Favourite Places in Japan: Ueno-mura

Today I got a message from Facebook reminding me that three years ago I was in Ueno-mura (上野村), so it seems an appropriate time to continue with my posts about favourite places in Japan. I’ve written quite a few posts related to Ueno-mura already, with the main focus being on my research about the JL123 crash. But Ueno-mura is more than the JL123 and my visits there are also more than about my research.

As you can see from this map, Ueno-mura really is quite a remote village (as you can also see in a photograph taken from the air in my post about Ibaraki Airport) – one of the smallest, in terms of population, in Japan. The area of the village, however, is about the same as Kawasaki.

The next map helps show where Ueno-mura is located relative to Tokyo, Mount Fuji, Takasaki, Nagoya, Takayama, Matsumoto, etc.

In terms of access, there are a few ways that I have done it – all involving a car. Usually I take the shinkansen to Takasaki and get a rent-a-car from there. I then follow the expressway and route that brings you in from the north of the village on route 45.

Time lapse video of driving from Takasaki to Ueno-mura in January 2019

Another route is to take local roads, via Fujioka, and come in from the east on route 462. I have also driven all the way to/from Tokyo and on a couple of occasions come via Chichibu on route 299 to the south-east of Ueno-mura – but as you can see from the first map above, that way has particularly windy roads & is best done on a motorcycle, I suspect (you are likely to see many at weekends).

As you drive into Ueno-mura, if coming from route 45, you will encounter some music if you are driving at the correct speed…

The ‘Melody Line’ plays ‘Ureshii Hinamatsuri’

Ueno-mura is known as ‘Kanto’s Tibet’ or ‘Japan’s Tibet’ – having not been to Tibet, I cannot comment on the validity of the comparison. What I do know is that it has some very impressive mountains. The population of the village is primarily based along a stretch, by the Kanna-river and route 299 (although that now by-passes much of the village), that largely runs West to East.

I first visited Ueno-mura in 2007, and have since been back about eight times. Most of these have been short stays of one or two nights (and two day trips). I have stayed at 5 of the different hotels and ryokan in the village. All of these have a hot spring of some sort. I particularly enjoyed my stay in 2017 at the Imaike Ryokan, where some of those involved in the filming of the 2008 movie Climber’s High stayed.

While staying in Ueno-mura in 2017, I managed to do a few other things than just my research. I finally got to visit the Sky Bridge. Not being liking heights – and having no need to get to the other side – I just took some photographs from the car park.

Next to the Sky Bridge are the Fujido Caves (marked on the maps above), which was very enjoyable and provided a nice escape from the heat outside.

After this, I went back to the ryokan and then went out for a 10km run in preparation for a half-marathon (my first) that I was doing the following month. It was hard work as it was still very hot and due to there being so many hills, but I was glad to have done my longest run to date in Ueno-mura. The only downside was that the route was less circular than I would prefer – I could have made it more circular, by sticking on Route 299 on my return leg, but I decided not to do this as I suspected I would lose the GPS connection & get all the data messed up when running through the tunnels.

I finished off the run by Ueno-mura village hall and the statue of former Mayor Kurosawa, which I bowed in front of – must the bemusement of a local out walking their dog.

Photograph taken in January 2019

Two things I did discover on the run, however, were that you can hear the music from the ‘Melody Line’ from the other side of the valley – I feel sorry for those who live in the area having to put up with that all day long, day and night. Also during the run, I came across the following sign, which I think is the only one that has both Irei-no-Sono and Ostuaka-no-One listed. The former is the JL123 memorial site and the latter is the crash site – although there is nothing about their names that inherently would make people aware of the connection to a plane crash. This discovery was helpful for my research, as I was in Ueno-mura doing some final field work for my article ‘Developing a Model to Explain Modifications to Public Transportation Accident Memorials‘, which discusses Irei-no-Sono and modifications made to it (and discusses the lack of visibility of the site).

My most recent trip to Ueno-mura was in July 2019. During this visit I managed to go for another run, doing about the same route as the previous time, but doing a full half-marathon distance. This was particularly tough in the July heat, but I’m sure it helped with my preparations for the Cardiff Half-Marathon that I did later that year.

I also saw a bit of unexpected wildlife during my visit to Ueno-mura this time. I have had snakes before & I know there are bears and other animals in the area, but this was the first time to come across a lizard at Irei-no-Sono.

One of the main reasons for this particular visit, however, was to go to the U-shaped cutting on the far ridge from Osutaka-no-One, which I have touched upon in another post. During the visit, though, I finally managed to also visit one of Ueno-mura’s other main attractions, the Former Kurosawa House, which is definitely worth a visit.

As well as my research about the JL123 which has come to feature in my books Dealing With Disaster in Japan, Osutaka and Japan: The Basics, as well as other articles and chapters, I also included Ueno-mura in my first novel Hijacking Japan, as I discussed in another post.

While I have made many short visits to Ueno-mura, I’ve yet to stay there for a longer time. I would love to one day. I imagine it would be a great place to have a house to visit for a few months of the year or as a place to get away from the big cities (I grew up in the countryside myself so like to be around hills and mountains). Although it can be a bit inconvenient (there aren’t even any convenience stores – although there are still drinks machines, and some restaurants) I think it would be a wonderful place to shut yourself and do writing. As well as spending more time there, another thing I would like to do is get an Ueno-mura T-shirt (I don’t think I’ve seen any to date, as I’m sure I would have picked up one) to add to my collection of T-shirts from places that I like.

If you get the chance, please do visit Ueno-mura yourself sometime.

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