0742-263-392

Hours: 9:00-17:00

Admission: Adults ¥500 | Jnr & High School ¥300 | Primary School: ¥ 200






 



 Tenrikyo Church Headquarters


Tenrikyo is a religion originating from the teachings of a 19th-century woman named Nakayama Miki, known to her followers as "Oyasama". Followers of Tenrikyo believe that God revealed divine intent through Miki Nakayama as the Shrine of God.



Tenrikyo, Yamanobe-no-Michi, Japan's oldest road, hiking, Nara top tourist attractions, Things to do and see in Nara Japan, things to do around Nara Japan, things to do at Nara park, things to do in Nara for the first time, things to do in Nara in 1 day, things to do in Nara Japan guide, where is Nara Japan, Nara city in Japan, Nara backpackers, Nara hotels, how long to spend in Nara, Nara in Japan, Nara  location, Nara Nara Japan, Nara map, best hotels in Nara, Nara Japan attractions, Nara Japan things to do, things to do in Nara winter, things to do in Nara with kids, things to do Nara Japan, top 10 tourist attractions in Nara Japan, top attractions in Nara Japan, top best things to see in Nara Japan, top ten things to do in Nara Japan, top things to see in Nara Japan, top tourist attractions in Nara Japan, tourism Nara Japan, tourist attractions in Nara Japan, travel to Nara Japan, unique things to do in Nara Japan, Nara tourism office, Nara city tourism, Nara Japan travel info, Nara Japan tourism, Nara Japan travel


A central teaching of Tenrikyo is the concept of the Joyous Life. Followers believe that "God the Parent" created human beings to take delight in seeing them live the Joyous Life which is defined as a state of perfect bliss which is cultivated through acts of charity and mindfulness called hinokishin. Tenrikyo's worldly aim is to teach and promote the Joyous Life to all people.


The primary operations of Tenrikyo today are located at Tenrikyo Church Headquarters in Tenri City. The church welcomes visitors and newcomers and will happily assist you and answer any questions you may have about the religion. They do not however regard their church as a tourist attraction and as such, filming or photography of any kind is not permitted inside the church. The headquarters supports over 16,000 locally managed churches in Japan, with an estimated following of 1.75 million and over 2 million worldwide.



Access:






Address: 1-1 Mishimacho, Tenri, Nara 632-0015

Phone: 0743-63-1511

Hours: 24hrs

Admission: Free





 



 Tenri University Sankokan Museum


The Tenri University Sankokan Museum was established as “The Overseas Reference Materials Room” in 1930 to “broaden knowledge of the lifestyles and histories of people from various regions of the world” by collecting, preserving and displaying ethnographical, archeological and transportation related artifacts.




The museum’s permanent exhibition is spread across 3 floors and 3,000 items from the museum’s extensive collection (approx. 300,000 artifacts) are on display. Seasonal and special exhibitions are held 3-4 times a year, including workshop, museum concerts and lectures. The Tenri University Sankokan Museum is located a 20-minute walk to the southeast of Tenri Station. It’s open from 9:30am-4:30pm Wednesday-Monday. The museum is closed on Tuesdays. Admission is ¥500 for adults (high school students and up), and ¥200 for elementary and junior high school students.


*Photography and filming at Tenri Sankokan is usually prohibited. We would like to thank the museum for allowing us to film inside in order to compile this blog and accompanying video.



Access:






Address: 250 Morimedo, Tenri, Nara 632-8540

Phone: 0743-63-8414

Fax: 0743-63-7721

Hours: 9:30-16:30 (Last Entry at 16:00)

The museum stays open every day during the following periods: April 17-19, July 26-August 2, January 5-7 and the 25th-26th of every month.] April 28 (Anniversary of the Museum’s Founding) August 13-17 (Summer Closure) December 27-January 4 (Year-End & New Year’s Season)

Closed: Tuesday  (When a national holiday falls on Tuesday, the museum closes on Wednesday instead.)

Admission: ¥500 for adults (high school students and up), and ¥300 for elementary and junior.





 



 Isonokami-jingu Shrine


Despite its historical importance and undeniable beauty, visitors to Isonakami-jingu Shrine will be forgiven for remembering it as "the chicken shrine." As you approach the torii gate entrance, the sound of clucking chickens gradually begins to fill the air, almost like a welcoming fanfare. Much like the deer of Nara park, the chickens at Isonokami-jingu Shrine are revered as messengers of the gods. The chickens are given free-range in the morning and return to their coups in the afternoon, which is when we visited.




Located at one end of the southern stretch of the Yamanobe-no-Michi, the shrin is regarded to be one of the oldest extant shrines in Japan. Having played a pivotal role in the nation's early history, especially during the 3rd to 5th centuries, legend has it that the temple was built in 91 BC during Emperor Sujin’s reign (Sujin being widely thought of as a partly legendary figure. ) It is unknown which deity (Kami) was originally worshipped here but the shrine is known for having been used as a weapons storehouse and some historically important artifacts are/were stored there.





One of the most significant is a 7 branched sword known as the Nanatsusaya-no-Tachi or Shichishitō. This sword was a symbol of the relationship at the time between Japan and the kingdoms of the Korean Peninsula. Gifted to the King of Yamato by the Crown Prince of Baekje, a kingdom on the Korean Peninsula. For many years, there was no inner shrine here, an excavation was carried out in 1874, and uncovered an actual sword. The shrine where the sword currently rests is now treated as the inner shrine.





Access:





Address: 384 Furucho, Tenri City, Nara Prefecture

Hours: 5:30 - 17:30 (Sunrise / sunset)

Admission: Free






 


 Chogaku-ji Temple


Chogaku-ji Temple is said to have been founded by Kukai, the monk who also founded Koya-san. It is a popular detour on the Yamanobe-no-Michi trail especially during spring and autumn as the grounds are full of beautiful seasonal flowers. In fact, Chogaku-ji is the nineteenth of the twenty-five Kansai flower temples as well as being the 4th of the 13 Buddhist sites of Yamato.





The temple's bell tower gate is the oldest in Japan and is the only building that remains of the originals. It was designated as a national important cultural property in 1907. The main hall has a masterpiece painting by the 16th Century artist Kano Sanraku depicting hell which is only on display from October 23rd to November 30th.






Access:






Address: 508 Yanagimotocho, Tenri, Nara 632-0052

Tel: 0743-661-051

Hours: 9:00 - 17:00

Admission: Free




 


 Tenri Trail Center


A popular stop along the Yamanobe-no-Michi is the Tenri City Trail Center, located adjacent to Chogaku-ji Temple. The Trail Center is very similar to a "michi-no-eki," a kind of one stop facility for travelers in rural areas which offers amenities, a place to eat and purchase local produce, arts and crafts.



What stands this center apart is the restaurant found inside, namely "Yoshoku Katsui" as featured in the 2022 Michelin Guide:


"There is tranquil scenery outside and the terrace seating is pleasant. Seafood, caught that day, comes from Izumisano fishing port. Fried shrimp of the season, such as greasyback shrimp, Japanese tiger prawn and green tiger prawn, is the speciality. Local bounty comes in the form of fresh vegetables and Hinohikari rice from nearby farmers."


The trail center is a great place to stop off, refuel, purchase some local souvenirs and bask in the warmth of the local people.






Address: 577-1 Yanagimoto-cho, Tenri, Nara, 632-0052

Phone: 0743-67-3838

Hours:

Breakfast: (Tue-Sun) 8:30〜10:00

Lunch & Cafe: (Tue-Sun) 11:00-16:30

※Mon: Chef's Lunch of the Day (11:00-14:00)

Dinner: (Thurs-Sun & Hols) 17:00-21:00 (LO. 20:30)

Closed: First Monday of every month




 



The Tomb of Emperor Sujin


The tomb of the 10th emperor, Emperor Suijn, who is said to be the founder of the Yamato court, is designated as the tomb of "Yamabe-no-michi Magari-no-oka no Ue no Misasagi" and is managed by the Imperial Household Agency. It is also called "Andonyama Tumulus" after the name of the region. It is just a 5-minute walk from the Tenri Trail Center but is a popular rest spot in its own right thanks to its beautiful greenery around the moat and the nice views it provides.




Who was Emperor Sujin?

Emperor Sujin (148 B.C. - January 9, 29 B.C.) served as the tenth emperor of Japan from February 17, 97 B.C. to January 9, 29 B.C., as documented in "Kojiki" and "Nihon Shoki." Posthumously named Mimakiiribikoinie no Sumera no Mikoto or Hatsukunishirasu Sumera Mikoto, he is also known as Mimakiirihikoinie. Modern scholars consider him the first emperor with possible historical existence.


Doubts persist regarding the historical accuracy of his exploits and genealogical connections to the Kesshi-Hachidai (eight undocumented emperors). Despite this, some view him as the Yamato Sovereignty figure from the third to the early fourth century. Other theories suggest that Emperor Sujin was in fact Japan's first emperor or the same as Emperor Jinmu. The Kojiki credits Emperor Sujin with unifying the country, fostering peace and prosperity, earning him praise as Mimakono Sumera Mikoto. Additionally, he is said to have contributed to the development of agriculture and overseen the construction of ponds in Osaka and Nara.





The Andonyama Tumulus is a huge keyhole-shaped tomb, the 16th largest of its kind in Japan and is estimated to have been built in the late 4th century. The tomb is 242 meters long, 158 meters in diameter, and 31 meters high at the rear mound. The front mound is 100 meters wide and 13.6 meters high. The moat surrounding the tomb is 360 meters long and 230 meters wide.


Details of the burial chamber are unknown, but old drawings suggest that the excavation site on the top of the rear mound was in fact a robbery. Artifacts later excavated from the moat include copper plates, gold and silver jewelry, and pottery.



Access:






Address: Yanagimoto-cho, Tenri, Nara 632-0052

Phone: 0743-63-1242

Hours: 24hrs

Admission: Free


The tomb can be accessed directly from Yanagimoto Station on the JR line (600m) and lies next to National Route 169.