5 Yonezawa: Death flowing down the mountain

Light pouring through the stained glass window woke me up.  I was glad to escape my dream: I had been getting increasingly lost leading a tour group around Shibuya station.   


A constant roar echoed through Shirabu, a dragon`s roar.  Behind the guesthouse, down a treacherous, weed-infested footpath, a waterfall was busy channeling torrents of white water down to the Yonezawa plain.  

Yesterday on the walk up to Shirabu, I stopped at a small shrine in the middle of a terrace of rice fields.  Just inside the shrine`s torii gate entrance, a faded stone tablet was dedicated to the 水神, the water god. Worship of water has a long tradition in Japan.   

But a new, more dangerous tradition has emerged in the last 150 years: pollution.  Above Shirabu, where a chairlift runs up the ski slopes of Tengendai, a sulphur mine opened in 1937, when Japan was at war with China.  Sulphur was needed for use in fertilisers and in armaments – for food and for fighting.

“Leaks from the sulphur mine killed all the fish in the river,” the Hobby Hermit told me.  Pine river became known as the River of Death.  The rice crop was also damaged. A stone plaque on Tengendai is dedicated to the local people`s long fight to stop the pollution.  The mine eventually closed in 1961 but Pine river remains polluted (J).

I doubt the dragon has forgiven or forgotten yet.

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