Swatting away an army of insects drawn to our sweat-soaked attire, photographer Johan Brooks and I trudge our way up a steep, winding hill in Urayama, a region known for a dam by the same name. I’ve already led Johan in the wrong direction twice: First to a dead-end, and then to an old mountain trail where the vegetation had grown into an impenetrable thicket. Google Maps, apparently, isn’t to be trusted out here in the wilds of Saitama Prefecture.
After walking past a water supply facility and a roped-off campsite, we finally discover a path bordered by a dense forest of cedar and cypress that offers some respite from the scorching sun. We’re looking for Take, one of many small, abandoned settlements that can be found in Chichibu, a mountain-ringed city some 80 minutes by train from Tokyo.
In this particular corner of the country, the deserted communities are concentrated in Chichibu’s Urayama district. Back in the late-1980s, around 50 households in the area agreed to move elsewhere for the construction of one of the largest dams in the Kanto region, an event that accelerated the pace of an even greater exodus.