For most of Japan's history, travel and trade were undertaken utilizing the countless footpaths spread throughout the entire country. Some of these have now become the center of increased attention and even hotbeds of tourism; specifically the Nakasendo and the Kumano Kodo. It is easy to understand why people are flocking to them in great numbers, as they provide an attractrive balance of activity, culture and nature.
Here in our small village of Otari, there is another equally historical, but less well known (outside Japan) ancient trade route, the Salt Road (塩の道). The 120km long Salt Road began in Itoigawa, on the Sea of Japan coast, and climbed steadily upward through the deep forested valleys and steep mountain passes of Otari, before continuing all the way to the landlocked castle town of Matsumoto in central Nagano. As its name suggests, the trail was the major trade route linking the ocean to the plains, primarily for the purpose of transporting vitally important salt inland. The road was in use since at least the Sengoku Period of Japanese history, in the mid 1400's, and continued up until the early 20th century.
Each year on May 3rd, during the national Golden Week holiday period, our small village sees its population nearly double as visitors from all over Japan flock here to participate in the Salt Road Festival, an event held to honor the route's heritage and importance that has continued for over 40 years. A contingent from the village dress in traditional porter costumers from the period of the Salt Road's heyday, and slowly hike along a roughly 10km stretch of the trail. Visitors follow close behind, snapping photos, enjoying the scenery and festive atmosphere, and partaking of the homemade pickled vegetables and other snacks prepared and offered by local residents along the route. The procession takes a break midway through at a small local shrine lined with food stalls, where a costume contest is held, before the wave of walkers continues along the remaining section of trail. More homemade handouts, as well as taiko drumming and dance performances line the route in places, adding to the excitement and festive feeling.
This festival offers the perfect chance to explore a portion of this usually quiet, historic trail with us during a lively and unique cultural event. What's more, if you like - we can arrange for you to borrow and dress up in full traditional costume for the entire hike, for a small additional fee of ¥1,500 (to cover the cleaning) - for what be a rare and memorable experience! This relatively undiscovered route through scenic natural landscapes and small rural settlements will certainly grow in popularity amongst tourists in the coming years, and the festival, despite its 41 years of history, is wholly devoid of international visitors. In addition to the 10km of distance, there is approximately 450m of climbing along the way, but the pace is very relaxed and doable for individuals of most ages in generally good physical condition.
You have the chance to nibble on delicious homemade treats along the way, but with all the walking you'll still work up an appetite. Once we reach the terminus, we'll leave the crowds behind and make a short drive to a local eatery to cap with day with a delicious late lunch/early dinner in a renovated old-Japanese farmhouse, before returning you to your accommodation in Otari, or one of Otari's train stations.
IMAGE GALLERY (May 2019)
PICK-UP & DROP-OFF WITHIN OTARI VILLAGE
We can pick you up and drop you off from any location within the village of Otari, such as your place of lodging, one of the three ski resorts located within the village (Tsugaike Kogen, Hakuba Norikura & Hakuba Cortina) or Otari's main train station - Minami Otari (on the JR Oito Line).
All ground transportation (whether by private car, taxi, train and/or bus) during the hours of the tour is included in the price.
Basic hiking insurance covering personal injury, liability and search and rescue is included in the price.
FESTIVAL PARTICIPATION & COMMEMORATIVE GIFT
The festival itself is free to participate in and once registering at the start you'll receive a small commemorative gift, likely in the form of a traditional Japanese hand towel and a small pin badge that make quaint, but nice souvenirs.
REGISTRATION / GUIDING / TRANSLATION
Though there is not cost to join the festival itself, as local residents and members of the "Salt Road Association", we can take care of all the logistics and guesswork, answer your questions and provide you with additional context and information on the village, the Salt Road and the area's history and cultural significance. We can also bridge the gap between you and the local residents who will be eager to talk with you but unable to communicate in English by being there to translate when and if you would like.
PHOTOS & VIDEOS
We will be happy to get some nice photos and videos of you at along the trail, both with our camera and yours, and of course everything we take on our camera we will share with you immediately after the tour.
TEA, SNACKS & LUNCH
As we mentioned, various tables staffed with local residents along the route will offer small homemade snacks and tea, which are free to partake of as much as you like. This should hold us over until we are able to head to a local establishment for a proper (late) lunch upon conclusion of the festivities.
PICK-UP & DROP-OFF OUTSIDE OF OTARI VILLAGE
*If necessary or requested, it is possible to arrange pick-up and/or drop-off from several major hubs outside of Otari, specifically: Hakuba, Itoigawa, Omachi, Nagano & Matsumoto. However, please be aware that this will require extra time and incur additional fees. Please see our downloadable 'Extended Area Pick-Up & Drop-Off Policy' (PDF) for more details.
*This is a one-day tour, so lodging is typically not required or included. However, should you like to spend a night in Otari before or after your tour, we can help you arrange a stay at a local lodge or guesthouse.
*It is recommended that you eat breakfast prior to the start of the tour because of the timing of the workshop.
For this tour to operate at the listed price, we require a minimum of 2 persons.
Group size will be limited to a maximum of 4 persons.
If you are interested in booking as a private tour for one person, or a group larger than four please contact us for a price quote.
WHAT TO BRING
APPROPRIATE FOOTWEAR & CLOTHING: The festival takes place outside in early spring, and weather and temperatures can vary wildly at this time. Since we will be hiking, it is best to wear trail runners or light hikers, and some clothing appropriate to the current weather forecast while also carrying a few extra layers for if needed. If you will be wearing one of the traditional costumes, a light shirt and pants to wear as your base layer under the costume should be sufficient.
WATER: While some drinks will be available along the way, it is best to have at least a 500ml bottle with you to have the flexibility to drink when you're thirsty no matter where you are on the trail.
SMALL BACKPACK: It would be helpful to have a small bag or backpack to carry your water, and any extra layers you have on hand.
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SALT ROAD FESTIVAL
Walk in the Footsteps & Costumes of Ancient Traders
May 3rd, 2021
¥7,500 per person
If you would like to contact us to ask questions, receive more information, or inquire about booking this trip, please either connect with us directly using the chat feature located on the bottom right of your screen, or submit an inquiry through the contact form below. We are looking forward to hearing from you!