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Thursday, November 12, 2015

To no Hetsuri


For a few years now I have gazed upon a beautiful scene of Japan via a live, outdoor web cam at www.shimogo-live.jp. My favorite view shows some interesting cliffs above water. I didn't know where it was located, but I knew I wanted to go there. I was thrilled when my daughter said that this place, To no Hetsuri, was located in Shimogo Town within Fukushima Prefecture and was accessible by train.

To no Hetsuri, Fukushima Prefecture.

To no Hetsuri translates in a few ways, but my favorite is "dangerous cliff by the river." I didn't know this until later. The cliffs are made of tuff that has been eroded by wind, rain, and millions of years. All the rocks and towers have been given names - for example, there's Lion Tower and Goma Tower, Folding Screen Rock and Sumo Arena Rock, among the many others.

To get there we took the Aizu Railway. Once you arrive at the stop it's a short walk to the cliffs. The day we visited was crisp and cold. Acorns and dry fallen leaves covered the ground, and the trees in their autumn colors were glorious.

To reach the cliffs we had to cross a suspension bridge hovering over the Okawa River. The minute my foot touched down the bridge wobbled and began to swing to and fro. The sides were less than waist level, and I began to realize that an accidental collision with another person could send me plunging toward the water. But I kept going, even though an alarmed feeling was beginning to spread over me. Hasn't that been called "The Gift of Fear?"

To no Hetsuri, Fukushima Prefecture, Japan.

But I had been waiting a long time for this, so I stumbled on to the other side and at last - I was on the cliffs. Upon reaching my goal, I suddenly realized it would be much, much easier to fall from the cliffs into the cold Osawa. And I started thinking, how are people in Japan even allowed to do this? In the U.S. there would just be no way.

And yet everyone around me seemed comfortable. A young woman decided to sit in a hanging tree branch and use it like a swing while she posed for a picture. A small child was spinning around and around until her mother told her to stop.

To no Hetsuri, Fukushima.

My daughter, a cautious type, said that even though we could both swim, if we did fall then we would have to ride back to Aizu Wakamatsu in wet clothes and everybody would stare at us. Well! Of course public humiliation would be far worse than falling in. We were careful and stayed dry. And we were truly grateful for the opportunity to visit this natural national monument.

To no Hetsuri, Fukushima Prefecture

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