I make my way through a narrow tunnel, parting the vegetation with my hands. Suddenly, I find myself in what resembles an ancient stone temple. The moss-covered rock surface and the echoes of dripping water create a strange sensation as if I've been transported to another world. In reality, I am at the Miyadani Quarry Site in Awara, Fukui Prefecture. The former stone mine, near the famous hot spring resort Awara Onsen, has been gaining popularity as a tourist attraction.
The Stones of Miyadani
Stone quarrying began in Japan around 1887 when it started adopting Western building techniques. However, the practice ceased in the late 1950s with the rise of cement-making technology.
The stones of Miyadani were easy to process and fire-resistant. They were not only made into foundations for houses but were also used to make tools for daily life, such as braziers and stoves.
Excavations have left six beautiful spaces in the quarry, which are connected by tunnels. Some of these spaces have an opening at the top, allowing sunlight to filter through the trees in the summer. The interplay of light creates the perfect atmosphere for shooting movies, commercials, and prenuptial photos.
Looking to the Future
Since guided tours began in 2020, the number of visitors has been on the rise. In fact, they are expected to reach 1,000 this fiscal year ending in March 2024. The extension of the Hokuriku Shinkansen bullet train to Tsuruga Station in Hyogo Prefecture and Awaraonsen Station is expected to boost tourism even further.
Toshio Sakai is the chairman of the NPO Hosorogi Souseikai, which operates tours to the former quarry. He says, "Visitors come here looking for places off the beaten track. But we need to strike a balance between conservation and expansion to prevent overtourism."
As the quarry is on private land, visitors must join a guided tour. No tours are available during the winter season from December to February of the following year.
As I emerge from the other end of the tunnel, the bright rays of the setting sun make me squint. The mysterious silence that surrounded me earlier has been replaced by the songs of insects and birds.
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