This enormous underground space made of rock is like like an enormous refrigerator.
30 minutes by bus from Utsunomiya Station in Tochigi Prefecture, an enormous wall of rock, strangely shaped stones, and stone structures become visible as you enter the city of stone, Ohya. Taking advantage of geography rich in stone, this area achieved progress during the middle of the Edo period through quarrying. The former Imperial Hotel in Tokyo designed by the famous American architect Frank Lloyd Wright used stone mined from this quarry.
The underground quarry site, which was mined over a long period of time, covers an immense 20,000 meters2, going as deep as 30 to 60m, and is big enough to fit an entire large-scale stadium. Long ago no one other than workers and authorized persons were able to lay their eyes on the site as it came to be known as an “unknown space,” but now it’s open to the public, allowing us to enter this enormous underground world.
After passing through the entrance and descending the stairs into the underground quarry, you can feel the air temperature rapidly decline. Even in mid-summer the temperatures in the mine are about 8 to 10°C and it’s compared to being inside a huge refrigerator. Surrounded by the ground and the walls and ceilings all built of stone, traces of the mining process are clearly visible on their surfaces. Every so often there are holes extending to the surface allowing shafts of sunlight to enter and the resulting temperature difference produces water vapors, which reflect the light, creating a magical environment.
This place, created by the growth of deep rock, evokes the mood of ancient Roman ruins and has been used as a filming location for many films, T.V. dramas, music videos, and occasionally as a concert venue. If you go about 10 minutes away from the Ohya quarry site, you can see Japan’s oldest stone-carved Buddha, the “Ohya Kannon” built into a cave by Kōbō-Daishi. Since it is forbidden to photograph the Ohya Kannon we cannot show it to you here, but it quietly stands guard over the city of stone enshrined within Ohya Temple, which itself, is enveloped by strangely shaped rock formations.
【writer Takuya Ogasawara】