There’s something special and mystical about walking through a wood or forest and discovering a lost world of sorts but that is exactly what happened at this place just a couple of hours north of Tokyo.
Wearing masks is something that has just been an everyday thing for a while now in Japan but typically the elastic on mine snapped not so long after I had left the Tokyo Fox Global Operations Centre just before 7am on the day of this trip. I didn’t have any spare ones either and there wasn’t time to turn back due to the need to make one particular train further north. Subsequently, I had to ask to borrow a stapler at the ticket office at Kuki Station which slightly bamboozled the woman working there who was surprised by my strange request.
With my mask fixed by a couple of staples, I changed to the Tobu Isesaki Line and continued up into Gunma Prefecture. There were a couple more changes at Tatebayashi and Ota before finally arriving in Yabuzuka Station just before 10am. A 20 minute walk north-east of there took me through the peaceful countryside to a decaying forest.
Within that forest lies the sight that I’d came to see and it’s all rather mystical as there really is no sign of what’s about to come. In fact there pretty much is no actual physical sign at all, and there’s no car park, ticket office or information centre. This place really has just been left alone and I have to admit that I did feel a bit like Indiana Jones discovering some long lost ancient hidden temple or something.
The remains of Ota Yabuzuka stone quarry came to my attention thanks to Tsubakuro’s Blog. After a few minutes walk the forest makes way for a huge stone space originally created in the Meiji era when stones were cut here until the middle of the Showa Period. The gateway to the ruins involved passing through a fairly narrow corridor surrounded by towering high walls cut smoothly from solid rock, and in some ways it did remind me of the first time I visited the ancient ruins of Petra in Jordan and saw The Treasury.
Of course it wasn’t on a par with Petra but there was still a special feeling of having discovered something, and for a while I had the place all to myself as I wandered and explored this abandoned natural landscape which has been slightly lost amidst the trees and overgrown vegetation.
The steep rock walls rising up around you have a height of about 20 metres and it has the eerie feeling of being like one of those places in Cambodia which featured in ‘Lara Croft: Tomb Raider‘ (2001) as it’s like another world.
From early on in the 20th century this quarry produced the porous Yabuzuka stone which was known as being easy to cut and was used as a cheap foundation stone in buildings. Production continued until after WWII and when it did cease it was just left abandoned for decades until the Ota City Tourism Association website posted about it as part of a hiking course. Some of it is closed off due to collapse but without anyone around that’s probably not going to put off most people!
I’ve not seen it but I believe this place was used as a location for ‘The Hidden Fortress: The Last Princess‘ (2008); a re-make of the classic Kurosawa movie which was something of an inspiration for George Lucas when it came to writing the original ‘Star Wars‘ (1977) film.
Yabuzuka Ishikiriba (stone-cutting place) is a great place to wander through the dark chambers which are accessible if you can scramble up the modest mud banks. There are some steps around the place but they don’t really seem to go anywhere. Still, it’s good fun to explore and look at the walls which are full of cut marks made by the small axes used by the hundreds of labourers who once worked here during it’s glory days.
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