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KS Cover no. 71 2006 April

APR 2006 :: 071


Walking with history

Located in a beautiful mountain range east of the Nara basin, Japan's oldest road, Yamanobe-no-Michi, offers one of the best experiences for hiking, and scenery any time of the year.

Tenri of Nara is not “brochure yokoso Japan”. It is an explorer's Japan — the Nara of grit, earth, and smells, and the sights and din that is the centre of a living new religion. In truth, Tenri is not just a place — it is a series of experiences. And the journey begins from the Tenri Station — an hour away from Osaka or Kyoto on either the JR or Kintetsu lines.

The vibrant shotengai (shopping mall) — Tenri Honodori is the entr-ance to the city, offering a variety of local delicacies such as millet cakes, seasonal fruits and vegetables (famous for strawberries, mand-arin oranges, grapes, and shiitake mushrooms) and locally brewed sake.

The tourist information office is also at the beginning for those who want to pick-up their walking route maps and other information about the locale. While walking around, you can find people either like you — hiking lovers — who are loaded with walking and hiking gear or the ones who are wearing black happi coats — devotees of the Tenrikyo religion — adorned with the word 'Tenrikyo' printed in white Chinese characters. Tenri is also the centre of the Tenrikyo religion, also known as Jiba, is a sacred place for more than three million believers throughout the world.

The outstanding church building of Tenrikyo, know as Moya is just at the end of the shopping mall, and its campus has a huge opening for special gatherings. Anyone is welcome in the church (which looks more like a temple) to have a first-hand experience of Jiba. You may come across oyasato — devotees living in Tenri — saying “welcome back to Tenri” to those who are returning to Jiba with smiles and prayers.

Or you might hear people in your style of outfit saying “Gambatte!” as you are close to the foot of the mountain range, approaching Yamanobe-no-Michi, a 16-kilometre stretch which takes about four and half-hours on foot. The road is dotted with many shrines, temples, and tomb mounds connected with historic or legendary events that appear in Kojiki (a collection of legendary stories of old Japan), Nihon Shoki (the oldest history of Japan) and Manyoshu (the earliest extant collection of Japanese poetry).

Now the path is popular as a walking course, starting from Isonokami Shrine all the way to Sakurai, giving a view of natural scenery, and folk architecture, along with the historical monuments. At the Isonokami Shrine, you will find yourself in the middle of deep Japanese cedar forest — famous as a designated national treasure, the Nanatsusaya-no-Tachi (sword with three blades branching out from both sides).

The soothing spiritual atmosphere over here filled in the silent precinct of the shrine can take you back in time to a world of legends. Going further south through the forest, you come upon the historic site of Uchiyama-eikyuji Temple, built in 1144. This temple was so large that it used to known as the Nikko of Kansai. Unfortunately, it was torn down during the Meiji Period, and today, only the original Main Hall pond remains for us to visit.

Another nearby pond, Kidou-ike is equally inviting for picnic lovers and photographers, and remains one of the main attractions for Sakura viewing. The pond is surrounded by Chinese milk vetch flowers and cherry trees, which hang so low they look like they are kissing the pond. The silent reflection of Sakura in water makes the entire pond more scenic. Any side of the pond gives you a breath-taking view as you walk around. This could be an ideal spot for your first break — obento time!

From this point, you walk uphill, passing through the teahouse along the stone road to Yatogi Shrine, with its beautiful thatched roof, then on to the villages of Takenouchi and Kayo. In the southern part of this village there used to be a funeral road in anci-ent days. As you walk along, you can enjoy the silhouette of Mt. Nijo between the persimmon and mandarin trees. The next attraction on the path is Oyamato Shrine, which attracts visitors for its Chan Chan Festival held on April 1st every year to declare the coming of spring. If you are in Tenri on this day, don't miss the chance to see the peaceful parade with the bright accompaniment of gongs.

More than halfway down the path is Choga-kuji Temple, known for its beautiful azaleas in spring and colourful leaves in autumn. The temple stores some of the important cultural assets such as the oldest image of Buddha with crystal eyes, and the Shoromon — the belfry gate.

There are a good number of tombs on Yamanobe-no-Michi, mainly of the emperors including the tenth Emperor Sujin, who is said to be the founder of the Yamato Impe-rial Court, known as the Tomb of Sujin, 242 metres in length. And next to it is Tomb of Emperor Keiko, about 300 meters in length. From here, you can enjoy the view of Nara Basin against the back-drop of Mt. Nijo — equally, a good spot to view a sunset. The finishing line of the long walk — Shibutani Bus stop — is just five minutes away from the emperor's tombs to bring you back either to Tenri station or take you further to Sakurai JR station.

Along with the historical sights, you have eno-ugh opportunity to halt for viewing wonderful small villages, visiting traditional houses, talking with working farmers, bargaining with local fruit-sellers, and feeling one with history. The entire path is very well marked with signboards to lead you the right way. If you don't read Japanese much; just follow the sign of the two connected green leaves with a mark of man and woman walking on it.

It has been said that the beauty of four seasons adds a mysterious atmosphere to the history here. Keep walking!


Text & photos: Atmo Nartan

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:: Listings


Up to date cinema listings guide so you always know what's on, where and when!

:: ART

Best exhibitions + listings


Best events + listings


Best gigs + listings


Parties not to miss + listings

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Six days in the Sahara
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Art of living
Meditation course of the most wanted peace


Anthony Pappa
A man who made his name from Melbourne to Moscow


Best festivals + listings


New releases and top ten paperback books


Reel reviews of the silver screen


Domestic and international news

Getting There

By train:
Tenri Station on JR Sakurai Line / Kintetsu Tenri Line

By road:
• From Kyoto — take Route 24 or the Keinawa Highway to the Yamadagawa interchange, then follow the signs to Tenri.
• From Osaka — take the Hanna Road or take the Nishi Meihan Toll Road and get off at the Koriyama Interchange or Tenri Interchange to Tenri.

For more info:
• Tenri Tourist Information Centre 0743-63-1001
• Sakurai Tourist Information Centre 0744-44-2377
• Nara Tourist Information Centre 0742-24-4858

This month's festivals in Tenri
01st: Chan Chan Festival at Oyamato Shrine
15th: Hachioji Festival in Higashiiodo-cho
18th: Oyasama Birth Celebration Service at
Tenrikyo Church
21st: Kobo Daishi Grand Memorial Service at Chogakuji Temple


• An ancient legend has been passed down that states that a person who eats a piece of millet cake from Tenri can always find a lover. Those healthy ancient cakes have a homespun taste.

• Somen and ramen are specialty of Tenri. Visitors do line up at the ramen shops to enjoy the unique taste, and at the Chogakuji Temple, one should try somen from a kitchen that is also an important cultural asset.

• Tenri's five liquor stores — Inaten, Hakutei, Miyakohime, Yamanobe-no-Michi, and Choryu — have their own unique sake that is popular around Japan.

• The origin of Japanese tea comes from ancient Yamato of Tenri. Its mild taste and noble fragra- nce are just perfect! A good idea for omiyage!

• In June 2006, Tenrikyo will conduct “Tenri Forum 2006” — is designed to ignite a new and modern missionary spirit. For more info on forum, religion and their activity: www.tenrikyo.or.jp