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Japan

There is a unique allure created by liminal spaces. The Abandoned Railway Hiking trail in the Hyogo Prefecture in Japan is the embodiment of such a space. With trains diverted to serve other areas in the region, this abandoned railway creates an intersection between the past and the present, a holding space where nature has not yet quite taken over.

The short hike is between five and six kilometres and can be done at an easy stroll. Cherry blossoms in spring create an enchanted accompaniment to the natural scenery, and the fall foliage colors make for a spectacular backdrop during autumn.

The abandoned section of the railway lies between Namaze and Takedao and runs through Mukogawa Gorge. The hike can be done from either side, but starting at Namaze, heading to Takedao leads to scenic views that become more and more beautiful as you go, along with the promise of a hot Onsen soak at the end.

Along the hike six abandoned tunnels swim through the surrounding nature as the trail meanders next to a river. Since the railway has been abandoned nature has slowly been reclaiming the space, covering the man-made structures of tracks, bridges, and tunnels with vines and undergrowth while birds’ nests scatter the tops of the tunnels.

Abandoned railway sleepers lead the way through this eerie contrast between natural light and edificial dark. In the dark of the tunnels, a thick musty smell fills the nostrils and everything falls quiet.

ABOVE: The trail’s river in autumn.

The second tunnel is the longest tunnel along the route and is about 450 meters long with no light seen at the end. Most hikers bring a flashlight to help guide the way. Slowly light starts creeping in at the end of the tunnel.

The darkness of the fourth tunnel opens up to a strikingly red railroad bridge. The bridge has been restored and an easily navigable pathway on the left leads hikers along to the rest of the trail.

Old railway signs can be seen along the way while old railway ties have been converted into benches where hikers can rest and take in the scenery. The first ‘modern’ sign that hikers encounter advises that Takedao is 1.6 kilometres away.

The trail ends with a wooden bridge and a sign indicating that Takedao station is 600 meters away. For those wanting to visit an Onsen or Ryokan, an additional 15 minute walk will get them there.

A lion statue guards a staircase to the right, near the end of the hike takes visitors to a cherry tree forest for a final exploration.

The annual Takedao Art Tunnel event is held each September. The event showcases a variety of visual and performing art along with dances, music, sculptures, and installations. Both spring and autumn are popular seasons, but summer features the most foliage growth on the abandoned structures. The winter months see the fewest visitors, leaving the area feeling deserted.

Part of what draws visitors to the Takedao Abandoned Railroad is the natural scenery that changes with the seasons, but it’s really about visiting a space that was once part of the future, now reclaimed.