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Miketsukuni and Saba-kaido Road: Cultural heritages linking the Japan Sea to Nara and Kyoto, the ancient capital of Japan

The province of Wakasa was situated along the Sea of Japan’s coastline in what is now Fukui Prefecture. It was referred to as miketsukuni (a region that produced food offerings for the Imperial Court) and played an important role in providing foodstuffs such as sea salt,mackerel, and other marine products to the ancient, landlocked capital of Nara and Kyoto. Wakasa's role as a source of supplying the foodstuffs led to the development of a unique culinary culture. The coastal hub of Wakasa also connected the sea trade from China and Korea to the inland trade routes.
Local ports and castle towns sprang up and flourished along this route. Traveling tradesmen brought with them festival customs, entertainments, and Buddhist culture that soon spread far and wide into rural farming areas and fishing villages. This ultimately resulted in distinct cultures and customs evolving in the different villages and hamlets. The ancient thoroughfare is now called the saba-kaido (Mackerel Road) and here visitors can experience nature, eat delicious traditional foods, attend festivals, as well as view traditional houses and roads that hearken back to the earlier days of great prosperity.

Wakasa region used to be called Wakasa Province located along the coastline of the southern part of what is now called Fukui Prefecture. Blessed with rich nature, Wakasa Province provided abundant foodstuffs in ancient times such as marine products, salt, etc. to Nara and Kyoto, the ancient capitals of Japan, as one of “Miketsukuni” provinces, or the ancient provinces supplying food and marine products to the Imperial family and Imperial court in Nara and Kyoto, the ancient capitals of Japan. After the period serving as one of the provinces of Miketsukuni, Wakasa Province kept supporting the food culture of Kyoto by continuously supplying delicious food of Wakasa to the ancient capital of Japan.

Several highways which have been referred to as “Saba-kaido” in recent years connecting Wakasa Province and Kyoto played an important role not only in supplying foodstuffs but also in exchanging various goods, people, and culture. “Saba-kaido” refers to a highway supplying marine products and fish such as mackerel called “saba” in Japanese to the Imperial family and Imperial court in Kyoto, the ancient capital of Japan. Cultural exchange initiated by the connection with the Imperial Court and the aristocracy in Nara and Kyoto permeated the entire civilian life both in rural farming areas and fishing villages in Wakasa Province through the interaction of people taking these Saba-kaido highways and developed into rich cultural heritages such as old temples and shrines, unique streetscapes, folk cultural assets along Saba-kadio highways of Wakasa region whose rich and diverse cultural aspects can hardly be found elsewhere in Japan.

Tracing along Saba-kaido highways provides us with an opportunity to actually see and learn not only 1,500 years of long history of these highways from the ancient times up to today but also how the people along these highways have preserved and passed down the cultural assets and tradition created by long years of interaction of people through these highways connecting Wakasa Province and Kyoto.

The Wakasa-kaido Road

-The main road linking Wakasa region to the former Capital conveying foods and culture-

Wakasa-kaido Road, which had the greatest amount of distribution quantity among several “Saba-kaido” highways connecting Wakasa Province and Kinai, or ancient five provinces located near Kyoto, the ancient capital of Japan, is dotted with precious cultural properties representing Miketsukuni Wakasa and Saba-kaido Road.
Wakasa Province is said to have been ruled by Kashiwade no omi who was in charge of supplying food to the Yamato Imperial Court in the Japanese Burial Mound era and it was one of the provinces of Miketsukuni which dedicated “Minie”, or special foodstuff for the Emperors, and “Gochoen”, or special salt used as foodstuff served for the Emperors, to Nara and Kyoto. Ancient burial mounds such as Wakibukuro ancient burial mound cluster, which is regarded as the graves of the clan in charge of Kashiwade no omi, are located along the Kita River whose headwaters are on the boundary between Wakasa Province and Ohmi Province which is now called Shiga Prefecture. Interaction of people has been made continuously between Wakasa Province and Kyoto, taking Wakasa-kaido Road which stretches along the Kita River surrounded by ancient burial mound clusters.
Wakasa-kaido Road also played an important military role. During the Warring States period,
Nobunaga Oda, a prominent military commander, attacked the Asakura clan in Echizen Province by taking this highway with an entourage of Hideyoshi Toyotomi and Ieyasu Tokugawa. Therefore, Wakasa-kaido was also the road to success where the subsequent rulers of the whole nation passed triumphantly.

After the mid-early modern times, in Kumagawa-juku, or Kumagawa post town, which used to be the biggest relay station along Wakasa-kaido Road, the wholesalers transmitted large quantities of goods to Kyoto sent out by the brokers in Obama. This post town where one thousand cows and horses are said to have passed by per day prospered a great deal with a number of luggage porters and porters using packhorses. In the towns and villages along this old highway remain many traditional buildings now such as merchant’s houses with plastered walls and warehouses. Gorgeous floats parade along the highway of Kumagawa during annual shrine festivals and Bon dance, or the Bon festival dance, brought from Kyoto is performed during Obon Holidays in mid-August. All these traditional events tell us the prosperity this old post town enjoyed in bygone days.

Villages along Wakasa-kaido Road, which are dotted with guideposts and pine trees beside the road that served as milestones, have preserved and handed down traditional folk events brought from Kyoto such as Rokusai nenbutsu, Gion Festival, Jizo bon, etc. which have added unique features to the historic landscape of this old highway. Rokusai nenbutsu refers to a Buddhist dance in which people chant prayers while dancing. Jizo bon is an event for children held in mid-summer to commemorate Jizo, a guardian deity of children. Jizo is a small stone statue placed by the roadside and seasonal flowers and something children love to eat such as cakes are offered to Jizo statues by the local residents. Gion Festival is an annual festival of Yasaka Shrine in Gion, Kyoto held every July for over 1,000 years which was initiated to expel plagues that was once prevalent in the 9th century. This festival has been preserved and passed down in various provinces near Kyoto.

Model course

model course 1

model course 1 description

pointplacelunch information
1Nishizuka kofun
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Walk 3 minutes
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2Jounotsuka Kofun
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Walk 3 minutes
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3Nakatsuka Kofun
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Car 15 minutes
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4Juzen no mori Kofun
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Car 5 minutes
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5Maruyamazuka Kofun
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Car 6 minutes
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6Uriwari no taki Waterfall
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Car 6 minutes
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7Kamifunazuka Kofun
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Car 2 minutes
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8Shimofunazuka Kofun
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Car 7 minutes
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9Shirahige-jinja Kofun
  • Wakasa-kaido Road
  • Starting point of Saba-kaido Road
  • Harihatagoe (Negori-zaka slope)
  • Saba-kaido Road leading to the ports in Wakasa region
Wakasa-kaido Road Starting point of Saba-kaido Road
Harihatagoe (Negori-zaka slope) Saba-kaido Road leading to the ports in Wakasa region

Japan Heritage Utilization Promotion Council of Obama City and Wakasa townFukui Prefecture, Obama City, Wakasa town

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