Barely 5 kilometres further on, I drive through a rather dark tunnel where it’s impossible to pass each other. At the exit, I’ve reached Itaibara.
This is in the heart of the mountains of Tottori prefecture. Below a layer of ferns and moss, the old village breathes sweetly. In its heyday the village flourished thanks to the raising of silkworms and the production of charcoal. Reached only by an ancient track, it was cut off from the world and modernization never happened. It’s said that no car has ever entered the village, and even today you have to park outside.
After the tunnel was built in 1967, the 120 residents preferred the easier life offered by the nearby town of Chizu, closer to their families. But many of the villagers carried on growing vegetables there, such as daikon – the celebrated giant radish – while discussing the gloomy destiny of Itaibara, among the ruined houses. The vegetables here have a distinctive taste because until 1960 the land was regularly cleared by burning.
Since 2004, the village has been protected by the prefecture. At the time of writing, only the Nodoka café and the Himaji restaurant still liven up the place. As visitors are rare, these aren’t always open, so best check first. Fell in love with the café, which offers toasted sandwiches made with local produce. And the café is ideally located by the river, which is the only thing that makes itself heard in the village.