The Partly Submerged Water Power Plant is one of the most famous abandoned places in Nara, probably in all of Japan. And everybody seems to approach it the same way: drive to the middle of nowhere, rent a boat for a ridiculous amount of money (something like 8000 Yen!) a few hundred meters down the Kitayama River, take photos from the water, leave – a few brave ones actually enter the building, but even those guys all get the same shots; boring! So Ben, Chelsey, Ruth and I approached the unusual setup from a different angle… the land side.
Getting to the Partly Submerged Water Power Plant by land isn’t an easy task and requires some planning – and since I hadn’t seen anybody done it before us, we didn’t know what to expect or if we would be able to get there after all. The road leading to the plant is blocked by barriers and warning signs from both directions, impossible to pass by anything bigger than a bike. On foot you should also discard the option from the west as you will run into a landslide or two sooner or later on this unmaintained, unpaved, basically abandoned road. If you approach from the east, the road is basically a mediocre, flat hiking trail. A nice walk if you wear decent shoes. If not, they may fall apart. Like Chelsey’s. As soon as we picked up the rental car in the morning and even before we had driven one meter, the sole of her shoes started to come off. But instead of making us drive through the Osakan suburbs for hours to pick up another pair at home or a store that would open hours later, Chelsey just smiled and said “I need some duct tape!” – tough chick, the kind you really want to have on an urbex trip like that. (Since the nearby 24/7 kombini didn’t have any, the shoes were later fixed with free package tape at a supermarket in the countryside… and then started to fall apart on the way to the plant. So why did I tell this story? Because it was hilariously funny to everybody involved, a key moment of this exploration, and as a huge sign of respect to Che-Che who raised even more in everybody’s appreciation.)
We were walking along that more or less trustworthy dirt road for about 20 minutes when all of a sudden I felt eerily cold, as if a dozen ghosts rushed through my body; or at least how I image twelve rushing ghosts would feel if they would exist. I ain’t afraid of no ghosts, and I obviously don’t believe they exist, so there must have been another exploration. I looked up and saw a tunnel ending mid-air about 20 centimeters above my head – then I looked into the other direction… and there it was behind me, down in the water, the Partly Submerged Water Power Plant. We decided to explore the tunnel first and I had a very bad feeling about it, the place just didn’t feel right. After a while we reached a sharp drop with a sketchy looking ladder somebody left behind. Up there was a concrete reservoir construction very reminiscent of the *Kyoto Dam* I explored years before this adventure. Since I stupidly left my tripod in the car (not expecting tunnel systems to shoot in…) I wasn’t able to take any pictures there, so I left with Chelsey while Ben and Ruth pushed forward; basically confirming the Kyoto Dam thing from above, while I continued on to the dirt road to see the rest of the construction, obviously severely damaged, but nobody would ever need those concrete pipes again. Not since the 1960s, when the Nanairo Dam was constructed, slowly damming the river behind it from 1965 on, flooding several valleys and everything below a certain level, including this older water power plant, apparently built between 1929 and 1931.
A couple of minutes later our group was reunited, so we headed down to the power plant to have a closer look. There we even found two boats we could have used for the short ride of maybe 20 or 30 meters, but none of us felt lucky… or like stealing a boat. The sun was already setting and the light was quite difficult from that position, so after a couple of minutes we headed to the dirt road again and back to the car. Personally I never thought this location was very interesting, but approaching it by land and finding the massive concrete leftovers at the slope above the plant gave it a new spin – and as a group experience it was just incredible fun. There are many factors that make or break an exploration… and company is definitely one of them!
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