Abandoned Japanese towns must be the most common type of *haikyo*. For decades people have been moving from the countryside to the cities… and the trend continues: Almost 70% of Japan’s population live on 3.3% of the land – it’s a mountainous country, and the further you drive into the valleys, the more half-abandoned villages you’ll see; some are deserted completely, especially those so remote that they are almost completely cut off from the outside world in winter. (And that’s the main reason why ghost towns don’t show up at urbex blogs so much – only a few, like *Mukainokura*, are easily accessible; for most of them you need to have a car or a motorcycle…)
Across one of those hamlets my buddy *Rory* and I stumbled on our way to an off the beaten tracks location somewhere in the mountains of the Shiga / Mie / Gifu triangle. We thought it would be a good idea taking a direct way along a narrow one lane road stretching up and down several mountains instead of using the ridiculously expensive highways in Japan. It was a sunny day in March not only in Osaka (where there is no winter…), but also in Shiga. So we drove up one mountain in beautiful weather and started to descent on the other side… when all of a sudden we saw snow on the side of the road. We descended further and further, snow slowly creeping closer until we started driving on it. When we saw said hamlet, we made a quick stop to take a picture or two and continued driving… until we hit a dead end. The snow was getting too high and there was no way we were able to continue. So we turned around – and got stuck in the snow right in the middle of the hamlet (GoggleMaps doesn’t have a name for it, so I just simply call it Japanese Ghost Town). So I got out of the car and started pushing, successfully. Until we got stuck again a couple of hundred meters down the road, up the mountain. This time I needed the help of some boards that were conveniently placed right next to the road (coincidence?), but to both of our great relief we got grip right away and returned to the weather divide, this time without further incidents. Down the mountain on the Shiga side we found out that the only regular road nearby was still closed for winter, so we made our way back to Osaka as we were running out of time anyway.
Half a year later, November 2013, on our way to the remote haikyo Rory and I wanted to explore in spring – this time the first location of the day, not the third. Beaten by that darn valley six months prior and dangerously close to winter we decided to give the narrow mountain road another try. When we reached the hamlet this time there was no snow in sight, so we got out of the car and considered the place an original find. What started as “a quick look” turned into an hour long full exploration of about a dozen houses, most of them partly collapsed. All the buildings were Japanese style, which means mostly wood, so even the rather undamaged buildings were quite brittle once we found a way inside (without using force, of course) – half a dozen more winters with heavy snow and they will be flattened, too. To make the houses more stable and more durable, some outside walls were clad with thin metal plates. One of the houses still had an active digital (!) wattmeter above the entrance door and where we parked the car we found a laminated sheet of paper with information about an on demand taxi as a replacement for a regular bus service. My favorite item though was an abandoned bike, clearly an older model, maybe from the 50s or 60s. A really lovely piece of rust!
After we left the hamlet, we continued beyond the point where were forced to turn around half a year prior – and then we got lost in the mountains and reached dead ends… several times… losing massive amounts of time. The car’s navi more or less useless, we finally found a real road that lead us back to civilization, so we headed for the main road that was closed in March because of snow. This time we passed this point, too, only to get stopped in front of a tunnel – mudslides had severely damaged the road on the other side more than a year prior, so the tunnel was closed indefinitely, yet the road was open for hikers to reach a popular trailhead in spring, summer and autumn.
Running out of time again, Rory and I made our way back to Osaka, hoping to reach Location X on a third attempt. Or by finally trying a different route…