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Honen-ike Dam in Kan’onji

I ended the previous article with the picture of a non-descript dam whose name I don’t even know (if I search a little bit, I should find it, but it will be for when I write about it – let’s not waste time here if I want to manage to write several articles during this winter vacation).
When I went to that dam, I was actually looking for another dam, the Honen-ike dam!
(pronounce “Honen-ihkeh”)

I was in the wrong valley, though. The dam I was looking for was actually 50 kilometers further west (a little less as the crow flies). Don’t laugh. To my defense, I can’t know the mountains of Kagawa as well as I know its islands. I don’t have the time for both. Actually, on that day, the temple in the article was my destination. The dam was just a bonus as it was a couple of kilometers away and I decided to go check it out, just in case.

A few weekends later, I looked at a map before leaving this time, and off I went to Onohara, a “neighborhood” of Kanon’ji (really mostly countryside and mountains). It is just a few kilometers away from Unpen-ji, the famous 66th temple of the Shikoku Pilgrimage. Famous because it is the highest temple of the pilgrimage. To reach it – if you’re not walking – you have the choice between a very narrow and tortuous mountain road from the Yoshino Valley in Tokushima in the south or a ropeway from the Sanuki Plain in the north (in Onohara). This ropeway has the particularity of having the longest span in Japan – almost two kilometers between its base and the summit with no pylon in-between – as well as being the fastest in the country: 10 m/s or 36 km/h. I don’t know if I’ll show it to you one day, I have a phobia of these machines, so I don’t exactly feel like ever trying it.

But back to our dam.

When you get near it, there is a small parking lot with a viewpoint, and I admit, I was expecting a more interesting view (it will come, don’t leave just yet):

Also, if you want to visit it one day and want to take good pictures, go in the morning, or on a cloudy day. I found myself in a backlight situation on almost all my pictures.

And by the way, why am I telling you about this dam in the first place?
What is so important and interesting about it?

You see, Kagawa Prefecture is one of the prefectures in Japan that receives the least amount of rainfall. The almost Mediterranean microclimate of this part of Setouchi is very pleasant to live in, but not always ideal for agriculture. Apparently, it was almost impossible to grow rice here for a very long time and that’s why wheat became the cereal of choice and eventually gave rise to the famous Sanuki udon.
I have to admit that when I hear these kinds of stories in Japan with only vague details and no straight facts, I am always a bit suspicious: reality and fiction have a tendency to happily mix as soon as you let them do so in this country.

But the fact is that at the beginning of the 20th century, with the industrialization of the region, the need for water and irrigation was felt, especially after a number of droughts had damaged the local agriculture. Many dams were built at that time in Japan, and this valley was chosen to receive the first dam in the Kagawa Prefecture.

It was built, practically by hand, with (big) bricks. The construction took only four years (from 1926 to 1930), and required a labor force of 150,000 people (not all at the same time). It did not cause any casualties, which is rare in dam construction, especially at that time, I imagine.

It thus made it possible to irrigate the western part of Kagawa and preserve it more or less from droughts. Even today, Kagawa still depends heavily on its dams (plural this time) for irrigation, including drinking water. Moreover, even if I suppose some have been integrated into tall buildings, you won’t see water towers in Kagawa (by the way, have I ever seen one in Japan? I’m wondering now). If the rice fields are mostly irrigated with water from nearby rivers and (more or less) artificial ponds that are found everywhere, running water still depends on dams. The pressure exerted by running down from the mountain seems to be sufficient to reach our taps. Well, now, keep in mind that I know nothing about civil engineering and irrigation, and I may be talking a lot of nonsense here (especially since this water has to be made drinkable before it reaches our taps). However:

  • Sometimes in the summer, in times of drought, the water level in the dams is monitored very closely, and the population is often asked to be careful with its consumption.
  • In winter, the water coming out of the taps is freezing cold, as if it was coming straight from a mountain stream, probably because it basically does.

With that being said, the interest of this dam is not only historical. It is also an important architectural work.

Its construction in bricks is already quite notable – even if it has been reinforced with concrete on the upstream side some time ago, in order to avoid leaks and accidents. Moreover, it is the first multi-arch dam in Japan. And I think that it is just beautiful. It was also classified as an “Important Cultural Property” (more or less the equivalent of a “Historical Monument”) a few years ago.

But enough talking. I told you that when you park in the small parking lot on the side of the road, the view was a bit disappointing. What you need to do is take the other road, the one that leads you to the base of the construction itself in order to truly appreciate it.

I also shot a video when I went there. You can watch it there:

I’m still quite a beginner at making videos. So any encouragement in the form of a subscription to the channel, as well as clicking on the like button and leaving a comment, will be greatly appreciated and will help me grow it.

OK, I’ll try to go there in the morning one day and take pictures with some good light.
That’s all for today. I hope to post another article very soon.

Thanks, if you’ve read so far.

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