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Restoring an ancient pilgrimage pathway in northern Kyoto – the old Miyazu Kodo

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By Connie Sceaphierde, grape Japan

Japan is a country dominated by anime, sushi trains and futuristic technology...or so the novice Japan lover is led to believe. In reality, the neon-lit lives of modern Japan exist only in the capital. Take a step out of the metropolis, and a different world ruled by bygone culture and society begins to take shape.

Hidden beneath oceans of forests a network of ancient pathways weave their way across Japan. Some are more famous than others – The pilgrimage pathways of the important Kumano kodo for example – whilst others lie almost completely forgotten within the dark fortresses of giant redwoods, cedar or bamboo.

These old roads developed as routes for the people of former Japanese villages to make their way to the capital, whether it was Kyoto, Nara or Edo. However, as more and more people moved away from their rural lives to those of the developing cities, the remote villages were abandoned and the pathways and roads that once connected them were engulfed by the tight embrace of mother nature.

In Kyoto’s most northern reaches, the mountain known as Oeyama was once believed to be the lair of mythological demon Shuten-doji. According to legend, the demon had caused mayhem and panic in the capital and following orders from the emperor was killed by the hero Minamoto Raiko.

Though the demon folk story has been theorised as being a misrepresentation of bandits that would attack passersby on the mountain, the area still emits a certain mystical charm.

Nearby, the historical wonders of the Tango peninsula, such as the oddity of the Amanohashidate sandbar, or the floating houses of Funaya stretch out into the sea of Japan. If Kyoto feels old, this area seems somewhat older.

Nowadays it is possible to reach the Kyotango area in ease, with buses, taxis and trains ready and waiting to take you northward across the Kitayama mountains. But before the introduction of the railroad, or the flattening of hills and tarmacking of roads, one would need to trek up mountains and through forests to make their way to the secluded villages in the north.

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The Miyazu Kaido, or the Fuko-do is an old mountain pass that runs from the Fukuchiyama area, over Oeyama to Miyazu in the north. Once a major highway, the road has been used over the centuries by both the aristocrats of the feudal era and the common people of modern Japan.

In days gone by, the road would have been well kept, with lanterns to guide the way, and rest stops dotted along the route. There is even evidence of a government-owned teahouse that was set up for pilgrims along the Miyazu kodo. During the Meiji era, the Miyazu kodo was an indispensable road for the traffic of local residents and the transport of goods. However, in 1939, a new road was built (known now as prefectural road No. 9) and the Miyazu kodo fell into disuse. The tea house fell into ruins, as grass and bamboo began to take over, until only remnants of the old cobblestone path existed.

Since 2004 there has been a growing interest amongst locals in restoring the ancient Miyazu kodo pathway. With the increasing interest, a number of restorations have taken place, and as a result, the Miyazu kodo is now walkable once again.

The organization behind the renovation – Kamimiyazu – hopes that they can continue to protect and restore the road with the help of individuals, and is inviting people to join them on environmental conservation treks along the route.

The next event is set to be held on Saturday Oct 31, and will allow partakers to experience restoration work on the road whilst also hearing ancient tales and stories from a local tour guide.

Miyazu kodo Restoration and Conservation Trekking Tour

Date: Oct 31

Time: 10 a.m. - 15:30 p.m.

Meeting point: Former Oeyama Ski Resort (413 Oda, Miyazu City, Kyoto Prefecture)

*Parking is available

Participation Fee: 2,500 yen

*Lunch fee and insurance is included

Participants are kindly asked to bring along suitable hiking clothing, hiking shoes/walking shoes, gloves and their own drinks. Local handmade Onigiri will be included in the tour, but participants can bring along their own snacks if they choose to.

To apply for the tour, please contact by phone on 0772-68-1355, or send an email to tour@uminokyoto.jp

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© grape Japan

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