Four Seasons at Taushubetsu Bridge: Hokkaidō’s Partially Submerged Railway HeritageArchitecture Travel
In the far north of Japan, an arched bridge that eternally seems on the brink of collapse stands in the waters of Lake Nukabira in the Daisetsuzan National Park, Hokkaidō Prefecture. The Taushubetsu Bridge has gained renown as an unexplored tourist destination in recent years. In the past, the span carried trains across the waters of the Taushubetsu River, but nowadays, it is known as the “phantom bridge.”
The bridge was built in 1937 as part of an extension of the Japan National Railways Shihoro Line to the scenic Tokachi-Mitsumata area. Late, the line was rerouted to accommodate the construction of a hydroelectric dam on the river. In 1955, the completion of the project created Lake Nukabira. This was the start of Japan’s period of rapid economic growth, which may have contributed to the decision to forego tearing down the bridge and instead allowing it to be engulfed in the rising waters of the lake.
Different Faces of the “Phantom Bridge”
Drawn by my love of Hokkaidō, I moved to the prefecture from Saitama. I started photographing the bridge in 2005 after learning about it while I was working at a hot spring resort in a town near Lake Nukabira. At the time, there were few visitors compared to now, and people were convinced that the crumbling span would collapse any day.
The phantom bridge is changing shape as it slowly deteriorates, and it occurred to me that as someone who visits it regularly, I could document its decaying form through the seasons. In Hokkaidō, where the changing of the seasons happens like clockwork, these ruins, standing against the background of the magnificent landscape of the Daisetsuzan National Park, constitute a unique subject. Added to that, the changing levels of Lake Nukabira make for a different view day by day.
The high demand for electricity in winter lowers the water level of Lake Nukabira, which is at its highest toward the end of autumn and lowest in early spring. The difference in water level is about 30 meters, and as the lake rises the Taushubetsu Bridge disappears, only to reemerge later in the year. Normally, it is completely submerged by late fall, where it remains until January, when it rises from the frozen surface.
The bridge is 130 meters long and 11 meters wide. It is impossible to guess the extent of damage the concrete structure suffers being submerged each year and then being exposed to the elements, including harsh snowstorms, strong sunlight, and winter temperatures that can drop to minus 25 degrees Celsius, turning the water absorbed by the concrete to ice. The thick layer of snow and ice that covers the surface of the lake also chips away at the concrete. The Taushubetsu Bridge has weathered these unforgiving conditions for more than half a century, bringing the structure ever closer to its inevitable collapse.
(Originally published in Japanese. Banner photo: The Taushubetsu Bridge, submerged over the winter, gradually rises from the ice in March. All photos by Iwasaki Ryōji.)
* Getting to the Taushubetsu Bridge
The NPO Higashidaisetsu Nature Guide Center runs tours of the area. Reservations can be made by visiting the website (Japanese only) http://www.guidecentre.jp.