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Roads of Oku: Home

Inspiration ...

Matsuo Basho's Narrow Road to the Deep North, Translated by Nobuyuki Yuasa / Google Map: Bashō's Oku no Hosomichi ("Narrow Road to the Deep North")

Journeys ...

Spring 2004: On the Road in Kansai / Google Map
Summer 2005: Roads of Oku / Google Map
Fall 2006: Where Gods Alight / Google Map
Summer 2007: Hōkūle‘a in Yokohama / Map
Winter 2008: Snow Country / Google Map
Spring 2008: Full Bloom & Festivals / Google Map
Summer 2009: Fireflies & Sweet Fish / Google Map
Fall 2009: North Country Colors / Google Map
Summer 2010: Legends of the Land / Google Map
Spring 2011: On the Far Side of Disaster / Google Map
Summer 2012: Travels in the Fifth Moon / Google Map
Summer 2013: Far Roads: Finishing Touches / Google Map
Summer 2015: Saké-Tasting in the Kingdom of Local Brew

Memorable ...

Roads / Seacoasts & Coastal Roads / Bridges / Ferries / Walks & Hikes / Mountains / Ropeways / Rivers / Waterfalls / Lakes / Trees / Rocks / Caves / Hot Springs / Sakura / Fall Colors / Archaeology and History / Castles / Shrines / Temples / Gardens / Festivals / Food / Drinks
Photography: Dennis Kawaharada and Karen Ono

Note ...

On Driving in Japan

Roads of Oku: Journeys in the Heartland

A collection of essays on Japanese culture, history and literature. Available at (Far Roads Press, 2015).

Archaeology and History

Updated: Summer 2015


Oyu Stone Circles, Aomori. Summer 2005. These mysterious stone circles, located south of Lake Towada and dating from the Jomon period  (about 10,500-300 BC), may have been used for burials, religious ceremonies or astronomical observations that kept track of time and the seasons.

Sun dial?Stone circles

Sannai Maruyama, Aomori. Fall 2009. The archaeological site and museum includes a recreation of a village from the Jomon Period  (about 10,500-300 BC).

Jomon villageJomon houseTower

Toro Ruins, Shizuoka City. Spring 2014.

A reconstructed town from the initial rice-farming culture in Japan (Yayoi Period, from 300 BC-300 AD). Below: (1) dwellings, (2) rice fields, and (3) a rice storehouse that was the prototype of a shinto shrine in the Shinmei-style.

Asuka Historical National Park, Nara. Fall 2014. Asuka was Japan's political and cultural center when the foundations of Yamato, as the first nation state was known, were first laid, before the capital was moved to Nara, then Heian (Kyotō) and finally Edo (Tōkyō). The park is spread over area that includes archaeological and historical sites linked by walking courses.

Takamatsuzuka Mural Museum displays artifacts and reproductions of the murals discovered at Takamatsu-zuka (tumulus):

The park includes the stone chamber called Ishibutai, thought to be the tomb of Soga no Umako (551-626), a nobleman who, with Prince Shotoku, established Buddhism and government reforms introduced from China during the formative period of the Yamato state.

IshibutaiTomb entranceInterior

Ishibutai, Asuka, Nara. Spring 2008

Buddhism and Folk Culture

Buddhist Stone Carvings, Usuki, Oita. Spring 2011. These stone carvings are located in the volcanic-tuft hills of Usuki, southeast of Oita. With more than sixty figures, it represents of the largest set of such carvings. The figures were carved during the 12th-14th century. Some of the figures have been restored, and the carvings are protected by roofs and walls.

usuki stone carvingsusuki stone carvingsusuki stone carvingsusuki stone carvings

Shirakawago, Nagano. Summer 2010. Shirakawago is a mountain village that maintains some 150 traditional-style farm houses. So snow and rain will slide off the thatched roof, keeping them dry, the houses have high pitched roofs. The roofs are rethatched once every 40-50 years; three or four roofs in the village are re-thatched each year. The village was added to the UNESCO’s World Heritage List in 1995.

ShirakawagoThatched roofs


Silver, Gold, and Iron Works

Silver Mine, Iwami, Shimane. Summer 2009. Discovered in the early 16th century, Iwami Ginzan Silver Mine was once the most productive silver mine in Japan and one of the top producing silver mines in the world. During the 16th and early 17th centuries, the large production of silver by the Iwami Ginzan Silver Mine resulted in significant commercial and cultural exchanges between Japan and the trading countries of East Asia and Europe. It was mined for nearly 400 years. in 2007 it was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site. Left: Entrance to one of the shafts. Right: Buddhist memorial to miners.

Mine entranceIwami mines

Gold Mine, Sado Island, Niigata. Fall 2009. Sado Kinzan was the most productive gold mine in Japan. Gold was found in the area in 1601. During the Edo period, the homeless were sent to work in extremely hard conditions. The mine operated until 1989, when it was turned into a museum, with walking courses through the tunnels that include tunnels for extracting water from the shafts.

Gold mineMine workMine laborers

Yoshida Iron Museum, Oku-Izumo, Shimane. Summer 2009. With a lack of iron ore, Japan extracted the metal from iron-sand through a process called tatara, which involved layering the sand with charcoal and smelting it down to pig iron. One area rich in reddish iron-sand was the Hii River in Shimane.

Hii riverSand

The town of Yoshida in Okuizumo houses the Historic Museum of Iron. Left: a slab of iron slag, produced in a furnace from iron-sand. Right: museum display of workers forging iron into steel for swords.

Iron slagForging iron

Sites Associated with the Imperial Family

Mt. Takachiho, Miyazaki, Kyushu. Fall 2006. Mt. Takachiho is where Amaterasu's grandson, Ninigi, is said to have descended from the heavenly homeland to govern Japan.

Mt. TakachihoGate

Jimmu’s Tomb, Kashihara, Nara. Spring 2008. Jimmu, a grandson of Ninigi, accompanied his brother Itsuse’s army, from Hyuga (Miyazaki) to Yamato (Nara). His brother was killed in battle, so Jimmu became the head of the army. After defeating those who opposed him, he became the first emperor of Japan and built a palace in Kashihara, south of Nara. He was buried in a mausoleum “on the top of the Kashi Spur on the northern side of Mount Unebi” (Kojiki 185) or “in the Misasagi [“tomb,” traditionally a mound of earth] northeast of Mount Unebi” (Nihon shoki 135).

In 1863, during the reign of Meiji, the one hundred twenty-second head of the imperial family, a site in a grove of trees just north of Mt. Unebi and Kashihara shrine was designated as Jimmu’s tomb. (The actual burial site is unknown.) In 1877, Meiji made a visit to pay homage to his ancestor.

Wash basinKashihara

Nintoku’s Kofun, Sakai, Osaka. Spring 2008. Nintoku is listed as sixteenth head of the Imperial Family. His kofun (key-hole-shaped burial mound) is located in a densely populated urban area next to a park. It's the largest kofun in Japan (1,594 feet long, 1,000 feet wide, and 115 feet high). His reign (recorded as 313–399, which is thought to be historically inaccurate) is described in Kojiki (Record of Ancient Matters), the oldest history of Japan. his public works included granaries, flood control projects, and a port close to Naniwa (Osaka).

The kofun looks like a large, long hill covered with shrubs and trees. A fence and moat prevent access by visitors.


Gosho (Old Imperial Palace), Kyoto. Spring 2008. The emperors before Meiji lived at this palace in Kyoto. The palace burnt down several times and was moved around Kyoto over the centuries. The present reconstruction dates from 1855. In 1868, after the Tokugawa shogunate collapsed due to its failure to deal effectively with Western powers intruding into Asia and Japan, the central political authority was restored to the imperial family. Emperor Meiji moved the permanent residence of the imperial family from Kyoto to Tokyo.

Gosho palacePalace walls

Meiji’s Tomb, Fushimi, Kyoto. Spring 2008. Meiji oversaw the modernization of Japan and built its industrial and military power to prevent Japan from being colonized or controlled by Western nations. Japan began to dominate East Asia after defeating Russia and annexing Korea and Manchuria. Eventually, it engaged China and America in World War II

A thousand-step stairway leads up to Meiji's mausoleum in Fushimi, a town just south of central Kyoto.



Imperial Palace, Tokyo. Winter 2008. The current emperor lives in the center of the capital of Tokyo, in a nation now dedicated to global peace.

Imperial palace

Shogun History

Beginning with Minamoto Yoritomo (1147-1199), samurai lords ruled Japan as shoguns most of the time until the restoration of Emperor Meiji in 1868.

Yoritomo’s Memorial, Kamakura, Kanagawa. Spring 2008. Head of the Minamoto family, or Genji, Minamoto no Yoritomo (1147-1199) defeated the Taira family, or Heike, in the Gempei War (1180-1185). After his victories, he founded the Kamakura Bakufu (military government) and was recognized as Japan’s first permanent shogun 1192. The memorial to him in Kamakura doesn't contain his remains, though he is thought to be buried somewhere in the vicinity.

Yoritomo's Memorial


Oda Nobunaga's Castle. Gifu. Oda Nobunaga (1534-1582) was one of a succession of three generals who waged war against their rivals and unified Japan in the sixteenth century. His original seat of power was Gifu castle on Mt. Kinka in Gifu City. The first castle was built there at the beginning of the thirteenth century. In 1567, the fortress was captured and renovated by Oda Nobunaga (1534-1582), who changed the name of the castle and town from Inaba to Gifu, alluding to a Chinese city from which a warlord set forth to conquer China.

In 1600, two warlords loyal to Tokugawa Ieyasu attacked Gifu castle. The castle was defended by the forces of Oda Hidenobu, Nobunaga’s grandson and an ally of Hideyoshi Toyotomii’s son. After the castle was taken, Ieyasu had it demolished and banned its reconstruction.

In 1954, Gifu castles was rebuilt out of concrete as a cultural attraction.


Nobunaga's residence at the base of Mt. Kinka was being excavated when we visited Gifu Castle in Spring 2008.


Azuchi Castle Ruins, Shiga. After rising to power, Nobunaga built a magnificent castle at Azuchi, on the eastern shore of Lake Biwa. An artist's rendition of the castle:

Nobunaga was killed by a rival at Honno Temple in Kyoto in 1582. He is said to have committed suicide and his body burned in the fire that destoyed the temple. Azuchi castle was destroyed after his death. Below: The stairs up to the ruins of Azuchi castle.

At the top of the stairs, the ruins:

A view of the countryside from the top:

In a museum near to the ruins, a replica of the top floors of the castle tower:

Toyotomi Hideyoshi’s Memorial, Kyoto. Spring 2004. Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1536-1598) was a soldier from a farming family who rose through the ranks of Oda Nobunaga’s army to become regent and chancellor of a unified Japan. Hideyoshi’s memorial sits on a hill in Kyoto, at the top of a steep flight of stone stairs.

Hideyoshi's memorial


Tokugawa Ieyasu’s Mausoleum, Nikko, Tochigi. Summer 2005. Tokugawa Ieyasu (1543-1616) defeated Hideyoshi's son and his other rivals and in 1603, established a shogunate that ruled Japan for 15 generations and 255 years. After his death in 1616, Ieyasu was deified and enshrined in Nikko, at Toshogu (“Shrine of Eastern Shining Light”). Tosho is his posthumous name.

Ieyasu's mausoleumShrine

Modern Times

Meiji Mura, Inuyama, Aichi. Spring 2014. Over sixty Meiji-era buildings have been brought from all over Japan and rebuilt on a hillside above Lake Iruka, a memorial to the Westernization of Japanese architecture in the 19th century. About 250 acres, the grounds include restaurant and shops.

Mutsu Memorial Museum, Suo-Ōshima, Yamaguchi. Spring 2011. Unexpectedly moving, this memorial to the battleship Mutsu, which sank off of Suo-Ōshima in 1943, due to a explosion whose cause was never determined. Over a thousand seamen died and their belongings have been gathered and put on display at the museum. The salvage operation began after the war in 1949 and was completed in 1978.

Peace Park, Hiroshima. Fall 2006. Elderly women arrange flowers at the memorial to those who died in the Atomic Bombing.

A Bomb Dome

After America’s use of a weapon of mass destruction in Hiroshima, and another one later in Nagasaki, Japan surrendered to end World War II. The emperor was forced to declare himself not divine, atlhough the Imperial family continues to worship its divine ancestors, including Amaterasu, the sun goddess, enshrined at Ise.