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.

Saba-kaido Road leading to the ports in Wakasa region

-Villages passing down the festivals and tradition of Kyoto, the ancient capital-

Tango-kaido Road connecting Kiyama and Wakasa-kaido Road as well as Tobadani district connecting Tagarasu ura and Wakasa-kaido Road also contributed to carrying not only goods collected from various provinces but also marine products of the Wakasa Bay and the Mikata Five Lakes to Kyoto by way of Kumagawa-juku, or Kumagawa post town. Kiyama used to prosper as a port town in the Middle Ages and Tagarasu ura, or Tagarasu inlet, prospered by shipping agent business and fishery since old times. Both Kiyama and Tagarasu are located along the coast of the Japan Sea.

Food processing techniques were developed in Tagarasu and other ports in Wakasa Province as a result of interaction of people through main highways over a long period of time. Then such fermented foods as “heshiko” and “narezushi” were developed in order to store marine products such as mackerel, etc. for a long period which were caught in abundance in Wakasa Province. These fermented foods have been produced up to today as a unique food culture of Wakasa region.

Heshiko refers to salted fish pickled with sake lees and narezushi refers to a kind of sushi fermented with fish and vegetables.

In the villages along these old highways in Wakasa region remain a lot of folk events brought from Kyoto such as Ounomai, or a dance of the king, and Rokusai nenbutsu, or a Buddhist dance in which people chant prayers while dancing, etc. which have been preserved and handed down by the villagers, adding different features from village to village. Many of Ounomai dance are performed from the beginning of April to May every year and familiarly known to the local people as a special feature of Wakasa region in spring. In the villages along Shuzan-kaido Road connecting Obama City and Kyoto stretching to the southward along the Minami River in Obama City, a fire-throwing festival called Matsuage has been preserved as the festival to enshrine the god of preventing fire calamity in Atago Shrine in Kyoto in which the bright flames of torches are tossed up one after another illuminating the night sky at the end of summer.

Various folk events brought from Kyoto through long years of interaction by way of these old highways have taken root extensively in various parts of Wakasa region. They are performed in every season, creating unique historical landscape of 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
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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