The trip begins as we set out after lunch and take the Chugoku expressway. We pull in to the Kasai service area at around 9pm, after a long, smooth drive. The Chugoku Expressway is almost always deserted. After dark, the insects were hitting the windscreen like rain.
The second day is another long drive, in 32-degree heat, on the traffic free highway. For some inexplicable reason, the speed limit is 80k. sometimes, equally enigmatically, dropping to 60k.
Leaving the highway, we stop at Oyashirazu in Niigata prefecture. We park the car at Tenken community square, near the Oyashirazu Kanko Hotel and walk the community road to the observatory. From this point you can see Route 8 clinging to the cliff and the Hokuriku Expressway Viaduct on the sea.
Matsuo Basho visited this place, we are unsurprised to learn. Here there is, or was, a very dangerous road or path around a cliff face that drops precipitously into the sea. There are many tales associated with this hair-raising pass. Its name suggests that a daughter, or son, might pass their parents on this road yet be so concerned with watching their step that they would not notice.
The danger of this perilous route was finally eliminated when engineers of the Meiji period carved out a wider road and, in a triumph of civil engineering, constructed a railway line. A huge benefit for travellers of the time.
Meiji Era railway tunnel
This old route fell into disuse when, in 1953, a new railway line was constructed further inland. Some of the old road still remains as does a Meiji era, brick, rail tunnel. This tunnel, the remaining section is about 660 metres long, is accessible via a steep path leading down, from the old route, through the woods to the former railway track. It is possible to walk through this tunnel (there are torches/flashlights thoughtfully provided at either end). It was a hot sultry day but inside the dark tunnel, very cool indeed.
Once at the other end, there is another steep path leading back up to the road and the car park. The walk is a loop of about 2 km. Alternatively, you can follow another, equally steep, path down to a small stony beach. This is the path Basho took down to the sea. I suspect he wondered why he had bothered.
You can gain some inkling into the terrors the original cliff path must have held for people even though the route is now a tarmac road .
Umiterasu Nadachi michi no eki
From Oyashirazu, we drive on to Umiterasu Nadachi michi no eki. This michi no eki boasts an onsen hotel, fish market, swimming pool and wind turbine. I doubted the wind turbine was operational, as swallows or house martins had appropriated it as a nesting site.
As a place for shachuhaku, it is quite good. Plenty of parking, an onsen, some green space to walk around and sit to drink a cool beer after a long drive. The building, unfortunately, is hideous and the surrounding area, a depressing bay consisting, mainly, of well weathered concrete.
＊Yurari onsen at Umiterasu Nadachi ; 700 yen / adult
The author is a long term resident of Japan who has and continues to travel the country extensively. Avoiding highways where possible, the author has driven from Kagoshima in Kyushu to Wakanai in Hokkaido covering 20,000 plus kilometres and counting.