THE SALT ROAD
"BEAUTY SURROUNDS US, BUT USUALLY WE NEED TO BE WALKING ... TO KNOW IT."
The Salt Road is one of Japan's most fascinating historic trails.
The Kumano Kodo and Nakasendo draw walkers from around the world, while the Shio-no-Michi has somehow managed to fly under the tourist radar; for now.
Japan's Three Major Historic Trails: Kumano Kodo, Nakasendo & Shio-no-Michi
For thousands of years, before the advent of motorized transportation, Japan was crisscrossed with an incredible network of footpaths of varying lengths and purposes. A handful of these trails still survive today, though most have been reduced to shells of their former glory, broken up by urbanization and widespread development. A few of those with wonderfully preserved sections, photogenic surroundings, a clear and engaging history, and/or a dash of clever marketing have even made their way onto the world travel radar. Chief amongst them are the Kumano Kodo - the ancient pilgrimage route through the forests and mountains of the Kii Peninsula, and the Nakasendo - the inland "highway" utilized by politicians and dignitaries traveling back and forth between the ancient power centers of Edo (Tokyo) and Kyoto. These are no doubt the best remaining examples of Japan's top religious and political routes with a compelling story and scenery to match, but there is another separate, extremely important type of road that played an equally vital role in ancient Japan - the commercial trade route. And the best and most fascinating example of such a path still in existence here today is without a doubt the Shio-no-Michi, or literally "Salt Road" in English.
The Prevalence, Purpose and Importance of Salt Roads
For thousands of years, salt was an indispensable commodity vital for the preparation, preservation and transportation of food. Access to salt was essential for civilizations to survive, and salt roads were used around the globe to bring it to regions that lacked it. Japan's only source for salt was from the sea, and two primary salt roads were used to carry the crystalline mineral inland: the Chikuni Kaido starting at the Sea of Japan, and the Sanshu Kaido starting at the opposing Pacific Ocean coastline. Of those, the Chikuni Kaido is the best preserved and most historically important, and the one that's synonymous with the terms Shio-no-Michi and Salt Road today.
Japan's Premier Salt Road: The Chikuni Kaido
The Chikuni Kaido was in use from the late Middle Ages up until the end of the 19th century. It originated on the Sea of Japan's coast in the area of modern-day Itoigawa city and reached its terminus in the inland plain castle town of Matsumoto 120 kilometers later. Today it is possible to cover the Chikuni Kaido from start to finish on a combination of paved roads and quiet paths that follow or closely parallel the original route. It’s an epic journey that presents plentiful opportunities to enjoy gorgeous scenery, capture memorable photos, interact with locals, observe deeply-held customs and traditions, encounter wildlife, soak in hot springs, sample regional foods and see a side of Japan that goes unseen by all too many.
Hike and Bike Japan x The Salt Road
The best-preserved and most scenic sections of the route are located in the village of Otari, and perfectly showcase the area's “satoyama” landscape by artfully weaving in and out of forested mountain paths and idyllic countryside hamlets. As you may recall, our Japan-based guide Paul lives in Otari, and his home is less than 1 kilometer from the trail. He is extremely passionate about the Salt Road and has spent the last four years under the tutelage of several top Salt Road experts and guides, walking the route and learning about its complex and fascinating history. He's currently a member of several committees working to preserve and promote the route, has written articles about it, is involved in trail maintenance and is Otari's only (and likely Japan's only) non-Japanese/English-speaking Salt Road guide. Perhaps most importantly, he is part of the community and uses his local knowledge and personal relationships to take your Shio-no-Michi experience to the next level.