I have been to several dams in Japan over the years. They are all very picturesque and the engineering admirable. I never really had a favorite… until earlier this month. I was instantly bewitched when I visited the Shimokubo Dam that straddles Fujioka City in Gunma and Kamikawa town in Saitama. Hopefully it was just the scenic beauty and not something more sinister that allured me. For you see, Shimokubo dam is Saitama’s haunted dam. But there is more to the dam and the scenic lake than the dark tourism that veils it.
The Shimokubo Dam is a concrete gravity dam. It is not only famed for its dark tourism. The dam structure itself is pretty damn impressive. The crest length of the dam is the longest in Japan. And it has a unique L shape. The 129 meter vertical drop from the dam to the valley particularly awed me. I am not sure how that height compares with other dams I visited, but it certainly looked like the steepest drop I’ve seen.
The lake or reservoir that the dam created is called Kanna lake. The lake is split between Fujioka City, Gunma, and Kamikawa Town, Saitama. On the Kamikawa side there are several attractions. Including a popular fishing park. You can hire boats there too, for either fishing or swan boats for a leisurely ride. And there are several hiking trails to Mt Jomine by the main car park. By car it takes about seven minutes to drive up the windy roads to Mt Jomine park, but a swift hiker would make it almost as quickly taking the steep short cut carved onto the cliff front.
There are several urban legends surrounding the dam, most of them involving death and / or, if you’ll pardon yet another pun, damnation! I don’t want to steer too much of course here, so if you are interested in the urban legends you can check the three of the main ones out here.
For what its worth, I didn’t sense any sort of sinister vibes around the lake or dam. There is definitely an aura in Kamikawa, but it may have more to do with the spiritual than the occult. The whole reason there is controversary around the dam is because they built it on sacred land. Kamikawa is written (presumably with good reason) with the characters for God 神 and river 川 after all.
However, the morning that we visited, on the Fujioka city side there were a half dozen fire engines and at least four patrol cars. Two of the fire engines had water rafts attached. They had sealed off the entrance to one side of the dam. And dozens of rescue and police force were up to something up that side road. We scoured the news for days after our visit and never turned anything up. We had heard shots fired all morning from our cabin. Funny enough, we thought nothing of it. I figured there was a shooting range nearby. It maybe unrelated, because what would you need rescue boats for, for say shooting a bear in the woods. I’ve no idea what happened and part of me feels we are better off not knowing. Even if it feeds into the mystique of the area!
The Dam Savers!
Ironically, even though the supposed paranormal activity draws thousands of tourists each year, dam management want to quell the dark tourism. They are trying to deter the “occult detectives”, ghost hunters and paranormal enthusiasts. But most of all, they want to put an end to the suicides at the dam. Cue, the dam savers.
The dam savers are characters created by dam management. Local heroes if you will. They participate in local events and even have their own theme song. And the theme song is played all night long at the car park for the lake on the Kamikawa side. We could actually hear the song all night from the balcony of the cabin we were staying in, in Jomine Park. Thankfully indoors was quite sound proof. I assumed there was randomly some all night bar that we didn’t know of at the foot of the cliff were our cabin was perched. I was quite fascinated that there was something down there open all night. And intrigued as to why they played the same song over and over. It was only when I got home and looked it up that I learned about the dam savers!
This is just one initiative of several that the dam have engaged in a bid to change the image of the dam. Another is lighting the dam up at night. Although, you could argue that it just helps the thrill seekers see better at night! However, between the lighting and the music it does take the spookiness away.
There is a look out point at Jomine Park that gives a birds eye view of the lake and dam. From the lookout, the lake is particularly picturesque at sunset. And it looked really beautiful lit up, but unfortunately I wasn’t able to capture it well in a photo.
Sanbaseki Gorge is both at a National Place of Scenic Beauty AND a nationally designated Natural Monument. The valley goes from the dam down about 1.3 kilometers to Tosen bridge. There is another special natural monument in Kamikawa, just 15 minutes drive from Tosen Bridge at the fascinating Kanasana Shrine.
We visited the dam on our second day in the area. But we (sort of) drove past it on the first day, on our way to a cliff top cabin at Jomine. Driving through the mountain pass we stole our first glimpse of the lake. The first thing that crossed my mind, in a state of disbelief almost, “this too is Saitama!” That’s been happening a lot lately. There is so much of Saitama that doesn’t make the travel mooks or mainstream media. So many under promoted attractions.
I am a little interested in the occult. But it wasn’t what drew me to the area. The main catalyst was the winter cherry blossoms and autumn leaves the area is famous for. But I was surprised by just how much the area has to offer, not just in dark tourism, but plain old light tourism too! Unfortunately, we were actually a little too early for autumn leaves, but judging from photos around the web the lake and dam are particularly scenic during Autumn. Just another reason, of dozens, to go back to the area as soon as possible!
Shimokubo Dam Information
|Address:||1356-3 Yano, Kamikawa, Kodama District, Saitama 367-0313|
Other attractions / events in the area
- Catch your own rainbow trout for a BBQ lunch at Yano Fishing Park
- The Naked Men Festival!
- 1 of only 3 of its type: Kanasana Shrine Kamikawa
- Jomine Park for a scenic autumn camping trip
- Winter cherry blossom festival, Jomine Park
Dams in Saitama
There are so many different dams in Saitama, quite a few of them feature on this blog. Including Sabo Dams such as Suzumegawa dam. And unusual dams such as the crying dam which is also a Sabo dam actually. There are other large dams on the blog too, such as the Kakkaku dam at Yoshida Genki Mura which has beautiful peach blossoms in spring.