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Ao-no-domon in Yabakei, Oita Prefecture, is a hand-dug tunnel by a merciful Buddhist monk.

The place where Ao-no-domon is found used to be a narrow footpath simply carved on the rocky cliff as shown in the second photo.  The passersby died of slipping down with their horses very often before the tunnel was built.  A merciful Buddhist monk named Zenkai from Edo heard about this dangerous footpath from the villagers when he visited this neighborhood, hence he set about the tunnel digging by hand in 1730 for the sake of the locals.  He started this venture by himself at first though, the villagers joined with him in the work one by one with the financial help from the local daimyo feudal lords.  The tunnel was partially completed in 1750 and fully opened in 1763.  Right after the partial opening, he started to take tolls from the passersby, which was used to cover the cost for the rest of construction. Hence, this tunnel is said to be Japan’s first toll road.  As the full-scale extension works of the tunnel by machines were done in 1906, the original figure of the tunnel was almost gone.  But, the traces of chisels by Zenkai still remain here and there on the tunnel walls and ceilings as shown in the first photo.

Licensed tour guide, travel consultant,

Masahisa Takaki.

全国通訳案内士 高木聖久。


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