清津峡

Kiyotsu-kyō - Kiyotsu Gorge - Gorge Kiyotsukyo


Useful Information

Location: Tōkamachi-shi, Niigata-ken, Japan. From Tokamachi follow 117 south. After 10km turn left on road 353 at Yamazaki. After 8k turn rightg on 389 and follow road 2km to the end.
Open: APR to mid-JAN 8-17, last entry 16.
[2020]
Fee: Adults JPY 800, Children (6-15) JPY 400, Children (0-5) free, Disabled free.
Groups (20+): Discount JPY 50.
[2020]
Classification: GorgeGorge
Light: n/a
Dimension: Gorge: L=12.5km.
Tunnel: L=750m.
Guided tours: self guided, D=1h.
Photography: allowed
Accessibility: yes
Bibliography:
Address: Kiyotsu Gorge Tunnel Management Office, 2126-1 Koide, Tokamachi City, Tel: +81-25-763-4800, Fax: +81-25-763-4801.
As far as we know this information was accurate when it was published (see years in brackets), but may have changed since then.
Please check rates and details directly with the companies in question if you need more recent info.

History

1862 bath house built.
1941 designated a National Place of Scenic Beauty and Natural Monument
1949 designated a part of Joshin'etsu-kogen National Park.
FEB-1984 avalanche destoys part of the bath and kills and injures people.
JUL-1988 closed to the public after an rockfall incident.
1992 begin of construction of tunnel.
01-OCT-1996 tunnel opened to the public and gorge reopened.
2018 artworks installed for the Echigo Tsumari Art Trienniale.

Description

清津峡 (Kiyotsu Gorge) is a narrow gorge cut through volcanic rock, mostly basaltic rock with columnar structures. The formation started some 16 Million years ago, when the eruption of a submarine volcano covered the ocean floor in a thick layer of volcanic ash or tufa. This layer was altered into green tuff by the sea water and the chemical reaction with minerals in the water caused a green colour. The second stage was 5 million years ago, when magma intruded below the green tuff, and the much slower cooling due to the insulation by the green tuff resulted in porphyritic rock with characteristic columnar jointing. The following uplift made it dry land and rivers were flowing on top. The uplift continued and the rivers cut deep into the green tuf and finally into the porphyritic rock. So today Kiyotsu Gorge shows porphyritic rock with columnar jointing at the bottom and green tuff above.

The columnar jointing is important for the erosion of the gorge. The rock is already weakened by the cracks, which create a six-sided pattern, or in other words: the rock is ike a bundle of hexagonal pencils. While the porphyritic rock itself is hard, the whole layer easily splits at the cracks and columns just fall from the gorge walls and collapse.

More than 300 years ago the hot springs at the northern entrance of the gorge were developed into a typical Japanese bath or onzen. The hot water is used to fill bath tubs, houses were erected, and so on. This was rather simple in the beginning until finally the bath house of today was built in 1862. It was extended several times. Part of it had to be rebuild after an avalanche in 1984.

The gorge was designated a natural monument and after it became part of the Joshin'etsu-kogen National Park it became quite popular. The trail was following the Kiyotsu River upsteam to the town Mitsumata. From Kiyotsukyo Onsen it was passing through the most impressive part of the gorge, but this part of the trail had some drawbacks. Avalanches and lingering snows blocked it in early spring and falling rocks and landslides were frequent. In 1988 a visitor was killed by a falling rock which hit him on the head. The gorge was deemed too dangerous and closed for the public.

But the locals and tourists requested it should be reopened. So the responsible organisation evaluated the possibilities. The creation of a safe trail was extremely difficult, because the collapse-prone rock walls would not support any structures. The necessary large scale structure would would destroy the scenic views and was not an option. So they planned an pedestrian tunnel which would not harm the landscape and provided perfect safety. It avoids the dangerous trail, which is still closed, and allows views into the gorge through several side branches.

The tunnel was quite expensive, it cost 2 billion JPY, which is about 16 million EUR, but it is praised by tour operators, families with small children, and seniors. Now it is possible to see the gorge on a smooth path without any steps. And it became quite popular to visit the gorge in the middle of winter to see the deep mountain snowscapes. The tunnel is closed for two months during winter because of the massive snow.

The tunnel contains explanatory signs and exhibits, which provide information about the gorge and its surrounding area. Thre are photos and videos. The tunnel has four viewpoints, two are side branches which end in the cliff face, and the fourth is the end of the tunnel and offers a panoramic view of the gorge. For the 2018 Echigo Tsumari Art Trienniale the Ma Yansong MAD Architects created various artworks in the bath house and the tunnel. And if you want you can follow the trail through the gorge until you reach the upper end at Mitsumata.