I’m just wrapping up another summer session at the International University of Japan where I am fortunate to teach and work with students and fellow/fella faculty from around the world. Since I finished my Phase 1 evaluations yesterday (yay) I was free to accept an invitation from colleagues G and J to go for a drive through the beautiful rural countryside of Niigata Prefecture and visit one of Japan’s most famous landmarks, the Kiyotsu Gorge. Now, if you know me at all well, you’ll know that doing the nature thing is not my strong suit, but G sweetened the offer by telling me that a young Chinese architect, Ma Yansong of MAD architects in Beijing, had recently transformed a tunnel that runs through the mountains and turns viewing of the gorge into…an edgy art exhibit in its own right. Pretty durn cool, thought I, and off we went on a steamy Sunday morning. Here are G and J strolling down the main street that leads to the tunnel:
A short distance ahead one finds the actual entrance to the viewing tunnel/exhibit. The whole complex is part of a larger art exhibit held about now in Japan in multiple venues spread over multiple municipalities. If and when I stop teaching at this time of year, I really have to check all this out – apparently the exhibits are world-class and definitely worth exploring. But in the meantime, I gots to grab my culture as I can among teaching academic writing and the joys of reference citation.
It was definitely a relief to walk into a darkened tunnel and know we’d be cool/er for as long as we were there. Japan, like most of the Northern Hemisphere this summer, has been sweltering with unexpected numbers of heat-related illnesses and even deaths. That being said, the Japanese are an intrepid clan and the site was busy and full. After we paid our 800 yen (just over seven dollars), we encountered a nearly kilometer-long set of hallways that looked much of the time something like this:
In typical Japanese fashion, the whole site was clean, level, relatively well-lit (variously colored lights were part of the attraction), and even complete with various geological notes and hyper-hygienic restroom facilities. A prehistoric shark tooth was found during the construction of the tunnel and passersby are given a slightly terrifying projection drawing to let us know how totally classed and outsized we were by the previous inhabitants of the region, the Carcharondon megalodon:
Once at the first viewing station, I stopped to snap a shot of the amazing streams of clear mountain water and well-worn basalt formations of the gorge that ran below the balcony:
…but equally enchanting to me, my talented and photogenic friends:
A little further on we found another part of the art installation, which consisted of cunning placement of lights and mirrors:
Another viewing area included a mirrored restroom in the middle of the space, which allowed yours truly to try some photographic legerdemain, including both myself and the gorge in the shot, all reflected off a curved surface:
At the final viewing room, we were rewarded with one of the most spectacular views of the gorge, simply breathtaking, looking back towards the direction we had walked. This trick gave us the impression the river itself had changed course:
This view, worthy in an of itself, was framed by a space that included a wading pool that ran nearly to the edge of the platform…a brilliant feature that brought out the inner child in all of us:
G, J, and I all appreciated that the audience was invited, nay, expected, to pull off one’s socks and shoes and wade about in the chilly but very refreshing shallow pond. Needless to say, my dogs thanked me for the rest of the day:
After this grand finale, we walked back down the series of tunnels and their various colored lanterns and back out into the swampy August weather. On the way to the car, I managed to have a very short visit with a somewhat shy local resident, the Anotogaster Sieboldii or golden-ringed dragonfly, according to J, a serious naturalist as well as a superlative English teacher. This transparently winged visitor, the largest native species of its kind in Asia, was nearly four inches long (100 mm) and departed abruptly before J could property document him with his professional equipment, much to his dismay:
This coming week I exchange the heat of Japan for the heat of Germany and return to language study and preparing for the fall season of pen shows and general mayhem. Thanks as always for accompanying me on my rambles and stay tuned for more adventures to come.