the Degree Confluence Project

Japan : Chūbu

2.4 km (1.5 miles) NW of Yunokawachi, Itoigawa-shi, Niigata-ken, Chūbu, Japan
Approx. altitude: 350 m (1148 ft)
([?] maps: Google MapQuest OpenStreetMap ConfluenceNavigator)
Antipode: 37°S 42°W

Accuracy: 20 m (65 ft)
Quality: good

Click on any of the images for the full-sized picture.

#2: View to the east #3: View to the south #4: Confluence location #5: View from the south east #6: Oyashirazu in Edo era by Hiroshige #7: The Legend of Manako #8: Cliff road #9: Oyashirazu interchange

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  37°N 138°E (visit #1)  

#1: Conflusence N37 E138

(visited by Fabrice Blocteur)

Japanese Narrative

25-Oct-2003 -- According to my motorbike’s odometer, the distance between my house in Maizuru and the confluence N37 E138 is approximately 375 km. I could have completed the entire itinerary on the expressway. The East Maizuru interchange is less than three km away from my house, the Itoigawa interchange about 15 km from the confluence, and only a small portion of expressway between Obama and Tsuruga hasn’t been completed yet.

It was sunny and 17°C when I left Maizuru at around 9 o’clock. I followed part of the same route along the Japan Sea coast as the one that took me to 36°N 136°E last March and to 36°N 137°E in June. I passed Fukui city before noon and stopped near Kanazawa for lunch an hour later. The Japan Sea coast was never on the main route to anywhere. The main artery of communication between the old imperial court in Kyoto and the seat of real power in Edo (Tokyo) was the Pacific-coast highway called the Tokaido. Still now, the Pacific coast is the most densely populated and the most industrialized area of the country. In comparison, the Japan Sea coast is a backwoods, with a reputation for grayness and gloom which long ago earned this coast the derisive name of Ura Nihon (the Back of Japan) and so inaccessible that people were sent here as a punishment.

Shortly after Toyama the foothills of the Hida Mountains abutted steeply onto the sea. This is one of the meeting places of the tectonic plates that form the island of Honshu. Here the Northern Japan Alps meet the Japan Sea in uncompromising cliffs and wild tides, severely testing the engineering skills of Japanese road builders. Tunneling is the answer where the cliffs plunge directly into the sea and there is no foreshore. In all, there are 26 tunnels with a total length of 42 km going in and out of the cliff face for more than half the length of this 74 km-long section of expressway. I’m not particularly fond of tunnels and, with less than 50 km to go before reaching the confluence, I decided to exit the expressway to avoid going through them.

With the sea lapping tamely on the shingle below me, I climbed the narrow highway, protected from rock falls and snow by an iron roof, and stopped in the little prefectural park that commemorates the dangers of the Oyashirazu-Koshirazu beach. Alan Booth in his book The Roads to Sata, which recalls the 3000 km journey he made on foot down the entire length of Japan, describes the origin and the meaning of that place: “Oyashirazu means "parent abandoned," Koshirazu means "child abandoned." The names are reminders of the hazards that travelers faced before the road was cut into the cliffs, when the only passage along this stretch of coast was across the thin strip of shingle at the tide line. In heavy weather huge breakers pound the shingle, and a traveler stranded beneath these cliffs would have to cling for his life to the battered rocks and pray that he was not sucked off them and drowned. This happened so frequently, the story goes, that at the first sign of a quickening wind, you forgot your parents, you forgot your children, and thought only of scrambling on before the waves grew too high to pass.”

Over the years - lashed by rain and heavy winter snowstorms, battered by screaming winds and towering waves - the ancient cliffs have witnessed many tragedies. The best-known tragedy happened 800 years ago after the great Battle of Dannoura fought between the Genji and the Heike, the two most powerful clans in the land. Manako, the wife of the fugitive samurai Taira no Yorimori of the defeated Heike clan, was walking with her young son along the hazardous cliff path. She was on her way to the village where her husband had taken refuge. The path was too narrow for them to hold hands - and a huge wave swept the boy out to sea. In her despair, the mother wrote a poem which is now famous in the area. It tells of how powerless she was to save her son's life and of her anguish and sorrow at losing him.

The cliff road was opened in 1883, and the danger from the waves was overcome. Four Chinese characters, which explain that the new road was flat and straight, are inscribed on the cliff as a memorial to a place that was once so dangerous. I rode my motorbike along the part of the old cliff road that is now closed to traffic. Down below the Hokuriku railway line runs along the same seaside route as the existing two-lane highway. They cross each other at various points on the narrow strip of land between the sea and the cliffs and the route is dotted with the entrances to many tunnels. The new expressway then crosses over the railway and the existing highway and swings out above the sea. The Oyashirazu Interchange is the only crossover junction in Japan which is positioned above the sea.

I stopped in the village of Oyashirazu for a coffee and soon after left Road 8 and the coastline to turn south and follow Road 270 at the end of which the confluence is located. With less than 5 km to go I turned my GPS on. Before making this trip, I had scanned and calibrated a topographical map covering this area with map software on my personal computer, formed a route on the screen and transferred it to the GPS. The only thing I had to do now was to select the navigation screen and follow the indications. I ended up in the middle of some rice paddies, less than 30 meters from the confluence. I got off the motorbike and walked for a few extra meters to the edge of a small ravine. There was no need to go any further. It had taken me more than six hours to get here.

The sky was getting darker and it looked like the rain would soon arrive. I took a few pictures and went to the nearby Yake-yama onsen to relax for the rest of the day and see if I could spend the night there as well. The onsen is located at the foot of the active Yake-yama volcano that is partly off-limit to hiking, as I would find out the next morning. The lady at the reception desk was quite nice. She proudly told me that her son was studying medicine in Oregon. I told her that he was fortunate to study in such a beautiful state where I had been many years ago. She gave me a small discount for a room including dinner and then introduced me to a man in his sixties. When he asked me where I was from, the lady didn’t give me any chance to answer and told him I was from “Amerika”. He said that I was very fortunate to come from such a beautiful country. If it had been the case I probably would have been. The TV in the lobby was on and the news program was just opening with the latest American casualties in Iraq.

Japanese Narrative

25-Oct-2003 -- バイクの走行距離計によれば、舞鶴の私の家から北緯37度・東経138度の合流点へは、約375kmの距離である。私は、ほぼ全行程を高速道路で走り終えたことになる。私の家から東舞鶴インターチェンジまでは3kmと離れてはいない。まだ完成されていない高速道路は合流点から糸魚川インターチェンジの区間15kmと小浜と敦賀間だけである。



眼下の砂浜に単調に波が打ち寄せる海を見ながら、落石や降雪を鉄製の屋根で防御した狭い道をバイクで上っていった。そして、危険な“親不知・子不知”の海岸を記念してつくられた小さな公園でバイクを止めた。アラン・ブースは、日本の全行程3000kmを徒歩で旅して、「The Roads to Sata」という本を書き、その中で、“親不知”とは、“見捨てられた親”、“子不知”とは、“見捨てられた子”という意味だと、”親不知・子不知”の地名の由来を書き記している。その名前は、この一筋の海岸に沿った唯一の道路が、波が打ち寄せる細かな砂浜を横切るとき、断崖に阻まれ、旅行者が遭遇する危険を暗示している。激しい嵐のもと、巨大な荒波が何度も砂浜に打ち寄せ、旅行者達はこれらの断崖で立ち往生し、波が激しく打ち寄せる岩壁に命を守るためにへばりつき、波にさらわれ、おぼれないように祈ったのだろう。こういうことはしばしば起こったので、すばやい突風に子が親を忘れ、親が子を忘れたのだろう。そして、荒波が大きくなりすぎる前に通過することだけを緊急に考えたのであった。

何年にも渡って、雨や冬の吹雪により鞭打たれ、悲鳴をあげる風や聳え立つ荒波に激しく打ち砕かれて、古くからの断崖絶壁は数々の悲劇に立ち会ったのであった。最もよく知られた悲劇は、800年程前、「壇ノ浦の戦い」の後に起こったのであった。「壇ノ浦の戦い」は源氏と平家という二つの強大な部族間の戦いである。平家の落ち武者、平頼盛の妻“もなこ”は、危険な断崖絶壁の小道に沿って、幼な子の手を引きながら歩いていたのであった。彼女達は夫・平頼盛の逃亡し隠れていた村へ行く途中だった。その小道は、手をつなぎあうには非常に狭かったので、荒波がその幼な子をさらっていったのだ。母親は悲嘆に暮れて、ここで有名な和歌を詠んだのだった。その和歌は、幼な子をどうしても救えずに死なせてしまった苦痛と悲しみを詠んだものだった。“親不知 子はこの浦の波まくら 越路の磯の あわと消えゆく”




Translated by Kasushige Naito

 All pictures
#1: Conflusence N37 E138
#2: View to the east
#3: View to the south
#4: Confluence location
#5: View from the south east
#6: Oyashirazu in Edo era by Hiroshige
#7: The Legend of Manako
#8: Cliff road
#9: Oyashirazu interchange
ALL: All pictures on one page