December in Nakatsugawa

Children in front of a school in Nakatsugawa

This photo was taken by Ito Jintaro in around 1930. It shows children and their teacher in front of their school. The boy in the front row second from the left is Mr. Oda, who is now 90 years old.  The teacher was from a family that owned a ryokan, a traditional Japanese inn, in the Shimoyachi district of Nakatsugawa. The main village school was also located in the Shimoyachi district.

For many kids who lived in the Takeya district, on the outskirts of Nakatsugawa, the main school was as far as 5 kilometers from home. They had to walk that distance twice each day to study at school. This was an impossible task in the winter, as about 3 meters of snow accumulates in Nakatsugawa each year. So in the winter many children would gather at a local branch school: the bunko. At a bunko, the students, irrespective of age, would typically be taught together in a single room.  The teacher would go around offering guidance to different students and groups of students.

The school in the picture below is Takeya Bunko. This photo was also taken by Ito Jintaro at around the same time as the picture in the postcard.

Takeya Bunko, 1930s

The woman at the back is the teacher. She was originally from the city of Yonezawa, but settled in Nakatsugawa after getting married to a man who lived there. The building shown in the picture was reconstructed twice before it was eventually abandoned because too few children remained in Takeya.

And the picture below, which I took, shows the state of the abandoned building in 2020.

An abandoned Takeya Bunko, 2020

Takeya was the most remote district in Nakatsugawa, the area closest to Mt. Iide in the west. As the population declined, Takeya merged with Iwakura, the neighbouring district, and so now Iwakura is the district most distant from the middle of Nakatsugawa on the Mt. Iide side. Even though these days no one lives in the Takeya area, it still has one or two popular facilities including the Takeya Fishing Centre where you can catch yamame, a freshwater fish, and Takeya Water Park, which is a perfect place to camp.

One fascinating spot in this area is the Tunnel of Mount Iide. It was created in the Edo Period (1603-1867) as an attempt to lead water from the Tamagawa river, which flows to Niigata prefecture, to the Shirakawa river, which flows through Nakatsugawa and eventually joins the mighty Mogamigawa river. Although construction continued for around 20 years, the tunnel is only 150 m long. That is partly because it is situated at an elevation of 1538 m and work could only take place between July and October. Yamagata prefecture formally recognised the tunnel as a historic site in November 1956. The pictures below show the entrance, and the tunnel’s path through the mountains.

Entrance to tunnel of Mount Iide

Mount Iide tunnel path


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