Now you see it, now you don’t: Hokkaido’s ‘phantom bridge’

by Shunsuke Yamamoto

Kyodo

An aging “phantom bridge” now surrounded by water in man-made Lake Nukabira in Kamishihoro, Hokkaido, is attracting tourists who want to view it while it is still intact, with its arches expected to collapse soon.

Taushubetsu Bridge, made out of concrete, was erected in 1937 across the Taushubetsu River ahead of the extension of the old Japanese National Railways’ Shihoro Line. The bridge subsequently fell into disuse when Lake Nukabira came into existence in 1955 as part of a project by Electric Power Development Co. to construct a hydropower dam. The line was rerouted around the lake.

Nicknamed the “phantom bridge” because it becomes completely submerged around June every year, when the water level in the lake rises due to rainfall and melting snow, the 130-meter-long, 10-meter-high span then reappears in wintertime when the level drops because of an increase in power generation.

The Higashitaisetsu Nature Guide Center, a local nonprofit organization, started tours to the bridge in 1997. Tourists can walk across the frozen lake to the bridge in the winter, and in the spring and summer are driven close to it by car.

The first tour drew only around 10 tourists but the number has increased since the bridge was designated as a Hokkaido heritage site in 2001, according to Mitsuru Kawada, 54, who heads the NPO. Currently, some 2,000 visitors take the tours each year, while tens of thousands of people visit an observation deck near the bridge, Kawada said.

Ryoji Iwasaki, a 35-year-old photographer, relocated to the Nukabira area from Okegawa, Saitama Prefecture, in 2005 to take pictures of the bridge. Some of his works capture the bridge looking like several pairs of glasses as it is reflected on the water.

He says it is “impossible to take the same picture twice” since the water level in the lake sometimes differs by more than 2 meters in the same season.