Japan has a history of making unconventional fiscal decisions. Among them was a decision in the 90s to try to spur economic growth by increasing spending on infrastructure - from below 32% of GDP in 1991 up to around 38% nowadays. The timing, of course, coincided with the burst of the Japanese economic bubble, and was the Japanese way of avoiding the big slump - instead of cutting back government spending, it was intended spur artificial demand and productivity in the country.
The results are two-fold. Foreigners coming to Japan easily notice the well-maintained infrastructure - streets have no pot-holes, highways are smooth, trains are passing through ridiculously expensive tunnels. The program, along with other domestic labor creation schemes, also helped in keeping unemployment low, leaving the image of the goverment protecting its people intact.
On the other hand, most of the coastline is now covered in concrete instead of sandy beaches, creating some incredible eyesores. Oh, and there's also the "minor" problem that the whole thing is so expensive that Japan ended up with the biggest debt of all industrialized countries, by a fairly huge margin.
I was very surprised, then, to find out that even Japan's seemingly unbounded spending spree on concrete has a limit. While heading to another mountain pass in the vincinity of 奥多摩, I was hoping I could avoid some sprawl by following a small path on the north side of 相模湖, which was classified as "path, paved" in OpenStreetMap. Surprisingly though, the entrance was shut off with a meticulously constructed obstacle:
It is not unusual for streets to be shut off, usually that means there is some minor construction work, and they are perfectly fine. However, the gate at the entrance was more serious than usual, and it became quite obvious why - the street had experienced some serious landslides a couple of years ago, and the surface was covered with rocks that had come down from the surrounding mountains:
The only reason why they hadn't fallen down further was because they were stopped by the guard rail, barely visible on the left. Now, while it's a bit reassuring that a guard rail can indeed stop a couple of tons of stones, it's not obvious how long it can resist the pressure, and surely at some point, it will just break.
Even more interesting, though, is that the street was completely abandoned. This hadn't happened a couple of weeks before, the landslide must have occurred a couple of years back, at least, as evident in the vegetation that reclaimed the area a couple of meters further down:
Clearly, this place was deemed to expensive to repair, and with two major roads flanking the area, it would have been used by locals and cyclists only anyway.
At the point where the road turned into a jungle, I figured that's a bit too wild for me, made a note to correct the labeling in OSM later, and defaulted to a safer route down to ヤビツ峠.
ヤビツ峠 is a pass between 宮ヶ瀬湖 and 秦野, not too... WAIT A SECOND, DID YOU SEE THAT? THERE'S FREAKIN' MONKEYS AT THE SIDE OF THE ROAD!
(Yes, it's very unusual to see wild animals so close to the populated areas, and I wasn't even aware that there's monkeys around here.)
Anyway, heading out from 宮ヶ瀬湖, the pass climbs up very gradually, with very few and rather short steep sections. It's one of the easier climbs around, but certainly one of the most scenic, with a nice open riverbed next to it, and plenty of small waterfalls:
From the top, there are at least 3 different hiking routes to various peaks in the area, and while all of them are a little bit far for a casual walk, they offer plenty of opportunities to hang up the hammock and take in the scenery:
Speaking of scenery, the real highlight of the climb is the descent on the other side. It's one of the fastest descents in the area, with plenty of segments that have good visibility ahead, and strategically positioned mirrors for the sharper curves. It's advisable though to not forget to take a look around, when the tree lines open up, the views can be quite spectacular:
Around halfway through, there is a parking area with an observation tower, which is also (barely) visible in the picture above. Stopping there at least on the first visit is definitely worth it, giving a slightly better view on everybody's favorite Japanese mountain, plus a nice glimpse of the urban sprawl below:
Even though I didn't really plan on going there that day, ヤビツ峠 never fails to disappoint. Let's just hope Japan's most recent push to plaster the rest of Asia with even more concrete doesn't mean places like this fall into disrepair, too.