Photo Journal: Sasagawa Nagare, Niigata’s Remote Coastline

Sasagawa Nagare is a short but beautiful stretch of coastline in Niigata Prefecture, Japan
Sasagawa Nagare is a short but beautiful stretch of coastline in Niigata Prefecture, Japan | © Kentaro Takahashi / Culture Trip
Sasagawa Nagare is a short span of coastline that stretches for 11 kilometres (seven miles) on the northernmost coast of Niigata Prefecture. The wild and desolate Hokuriku shoreline, home to remote Japanese communities, offers a glimpse of a rapidly disappearing Japan.

Clinging to the northwestern edge of Honshu, Route 345 threads its way north along the narrow coast between the Echigo Plain and the Sea of Japan, on the way to the three sacred mountains of Dewa. Passing the old castle town of Murakami, you come on to the stretch of coast called Sasagawa Nagare. Here, dense green mountains tumble down to meet the sea while stray pines cling to the jagged rocks that dot the shoreline.

The vibrant blue waters and white sands of the thin beaches lend this strip of coast a postcard prettiness, but it is the evidence of the sheer hardness of life in this beautiful place that makes Sasagawa Nagare so compelling. Isolated and crumbling villages cling to the narrow shore. The houses are bleached grey, eaves striped with lines of persimmon and wild salmon curing in the salt wind. The dwindling population, mostly elderly, gather thick clumps of dripping black seaweed. The iodine reek of their harvest mixes with the scent of woodsmoke in the wind. The vending machines have started to rust.

This area represents the quieter side of Japan, the last outpost of civilisation before you reach the dark and unknowable mountains of the deep north – where shamanism thrives, and Buddhism is regarded with suspicion as a recent import. Today, you might be able to reach Sasagawa Nagare from Tokyo in less than three hours, but this achingly beautiful stretch of shoreline retains the atmosphere of a place left – utterly, irrevocably – in the past.

Sasagawa Nagare lies near the old castle town of Murakami | © Kentaro Takahashi / Culture Trip
Isolated and crumbling villages cling to the narrow shore here | © Kentaro Takahashi / Culture Trip
The vibrant blue waters and white sands of the thin beaches lend this strip of coast a postcard prettiness | © Kentaro Takahashi / Culture Trip
Sasagawa Nagare is home to remote Japanese communities, offering a glimpse of a rapidly disappearing Japan | © Kentaro Takahashi / Culture Trip
The sheer hardness of life in this beautiful place is what makes Sasagawa Nagare so compelling | © Kentaro Takahashi / Culture Trip
Dense green mountains tumble down to meet the sea here | © Kentaro Takahashi / Culture Trip
Though it has a quiet mystery, you can reach Sasagawa Nagare from Tokyo in less than three hours | © Kentaro Takahashi / Culture Trip
Sasagawa Nagare is the quieter side of Japan, far from the bustle of the big cities | © Kentaro Takahashi / Culture Trip
What they lack in colour, the grey houses here make up for in charm | © Kentaro Takahashi / Culture Trip
Houses here often have strings of cured salmon drying outside | © Kentaro Takahashi / Culture Trip
The dwindling population here is mostly elderly | © Kentaro Takahashi / Culture Trip
Small shrines placed on a hill overlook the shoreline | © Kentaro Takahashi / Culture Trip
A resident and her dog stop for a photo at Murakami City, Niigata, Japan | © Kentaro Takahashi / Culture Trip
Jagged rocks and pine trees characterise the scenery in Sasagawa Nagare | © Kentaro Takahashi / Culture Trip