Old Japanese Bridges
Best times to visit: May but varies in days. Not recommended on rainy days.
Recomended: Yame City, Fukuoka Prefecture.
For most of the year, the town of Joyo is a picturesque little town snuggled in the bamboo forests and valleys between the town of Kurogi and Yame city. However, come May the riverbanks and surrounding area are transformed into something dreamlike. The reason: the pristine river is home to one of the last few firefly nesting grounds left in Japan, and for two weeks their larvae hatch from the mud and become active at nightfall, seeking to mate. The otherworldly beauty of the riverbanks and forest coming aglow with thousands of softly twinkling lights, coupled with its briefness- the fireflies have a lifespan of only two weeks, if that- draw tourists from all over Japan.
While the exact date varies from year to year, the village of Joyo celebrates the event with local recitals, festivals and music. The bewitching beauty of the fireflies and the surrounding valley, along with the vibrant celebrations, make it the perfect opportunity to reflect on the beauty, and transience, of life.
Tucked away in the south-east corner of Yame, the sprawling Mikuniyama or "Three Countries" mountain straddles three separate counties and commands respectable views of the surrounding areas. Nature lovers and hikers beginner and veteran alike will be delighted to hear that the well-worn hiking trail has recently undergone maintenance, making it even more accessible.
Starting at "Oninogawa" (the River of Demons), this easygoing trail gently winds its way through lush copses and greenery before getting steeper towards the peak. Along the way, expect to see a plethora of flora and fauna; especially in spring when the blooming Rhododendron creates a riot of blues and pinks.
Height at summit: 993m. Trail length: 2.4 kilometers (starting at Oninogawa). Hiking time: 65 about minutes.
Location: Yabe city, Yame district
For panoramic views of the greater Yame area, look no further than the twin peaks of Odake and Medake. Although the view is worth the trip alone, the trail starts at Yame Green Pier outdoor activity center, making it the perfect day excursion for outdoor enthusiasts.
Buses for Green Pier depart from the center of Yame every day, and the start of the trail is 20 minutes from Kurogi by taxi. The hiking trail itself is very gentle, and even total beginners will be able to enjoy this hike with little effort. That being said, expect to meet many local climbers making repeat trips to the summit along the way! Come see everything Yame has to offer.
Height at summit: 532.2m and 595.8m, respectively. Trail Length: 4.5 kilometers (starting at Green Pier Yame). Hiking time: around 85 minutes.
Location: Kurogi city, Yame district
Visitors to the Kutsurogi Forest will be surrounded by pristine, unspoiled scenery. The area is surrounded by hundreds of cherry tress and Hydrengea, making spring the ideal time to plan a visit.
Hikers have the option of striking off by themselves or hiring a guide to take them on a guided tour of the many lakes, islands and natural springs in the nearby forests. There are currently three trails in operation, all of which where used by the Kumazasa, believed to be the first people to inhabit Japan. For those wishing to see the more primal parts of Japan, there are few places that can compete with the natural beauty of Yame's forests.
Location: Kurogi city, Yame district
Due to its proximity to Mt. Aso, there are numerous deposits of volcanic rock in the hills surrounding Yame. The rock, called Tuff, is surprisingly soft and durable, making it ideal for construction. During the Meiji and Taishou periods, over a hundred bridges were constructed across the greater Yame area at the behest of the local communities. Of these, more than fifty remain in standing to this day. Most of them utilize a simple design incorporating 1-4 arches for maximum load bearing and durability, and despite being at least seventy years old almost all of them are still in use.
All of the bridges in Yame were designed by a single man: Hashimoto Kangarou, a famed architect of the Meiji era. His bridges have weathered storms, typhoons and floods for decades, a remarkable feat considering they were made without using concrete! Under his direction, large slabs of volcanic rock were carefully shaped and transported to sites across Yame. Although it took almost four years to build a single bridge, his techniques quickly spread and soon word of the proficiency of Yame's stone carvers was spreading across Kyushu and Japan.
To this day, the people of Yame still view these bridges as important cultural assets, and numerous events throughout the year celebrate their history. Their simple and elegant profiles blend in well with the surrounding countryside, and throughout March and April, the bridges surrounding Kitagawa park in Joyo are illuminated at night together with the surrounding cherry trees, creating a truly dreamlike landscape. Furthermore, the bridges serve as ideal nesting grounds for fireflies, and in late May/early June, crowds flock to the banks of the Hoshino river throughout Yame in hopes of catching a glimpse of the mating fireflies.
Recommended a firefly bridge in Joyo, but there are over 50 others located across the greater Yame area.