Salt Road Festival
Walk in the Footsteps & Costumes of Ancient Traders
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- Tour starts and ends in Otari
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.
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