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Yabuhara - The Nakasendo Trail

Story by Oku Japan

Posted: August 2, 2017

Yabuhara flourished as a post-town during the feudal Edo period, though almost no original buildings remain due to repeated fires in the past. It was also famous for "Oroku-gushi," a hair comb made from the Minebari tree (Alnus firma) which belongs to the birch family and is native to Japan. Legend has it that a girl named Oroku suffered from a brain disease. One day she climbed Mt Ontake (3067m) and prayed to the spirit of Mt Ontake for healing. She heard a divine voice saying "Make a comb using the Minebari tree and brush your hair every day." She followed the advice, and soon she was free from the disease. Oroku-gushi became popular in Edo-period Japan, and they were sold in Edo and Kyoto too. The Oroku-gushi industry declined in the 1960s when plastic combs appeared, but in 1973 it was designated an "important intangible folk cultural property" in Nagano Prefecture, and the tradition has carried on.