Scrunched up behind thickets of winter-boned brush off the banks of a man-made lake, the last remaining carriage of the Okutama Ropeway hangs slack in its berthing perch. Once a completely false folly, a gaudy ride of a few minutes across a narrow artificial lake, taking in the view of TNT-blasted canyon walls, unnecessary ringing roads, the bridge beside it enforcing its redundancy, it is now consigned to be the most natural thing there, with clotted brown leaves as its only passengers, vines clinging to the station walls the only attendants.
I`ve heard about the Okutama Ropeway from numerous sources- it`s been blogged and photographed and written about in books more times than I can remember. Set off Okutama Lake, nowhere near a train station, accessible only be infrequent buses or car, it made the perfect starting point for a final haikyo road trip.
Not final for me- I`ll keep up with this for as long as I`m in Japan. It`s the final for my good friend Jason, who within a week or so goes back to live in the USA. Sad, happy, it`s all about moving forwards. For the occasion we assembled the same crew that we fired off the haikyo boom with over a year ago- Jason, Mike and me, a rental car, a sheaf of maps, and 3 destinations spanning Saitama, Gunma, and Nagano.
We set off Saturday morning in the rain, meeting Jason at the Nishi-Kawaguchi train station where he was spending his last few weeks in-country with his wife`s family. We hit the road in good spirits and were soon making good time navigating the thatch of intersecting roads leading us west.
The usual banter filled the car, traded insults, gossip, calling back the last times we`d done this, the time we rolled into an active construction site, got pulled over by traffic cops, when Scott insisted on filming every tunnel we went through despite Jason`s protestations.
We pulled into a rest stop by the Okutama Ropeway, halfway along a river reservoired behind a dam. From what I can find on the web, it was built in 1961, and closed only a few years after that, leaving it lying here forlorn for nearly 50 years, making it one of the oldest abandonments I`ve visited in Japan.
We got out of the car, shot the pylons and the carriage through the mass of trees, then headed up the stairs, scrambled up the loamy embankment where the steps ended, and looked on the station.
The main entrance.
As usual, we all took different routes in, spending the first 20 minutes or so in silence but for muffled requests to step to the side while we took a shot, or requests for help to drop into the second carriage-run, or to be pulled out of it.
I`ve said many times before- going to a haikyo with a group instead of solo is definitely a trade-off. You get the shared experience, the banter on the ride up, good times with friends, but you also lose something. The location loses some of its power, the atmosphere is broken, and it becomes a rush to get all the shots you can think of, with little time spent in reflection or genuine exploration. It`s a race to be the first to see something, but you don`t want to race so you hang back and don`t see things first, you try to take in the vibe, to feel what you`re seeing, feel it in context, but then you don`t feel like an explorer.
You lose something in a group, especially in a small haikyo like this where you`re constantly around each other. It`s a shame, but like I said- it`s a trade-off.
Vines climbing the pillars.
Braked in with vines.
Vines and detritus inside.
O.K.K. down the side.
Gutted fuse boxes.
The bay-end, looking like the prow of a ship.
I started off in the main bay, and moved through gradually to the gears room in back, in shadow.
Heavily weighted wheels, hanging, keeping the tension on the Ropeway cables taut. I didn`t realize these wheels were hanging at first, since it was so dark in there. I stepped on one to get a closer look and gasped when it swayed. I hopped off quickly.
A window splattered with avalanche mud.
Restroom, smashed urinals and signs stripped from their frames.
Brazier in the lobby, doors ajar, glass on the floor.
Keen to get some unique shots, knowing many had been here before and shot the exact same things, I climbed several of the metal ladders bolted to the walls and took top-down photos.
Down on the cable weights.
Down on the carriage.
The cables in the loft running from the brake-room through the wall to the main bay.
The whole of the brake room.
The other two guys were finished, but I wanted to see the roof, as always.
Stairs arched with half-fallen branches.
The pylons, off the roof, heading off to Kawano station 600m of cable away.
All in, we spent about an hour looking around and taking shots. We considered searching out the station on the other side of the lake, but we had other places to go- back to the Nichitsu mining town we first went to over a year ago.
I cleaned off my muddied feet in a drift of snow, we piled into the car, and off we went.
Here`s a video:
Entry – Scrambling up a loamy hillside.
Highlights – Carriage, the view down from the loft, stepping on the cable weight and getting quite a shock.
RUINS / HAIKYO
You can see all MJG’s Ruins / Haikyo explorations here.