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Japan : Chūbu

7.2 km (4.5 miles) SE of Makido, Takayama-shi, Gifu-ken, Chūbu, Japan
Approx. altitude: 988 m (3241 ft)
([?] maps: Google MapQuest Multimap world confnav)
Antipode: 36°S 43°W

Accuracy: 10 m (32 ft)
Click on any of the images for the full-sized picture.

#2: Three views of the Confluence #3: GPS reading #4: 80 meters from N36 E137 #5: Shokawa River near N36 E137 #6: Takayama #7: Ogimachi #8: Gassho style house #9: Gasshozukuri in the mountain #10: Ainokura

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  36°N 137°E (visit #1)  

#1: Confluence N36 E137

(visited by Fabrice Blocteur)

Japanese Narrative

21-Jun-2003 -- I followed almost the same itinerary as the one that took me to N36 E136 last March. Since then, a portion of the Maizuru expressway that is to be connected to the Hokuriku expressway in the future had been completed and I took it to the end at Obama. I got back to the expressway at Tsuruga, left it again at the Fukui city interchange and, instead of going west as I did last March, I drove my motorbike east and cut across the northern part of Fukui Prefecture along the isolated southern part of Hakusan national park. Mt Hakusan was visible through the summer haze with a little snow remaining at the top. Less than two years ago, I was climbing that mountain with a friend of mine. It was late fall and we spent a frozen night on the summit. The next morning we were rewarded on our way down by what Japanese referred as “kooyoo”: a mountain ablaze with autumn colors. It was much warmer today and the sun was already high over the horizon.

Shortly after crossing into Gifu Prefecture, I got back onto another expressway – this time the Tokai-Hokuriku expressway – and drove north for about 20 kilometers. The Shokawa interchange, where I left the expressway, was only a few kilometers from a narrow mountain road where I finally stopped my motorbike. It had taken me almost five hours to get here. It took me less than five minutes to walk up the small hill though Japanese cedars and a concerto of cicadas to find the confluence N36 E137. After snapping a few pictures and disturbing a snake, which was more surprised to see me than I was to see it, I got back on the motorbike and went to an outside hot spring at the nearby Hida Shokawa onsen to unwind for the rest of the morning.

It wasn’t yet noon and I could have made it back home within the day but I wanted to visit this region along the Sho River. It is slowly gaining fame throughout Japan and the world as a unique, and until recently little known example of Japanese culture. In the 12th century, the remoteness and inaccessibility of this area attracted some fugitives from the Heike after their clan was virtually wiped out by the Genji in the brutal battle of Dannoura in 1185. The Sho River takes its source in the village of Shokawa were the confluence is located. From the village the river runs swift and clear heading north towards northern Gifu and Toyama Prefectures before reaching the Sea of Japan. It passes through numerous villages, among which three were inscribed on the World Heritage list in 1995 for their traditional “Gassho-style” houses. But I wanted to take my time before visiting them and I decided to go to Takayama to spend the rest of the day.

Set deep within the mountains of Gifu Prefecture, Takayama has been called a “little Kyoto”. Its temples, shrines, festivals, rivers and bridges are indeed reminiscent of Kyoto on a smaller scale. The history of the town began with its carpenters. The skillful carpenters of Hida (as this region is called) are said to have built the Imperial Palace in Kyoto and many temples in that city, as well as in Nara. Takayama contains old streets and buildings that are remarkably untouched by the passage of time. The district called Sanmachi Suji, for instance, the traditional home of Takayama merchants and sake brewers, have been preserved in almost exactly the same state as 200 or 300 years ago. The rest of my afternoon was passed in that district where the history of the inns, shops and taverns can be traced back many generations. This is also where I found a minshuku (Japanese style B & B) to stay for the night. The old lady who welcomed me was charming and very talkative. She was the owner’s grandmother and showed me to my room on the second floor while telling me that she had already visited more than twenty countries such as Saipan, Hawaii, Singapore, Hong Kong and Bangkok. She came into my room again a little later to show me a guest book filled with names and addresses of foreign visitors and told me to glance through her photo albums downstairs to see all the places she had previously mentioned. But it was getting late and instead of going to Bangkok I went to bed.

I got up early and went to the “asa-ichi” (morning market) to start the day with a fresh coffee and a pleasant stroll through stalls selling vegetables. The temperature had dropped and the sun had decided to take the day off. Later on I visited the Hida Folk Village, a large open-air museum with dozens of traditional houses dismantled from their original sites and rebuilt. Returning to the Shokawa valley I headed north, the road running in the same direction as the flow of the river below. I passed a series of narrow and only partially lit tunnels and nearly got crushed inside one of them by a hefty truck coming from the opposite side. The river was now becoming wider and soon emerged into a lake artificially created in 1961 by the construction of the gigantic Miboro Dam, the largest rock-filled dam in East Asia at that time. Below the dam I stumbled across the first example of the preserved style of architecture in this valley known as “gasshozukuri”, which literally means “praying hands”. This term comes from the shape of the roof which is thought to resemble two hands clasped in Buddhist prayer, a style intended to protect the house from the heavy snow falls of this region. Though these buildings are large, only the ground floor was originally meant for extended family of up to 40 people, with the upper floors used for other activities such as raising silkworms or storage. In most cases, the roofs were taller than the main part of the house.

Of the three preserved villages, Ogimachi is the largest with 59 Gassho-style houses. It is also the one that attracts the largest number of tourists. The main street was packed with tour buses coming from all over Japan. I wandered away from the center for a pleasant stroll through the trees further up the mountain where a few more houses can be found.

I kept going north along the Sho River. The tunnels had now been replaced by a series of bridges signposted as the “Seven Bridges of Hida”. A few kilometers after crossing the last bridge I almost missed the second village, well below the sightseers’ highway. Suganuma is the smallest of the three villages with only 14 households. The feudal lords of Kanazawa used this community, like other communities in Gokayama, as a secret center of gunpowder production. For hundred of years the population in this entire region has been nearly the same as it is today. The construction of a road didn’t occur until the 1920’s and Gokayama was accessible only on foot over a single seven hundred meter high pass. Four kilometers beyond Suganuma, I stopped at the Murakami-ke House, by far the oldest I had come across, dating from 1578. The owner was seated with some foreign visitors around the “irori” (a fire built in a central fireplace in the floor), explaining the characteristics of his house and singing local songs.

I finally left the Sho River a few kilometers further north and took a road winding up the hill to reach Ainokura, the last village, less picturesque than Ogimachi, but considered by some to be the most “real”. As usual on late Sunday afternoons at sightseeing places, tourists were leaving to go back to the cities, and I was the only guest in a minshuku run by a woman of about sixty and her daughter-in-law. They told me to sit down by the “irori” and the younger woman offered me some green tea while her mother-in-law started to make dinner. Like most of the traditional houses in the Shokawa valley, the interior of this house was also built in Gassho-style without the use of nails or dowels, but by ropes and a method of rigidly tensing them. After dinner, the older woman took me to a nearby outside hot spring overlooking the Sho River. It was dark when we came back. At nine a loud orchestral jingle told the villagers to go to sleep and at seven the next morning the same loudspeaker woke them up. But I was up already and I had been taking pictures of the village from the surrounding hills since six. After taking a breakfast of boiled vegetables, pickles, miso soup and rice, I got on my motorbike, took a last glance at the Sho River down in the valley and headed back west with the sun on my back.

Japanese Narrative

21-Jun-2003 -- 今度,3月に計画したのとほとんど同じような旅程で北緯36度東経136度の地点に向った。将来は高速北陸道につながるという高速舞鶴道は、今は小浜まで完成している。敦賀で高速に乗り、福井市のインターで降りて、3月は西に向ったが今回は東に向ってバイクを走らせ、孤立した白山国立公園南部に沿って福井県の北部を横断した。白山は山頂に少し雪をかぶり夏のもやの中に姿を見せていた。2年弱前に私は友達と白山に登った。それは晩秋の頃で、頂上で凍える夜を過ごしたことを覚えている。翌朝、山は秋色に染まり日本でよく言う美しい“紅葉”を見ながら下山し報われた思いだった。その日は暖かく,太陽は既に地平線から高く上っていた。

岐阜県に入ってまもなく、今度は東海北陸高速道路に乗り、北へ20km走った。荘川インターで降りたが、数kmで狭い山道に出てバイクを止めた。ここまで来るのに,ほぼ5時間かかった。しかし,そこからものの5分もかからずに、日本杉やセミ時雨の中、小さな丘を登り、北緯36度、東経137度の地点に着いた。写真を数枚撮ったり、蛇(私がびっくりしたより蛇のほうがびっくりしていたようだが)に出くわしたりした後、バイクのところまで戻って、朝の残りの時間をリラックスするために飛騨荘川温泉近くのの露天風呂に向った。

まだ正午になっていなかったので、今日中に帰宅しようと思えばできるのだが、前から行きたかった荘川付近に行くことにした。荘川は日本ではだんだん有名になって来てるし、世界的にもユニークな存在で、最近まで隠された日本の文化地域だった。12世紀には、この地域は、その辺鄙さと閉鎖性によって、1185年にあの残酷な「壇ノ浦の戦い」で源氏に一掃された平家の落人の、格好の隠れ家だった。庄川は荘川村にその源流があり,また北緯36度,東経137度の合流点も荘川村にあった。荘川村から川の流れは方向を北に変え,日本海に出るまで岐阜・富山の北部方向に流れる。庄川は1995年に世界遺産のひとつに書き記されている合掌造りの茅葺の家々のあるたくさんの村々を通る。しかし私は残りの時間を高山で過ごしたくてバイクを走らせることに決めた。

岐阜県の山々に囲まれ、高山は「小京都」と呼ばれている。高山はお寺や神社,お祭り,美しい川々,それに橋は規模の小さい「京都」を連想させる。町の歴史は大工達とともに始まる。腕の立つ飛騨の大工達は(飛騨と言うのはこの辺の地域の名前である)京都御所や他の京都や奈良の寺々を作ったと言われている。高山には,時の流れを感じさせない古い通りや建物が残っている。例えば三町筋といわれる地域は、商人や酒造りの古い町並みが2~300年前と同じ状態で保存されている。私は残りの午後の時間を何世紀も昔の古い宿屋、店屋,居酒屋で過ごした。そして夜は朝食付きの“民宿“に泊まったのだった。私を迎えてくれたのは,話し好きの魅力あるおばあさんだった。彼女は主人の祖母で、私に、「サイパンや、ハワイ、シンガポール,香港、バンコックなど20カ国以上のところへ旅行したことがあるのよ。」といいながら、2階へ案内してくれた。少し経って,彼女は私の部屋に、外人の名前や住所のたくさん書かれた宿帳を持ってきて見せてくれ、彼女の外国旅行のアルバムを見に下に来てくれとせがまれたが、遅かったのでバンコックへ行かずにベッドへ寝に行った。

翌朝、早く起きて、おいしいコーヒーを飲んで朝市に行った。野菜を売る店々をのんびりと楽しくぶらついた。気温は下がり、太陽は出てくる様子もなかった。後で,飛騨民芸村を訪れたのだが、そこは,伝統的な茅葺のたくさんの家々が移築されていた。そして,昨日行った荘川渓谷に戻った。一路,北方向に川沿いに走った。いくつもの狭い、時に真っ暗なトンネルを通ったのだが、対抗車線の大きくて頑丈なトラックが壁に当たりそうにしてやってくるのには参った。川幅はだんだん広くなり、まもなく1961年に巨大な御母衣ダムによってできた人口湖に注ぐ。その御母衣ダムは現時点では東アジア最大のロックフィル方式のダム(岩石と粘土だけを積み上げた)である。そのダムの下方で、この渓谷で最初に保存された、“合掌造り”と言われる茅葺の家々に出会った。「合掌」というのは文字とおり「祈るときの手を合わせること」である。この言葉は,“合掌造り”の屋根の形から来たもので、仏教者の両手を合わせる形に似ている。その急角度の屋根の形はこの地域の豪雪から家を守るように意図されている。これらの建築物は巨大だが、1階だけが40人もの大家族のための住まいとなっている。上の階は蚕の養育場であったり倉庫として使われている。又、たいていの場合、茅葺の屋根は家のほとんどを覆い尽くしている。

保存された3つの村のうち、最も大きくて59もの合掌造りの茅葺の家々があるのは萩町である。その萩町は最も多くの旅行者をひきつけている。主要な通りは日本中から来た観光バスでいっぱいだ。私は散歩を楽しむために中心街から離れて山手のほうに行ったがそこでもいくつかの合掌造りの茅葺の家々を見ることができた。

その後,庄川に沿って北にバイクを走らせ、前にはいくつものトンネルを潜り抜けたが、今度は“飛騨の七つ橋”と標識のある橋々を渡った。七つ目の橋を渡って数kmで、観光客のよく通る主要道路の丁度真下のせいか、2つ目の村をほとんど見過ごしてしまった。その菅沼は,3つの村のうち14世帯しかない一番小さな村である。金沢封建領主はこの村を、火薬の秘密製造基地とした。それは五箇山と同様である。もう何百年も人口は今もほとんど変わっていない。1920年まで道は作られず、五箇山までは700mの高さの峠は徒歩でしか行けなかった。菅沼を超えて4キロメートル走り、“村上家”の家のところでバイクを止めた。そこは1578年以来の一番古い家である。主人は数人の外国からの観光客と囲炉裏を囲んで座っていた。そして家の特徴の説明をしたり、古い歌を歌って聞かせたりしていた。「囲炉裏」とは、板場の床の中心付近に作られた暖炉である。

最終的に庄川を離れ、数km北へ行き、曲がりくねった小高い丘を駆け上がり相倉に着いた。荻町ほど絵のようにきれいとはいいがたいが、ある意味最も現実味がある。いつものように日曜日の午後遅くは、一般の観光客は町を離れ、60才位のおばさんと義理の娘の経営する民宿では私一人の宿泊客だった。囲炉裏端に座るようにいわれ、娘さんには、お茶を入れてもらい、おばさんは夕食を作りに行った。荘川渓谷のたいていの伝統的家屋と同じように“合掌造り”で釘やカスガイを使わず、綱を固く縛って造ってあった。夕食後、おばさんにすぐ近くの庄川の見渡せる露天風呂に連れて行ってもらった。帰ったら夜だった。9時には、村民に寝るように告げる大きな鈴の音がスピーカーから聞こえた。朝は7時に同じスピーカーからの鈴の音で起こされるのであった。しかし私はもう起きていて6時から小高い丘から村の写真を撮っていた。野菜の煮物や漬物,味噌汁にごはんの朝食をとった後、バイクに乗り渓谷の下に見える庄川をチラッと見たのを最後に、太陽を背に一路西の方向に走ったのであった。

Translated by Kazushige Naito


 All pictures
#1: Confluence N36 E137
#2: Three views of the Confluence
#3: GPS reading
#4: 80 meters from N36 E137
#5: Shokawa River near N36 E137
#6: Takayama
#7: Ogimachi
#8: Gassho style house
#9: Gasshozukuri in the mountain
#10: Ainokura
ALL: All pictures on one page (broadband access recommended)