Oku Aizu Kaneyama is a good place to stay. There was some major construction in progress, but the view is better than most, the facilities are good and rubbish bins are provided. Shachuhaku friendly.
It is also set in a picturesque area. Very Nihon mukashi-banashi as in old folk tale.
Today rain is forecast, but there is some hazy sunshine as we set off. First, we drive to the Tagokura Dam on the Tadami River. The road leading up the dam is very steep and delivers spectacular views.
The dam was planned in 1939 but, after many difficulties, was finally finished in 1960, J Power is generating electricity here now. At the dam, we admire the lake, which is the 3rd biggest dam lake in Japan, marvel at the view, listen to the background roar of water in the turbines, watch the House Martin’s swooping zig zags and try to ignore the piped music from the coffee shop.
Rokujurigoe Toge(Pass) 六十里越峠
From the dam we continue over Rokujurigoe Toge on R.252. The name in Japanese suggests that the route seems ten times longer than its actual length, indicating the difficulty of the terrain. This road, from Aizu Wakamatsu in Fukushima Pref. to Koide in Niigata pref., as the commemorative plaque indicates, was the project of the late Tanaka Kakuei.
Tanaka was the powerful, and relatively flamboyant, Prime Minister in the early ‘70s. He hailed from Niigata and wanted this road to link Niigata (Echigo) to Aizu.
His background was in construction and his main legacy is the Shinkansen railway system. He was, finally, brought down by the Lockheed Scandal, He was found guilty of accepting bribes from the Lockheed Corporation to equip Japan Airlines.
The road is a magnificent feat of engineering. It must have cost an extraordinary amount to construct and must certainly still be a huge drain on finances to maintain. Traffic is very light, and the road is closed during the winter months. Access to the dam is probably its raison d’etre. It is a great road to drive.
Once down, on the other side of the mountains in Niigata, we stop at Minami Uonuma michi no eki where, unusually, we have lunch. This was surprisingly good so gets a mention.
From the michi no eki we move on to Kiyotsu kyo, or gorge. This is a strange place. The gorge itself is steep and narrow; formed from Porphyritic rock columns with a wild torrent rushing through. These columns, similar to Basalt, were formed as lava cooled under the sea. Later, the sea bed was uplifted and the river eroded the somewhat fragile columns creating the dramatic gorge.
This became a tourist attraction but in 1988 the access path was closed due to a fatal accident. However, in 1996 a 750-metre tunnel was constructed to provide safe access to the dramatic site. This tunnel was restored in 2018 and for the ticket price of 600 yen you can walk through this tunnel and view the gorge from various selected points.
This is much better than it sounds as the tunnel is an artwork in itself. Ma Yangsong, MAD architects have transformed a concrete tunnel into a cave of wonders. Colourful lighting is the most obvious innovation but there are sounds, a curious toilet and mirrors.
The natural views of the gorge are notable for the sheer size and precipitous nature of the columns but the artistry employed to enhance the tunnel is stunning. Go see it for yourself.
Senju Onsen Sennen-no-yu
From the gorge we drive to Touka Machi and shop in an excellent Lyon D’or and them to Senju Onsen Sennen-no-yu for a bath. Worth a visit. The place is not flashy but good water and well equipped.
After the bath we retrace our steps to Minami Uonuma michi no eki for the night. This michi no eki is on Route 17 which is very busy with trucks, but the parking is set well back from the main road.
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.