A WALK ON THE SALT ROAD
The Salt Road or Shio-no-michi in Japanese is the ancient path that passes right through the Hakuba Valley from the Sea of Japan in the north down to the castle city of Matsumoto 120kms away.
Unlike the new thoroughfare that follows the Himekawa River the Salt Road is notable for the climbs, sometimes very steep that Hakuba is famous for. Salt as well as hemp was usually carried on the back of peasants. Cattle or horses were sometimes used but because of bogginess of the road or path human feet were most suited.
It was this bogginess in mind, that I was given my samurai kimino with straw style sandals, I opted to change into more suitable hiking boots. Luckily the kimono covered them.
We gathered together on the edge of the village where Hakuba and Otari meet. Actually the route alternates most years either walking from north to south or south to north. The mixture of locals, tourists, samurais and peasants soon were on the way and started a slow trickle down towards the Iwatake Kirikubo Shrine located in front of the ski area. Here we were offered our first refreshments, miniature rice balls and Japanese tea while we took in the performance of the Salt Road Taiko Drummers.
After leaving Iwatake we headed down to the valley floor with all the extras in a procession. First in line and on a white horse was the mayor of the town, then the peasants who must have been getting tired by now carrying their heavy loads, then the samurai at the back guarding everyone.
Upon reaching the valley floor it was time for some more refreshments and Kan-no-bara shrine near to Himekawa River or Princess River in English. This time we got to drink amazake – not the nicest thing I have ever tasted! The shrines provided a welcome rest for many of the travelers especially after a hard day walking in the hot sun. I bet the samurai got to sleep inside while the others had to make do with a bed under the stars.
We finally made it our destination, Green Sports Park. A quick lunch followed by numerous photographs finished off a great morning walk.
The Salt Road Festival takes place every Golden Week.