Monday, June 2, 2008

A walk along the Yato River


The Yato River starts at about 900metres up in the mountains of the Mizuho Highlands, right where there is a small ski area. It then travels 30K until it reaches the Gonokawa River and enters it on the opposite bank to my village. One of the first walks I took when I moved to this area was along the Yato, hoping to reach the source in one day. Walking upriver I passed through Kawado, Oda, and Ichiyama. After Ichiyama the river does a couple of S-bends, and on the outside curves it is deep and still (above photo).


Next comes the small village of Yato, and a short distance after that Yato Dam. At 44metres in height, its not a huge dam. Built in 1958 its main purpose was to stop flooding downstream. It also supplies drinking water to the villages downstream and generates some hydroelectric power. Behind the dam the artificial lake stretches like 2 narrow, windy, crooked fingers. It's called Sakurai Lake as the Yato river valley has been known as Sakarai-go since the 8th Century. It's a great place to walk as the road has no traffic and the banks of the lake are uninhabited. In the winter thousands of ducks come from Siberia and settle on the lake.


As I got closer to where the "lake" ends and it becomes a river again the light of the low winter sun came streaming across and through the forest illuminating a scene of glorious fall colors. After passing through a small, sleepy village I reached a main road, and in a few kilometres it and the river turned 90 degrees and went along a long straight valley. High up in the mountains running parallel to the river runs the Hamada Expressway whose concrete purpose seems to be to bring hordes of tourists from the urban conglomeration around Hiroshima to the fine, sandy beaches of Shimane in the summer.


In the town of Ichiki stands a curiosity. A small temple lies literally underneath the expressway, and on one of the massive concrete towers that support the expressway is a relief of a giant cedar tree. Before the expressway was built there stood a giant cedar tree in the grounds of the temple. Often at shrines, and sometimes at temples one can still find these ancient giant trees, many more than 1,000 years old. This particular beauty stood directly in the path of the intended expressway, so was chopped down and memorialized in concrete. Somehow poignant and ironic.


I only made it a few more kilometres before the river turned up the mountain and became much steeper. The day was getting late, and my tired legs did not relish a steep climb, so I ended short of my hoped for destination.
One sight I saw a lot on this and most other walks I make around the countryside is abandoned houses. One often reads that Japan is a small, overcrowded country, and thats why most people live in very small concrete boxes, but that is a bit of a lie. The cities are very crowded, and most Japanese live in cities now, but the countryside is filled with thousands and thousands of big, empty houses. Problem is no-one wants to live in the countryside. Whereas in Europe and the U.S. many people want to escape the cities and live in the countryside, but can't afford to, the Japanese countryside continues to depopulate. People seem to WANT to live in the cities.


  1. Hi,

    Japan does not depopulate only in the countryside. When I was looking for an appartment in Tokyo, I noticed the oldest condos, and the furthest from the train station were largely empty. My district had also quite depopulated (from 400.000 in the 80s to 300.000 now).

  2. Hi

    my neighboring town has gone from 40,000 to 8,000. I know there are a few Japanese who look to move out into bigger homes in the inaka,but it still seems Japan likes to "centralize". :)