Hakusan White Road
A peaceful night at Hida Hakusan as the rain eases and gives way to a morning of patchy sunlight. I make use of the Ashiyu, or hot spring foot-bath, before we set off for the Hakusan White Road. This is a toll road through the mountains from Shirakawago in Gifu over to Ishikawa pref.
We have limited expectations, as we know the road is closed, due to a landslide, on the Ishikawa side. We also know it is possible to go as far as the onsen and nature centre. The toll, at 3200-yen return, is a bit steep. In the event, as the way through is closed, we are charged only the one-way fee, even though we have to come back. In addition, the closure is beyond the end of the toll section, so we are able to travel the whole 33 kilometres.
And what a spectacular 33 kilometres it turned out to be. The road is not so steep but climbs and descends in winding curves not gut-wrenching hairpins. The distant views are clouded and hazy, but the immediate cliffs, crags and gullies offer fantastic, precipitous scenery.
As a bonus, with the road ostensibly closed, there is no other traffic. We see perhaps 8 vehicles during the total 66 kilometres. Four of these were construction or patrol concerned. Because the road has been closed to through traffic for some time, the wildlife is beginning to reclaim the tarmac environs.
Wildlife along the White Road
First, we saw what looked like a small lesser panda cross the road ahead. Shortly after something else did likewise and disappeared into the grass. We slowed and stopped at that point and could see a hare crouching, motionless in the undergrowth. As the real cameras were not readily accessible, we snapped a few hazy pics with the tablet.
On consideration, with the help of Occam’s Razor, we conclude the lesser panda type creature must have been a Ten. That still doesn’t really account for the distinct colouration or size. The nature centre has a stuffed Flying Fox which looked to me more like what we saw but the Flying Fox is nocturnal and what we saw was walking in daylight.
As there was no traffic at all, we stopped often to take pictures or just take in the scenery which provided magnificent views. Luckily, we spotted 5 snakes. Lucky in that we saw them before treading on them. 3 were in one spot, sunning themselves, the other 2 were individuals. We noted that the valley is called Jatani. Tani means valley and Ja is a word for snake so Snake Valley.
At the nature conservation centre at Chugu, we were surprised to note buckets, apparently placed at random, in the otherwise empty car park. We learnt from the helpful, and, no doubt, bored person inside the deserted nature centre, that a certain kind of frog lays its eggs in trees. The tree should be hanging over water so, as the tadpoles emerge from the spawn, they drop into the pond. The problem here was, due to incessant rain, the frogs had thought the flooded car park to be a pond and had laid their eggs over the now dry tarmac. Before leaving, we checked the buckets and, sure enough, there were tadpoles swimming around.
To top what was a far better than expected drive, on the way back D. spotted a serow in the undergrowth. I stopped and backed up and there it was staring at us in apprehension. I managed to get a couple of pictures with D.’s little camera but needed the more powerful zoom unfortunately, out of reach in the rear of the car. At this point one of the other 7 vehicles seen in the last 66 kilometres arrived and the serow took off.
Once the road reopens it may not offer such an experience. On the other hand most tourists just take the highway to Shirakawa go.
After the Hakusan White Road, we took Route 360 from Shirakawago over the Amou pass or toge. This is a steep and winding road and well worth the effort. From Shirakawago to the top of the pass there is a difference in elevation of 800 m. The road then plunges down a deep valley of deciduous forest. It is wide enough for 2 vehicles to pass but another car is rarely seen.
We checked the Arupu Hida Furukawa michi no eki which looked a good place to stay but, in the end, opt for Nanamori Kiyomi as it is a little higher and the evening is hot. Nanamori Kiyomi seems a good place too. There are rubbish bins – though discreetly hidden – and the toilets, though not as good as Arupu are modern and clean. Arupu’s have the more sophisticated flower arrangement.
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.