The main reason many people go to Echigo-Yuzawa in Niigata is because it is an easy Shinkansen (bullet-train) ride from Tokyo for people wanting to go skiing or snowboarding in the surrounding mountains. Outside of the winter season is a different matter though and far less tourists descend on the area. However, in the last few years one particular sight has emerged as a reason for visiting the area in any season.
Once I had consumed a load of sake from the vending machines in Niigata station, I took a bus to Kiyotsu Gorge which was about a 25 minute journey. That wasn’t quite the end of it as there was still the small matter of a 30 minute walk but thankfully the views along much of the way were pretty impressive.
Three is the magic number in Japan when it comes to rating and numbering places of interest. The Japanese love to do this with things like gardens, castles and of course gorges! Kiyotsu is considered one of the best three in Japan with its large v-shaped gorge and huge stone cliffs straddling the clear waters of the river.
The facilities were renovated in the spring of 2018 with a cafe and foot bath next to the tunnel entrance. A short way into the tunnel is where the ticket machines and staff are located, and where you pay the entry fee (800 yen) before continuing down the passageway. The tunnel was given a new lease of life five years ago thanks to the artwork and renovation by Ma Yansong and MAD Architects. It is open from 08:30 till 16:30 (March – November) and 09:00 till 15:30 (December – February) so when I arrived at about 4pm I was lucky it was in September (2022) and therefore still open!
From there, it’s a 750 metre corridor outfitted with five different colour lights accompanied by mysterious music to create a curiosity of the unknown.
There are a few lookout platforms along the way where you can not only catch a glimpse of the surrounding nature of the area but some artwork designed to artificially enhance the natural beauty of the gorge. This funky black and white psychedelic space contains a pretty cool-looking toilet exterior. The inside though doesn’t look too different to any other lavatory though!
The penultimate attraction is water drop-like mirrors on the curved ceiling resulting in many reflections of yourself as you walk under the mysterious droplets.
The sixth and final stop at the end of the tunnel is of course what everyone comes to see. The panorama station is a chance to see the distinct rock formations, lush greenery and turquoise water but that is only for those who can navigate their way across the shallow pool of water.
Some people wade through it but most visitors appear to just walk carefully along the side with their shoes on to get to the edge. Those people have usually left a friend with a camera on the other side of the water or even a tripod and camera that can be activated by remote control or whatever.
A well-calculated setup of semi-polished stainless steel in the tunnel helps give the full-circular reflection which visitors come to see and photograph.
Trying to get the perfect selfie is not easy when there are so many people around. These two were the best I could muster!
I always knew I would only have about 60-70 minutes at the tunnel as I had to be back at the bus stop for the return bus to Echigo-Yuzawa station at 5:47 pm. This spectacular Tunnel of Light was the main thing on the agenda for my first day of this mini-trip to Niigata so as I ventured further north into the prefecture that evening I was delighted to have finally seen it.
- Buses from Echigo Yuzawa station depart from the east exit and take about 25 minutes. They are not very regular so you’ll need to plan your journey in advance.
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