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National Highway 339: The only staircase highway in Japan

August 1, 2013 Destination North Asia No Comments Email Email

egtmedia59In Japan, there are roughly 450 national highways wandering their way through the country, connecting the various cities and prefectures.

Their sizes and conditions obviously vary widely depending on location and usage, but for the most-part they all share one thing in common: cars can drive on them. But on 338.2 meters of National Highway 339 in Aomori Prefecture, not a single car, truck, scooter, or motorcycle is allowed.

Why? Because it’s actually a staircase!

While some might argue about the standard of Japanese driving, it certainly seems logical that a national highway would be open to motor vehicles. But why let logic get in the way of awesome?

National Highway 339 only received its official status in 1975 and has a total length of 108.4 km. However, the last 388.2-meter stretch of the highway actually consists of 362 steps. The popular explanation for the stairs being included as part of the national highway is that the person in charge of the designation never actually went to check it out. If that’s true, we can’t help wondering who submitted it for designation.

Seems like an April Fools joke gone horribly right, doesn’t it? Though the staircase was originally built by the local people (with some help from the Japan Self-Defense Forces), the government has erected signs and seems to be keeping the path in good shape now.

Even so, the staircase takes a little bit of work to find. Following a red-tiled path from the regular highway, travelers pass through a narrow alley between wood-panelled houses for a few hundred meters before coming to the stairs. The stairway itself isn’t very wide, though a railing down the middle splits it into two “lanes,” if you will. We couldn’t find any information on a speed limit though…

With a total altitude change of 70 meters, it’s probably not the steepest staircase in Japan, but they’re enough to give you a good workout. Once travelers start climbing the stairs, they are afforded a lovely view of the bay. Higher up, the path levels out for a while and provides some beautiful greenery as well.

There’s also a middle school situated at the even ground. After a few hundred more stairs, you reach the end of Route 339, where across the road there is a viewing spot overlooking the ocean and a stone monument… with a large red button.

For those brave enough to press the massive button, a traditional enka song is played–the perfect musical accompaniment to enhance your ocean-viewing pleasure. The song is “Tsugaru Kaikkyou Fuyugeshki” or “”Tsugaru Strait – Winter Scene” by Sayuri Ishikawa.

The stairs are located on Cape Tappi at the northern end of Aomori Prefecture, which can be found at the tip of the main island, Honshu. The snow closes the path in winter, so if you want to visit it, be sure to check that it’s open before you go!

Edited by : Bill Hurley

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