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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.

Harihatagoe (Negori-zaka slope)

-The oldest historical landscape of Saba-kaido Road-

While Wakasa-kaido Road boasted of the greatest amount of distribution, Harihatagoe road was also taken frequently by many travelers as the shortest route connecting Wakasa Province and Kyoto, although it was known as a road with steep slope. It starts from Onyu, where Wakasa kokufu, or provincial capital of Wakasa, was once located. After crossing Harihata mountain pass, it leads to Kurama district in the northern part of Kyoto by way of Kutsuki in Shiga Prefecture.

It is said that people in Wakasa region carried salted mackerel on their backs and crossed the steep pass hurriedly saying, “Although Kyoto is far away from here, it’s not more than 18 Ri, or 72km.” In the mountains surrounded by beech forest in Kaminegori district located in the provincial border between Ohmi Province and Wakasa Province stretches a mountain pass taken by a lot of travelers where an old well built by piling up natural stones and old Jizo statues remain by the roadside, telling us the atmosphere of this old road vividly.

In the villages along Harihatagoe Road remains an old legend of Umihiko and Yamahiko, deities of two brothers, who are said to have come to Wakasa region crossing the pass of this old road. Therefore, Harihatagoe Road is also said to be the oldest Saba-kaido Road retaining the legend of old Japanese myth. The younger brother deity who crossed the pass and arrived Wakasa Province earlier than his elder brother deity was enshrined at Wakasahiko Shrine located along this road. The ritual entitled Omizu Okuri has been continued up to today which derives from the legend that the deity of Onyu sent the water of Wakasa to Nara commemorating the completion of Nigatsudo temple in Todaiji Temple in the 8th century. Along Harihatagoe Road can we see not only many old precious Buddhist statues but also a number of old famous temples and shrines such as Wakasa Kokubunji Temple, Tadaji Temple, Myotsuji Temple, etc. which were founded in ancient times and protected by the Emperors and aristocracy in Nara and Kyoto, including Wakasa Jinguji Temple which has conducted the ritual of Omizu Okuri for a long period of time. These traditional temples and shrines along Harihatagoe Road have created historical landscape which strongly shows us deep relationship with Nara and Kyoto, the ancient capitals of Japan.

Model course

model course 1

model course 1

pointplacelunch information
1Wakasa jinguji Shrine
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2Myotsuji Temple
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3Shiraishi-jinja Shrine & Unose
  • 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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