Mountain Road


Last week I drove back from a conference in Aomori City with my friend Bryan.  We decided to take what we believed at the time to be a shortcut over a mountain rather than the somewhat congested main highway along the coast.  Neither of us had taken this road before and weren’t quite sure what to expect.

The road turned out to mostly be a narrow, serpentine lane of gravel, dirt, and boulders surrounded by a dense, lush, green forest.  The last time I remember traveling in a car on such a road, I was living in rural Alaska.

Our journey through took a few surreal turns.  As the road narrowed and Bryan’s car jostled through an increasingly steep and side-winding terrain, we remarked that we appeared to be in the movie Jurassic Park.  A few minutes later Bryan’s iPod, on shuffle, played the theme song from the aforementioned film.  Laughter ensued.

When we reached the summit of the mountain road we drove through a cloud and began our descent.  The road widened a bit and eventually we reached pavement again.  Then, out of nowhere, we saw an enormous building.  It’s green, aesthetic metal roof and concrete building blocks were completely out of place.  As we crawled past we noticed other buildings (much smaller), a few pagodas, and shrines and no people.  Clearly we had left Jurassic Park and entered Spirited Away.

Naturally, we hopped out of the car to explore.  Despite all the infrastructure, the place was completely silent.


Out of place



A few minutes after I took that last photo, we saw a single human being walking across the parking lot in the far distance.  We decided to head back to the car and drove away, relieved that we did not find and eat delicious food that turned us into pigs.

So what was it?  An abandoned village?  An ornate but low security prison?  A secret hotel?  Or did the cloud that we drove earlier transport us to a post-apocalyptic future?  We asked a friend who lives in the area about it and he explained that it’s an ascetic religious community.  A while back somebody founded a religion that blended Shinto and Buddhist teachings and set up headquarters along that particular mountain road in Aomori.  The followers live and work in the mountains and they even have a private school on the premises for the kids in the community.

The whole thing makes me wonder what else is lurking in the woods of Aomori.  Julie and I have done our fair share of traveling around the prefecture, but I’m sure there are plenty more roads along the farms and fields worth exploring.


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