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On Highway Tunnels

Road tunnels might not qualify as interior design prospects. Their shape is basically a given, they don’t need furnishings apart from lighting fixtures, and adding decorative murals to their side walls will only distract the driver.

Amagi Tunnel. Photo by Takayama Sora, from

Amagi Tunnel. Photo by Takayama Sora, from

We were watching an old episode of Top Gear (UK version) the other day and one of the presenters, who was driving on a highway in Japan, quipped that it seemed the Japanese have dug tunnels through every mountain.

Whenever we travel by car, we do encounter tunnels here and there. As of this writing the longest tunnel in Japan is the 11-kilometer Kan-etsu Tunnel along the Kan-etsu highway, between Gunma and Niigata prefectures. It’s less than half the longest tunnel in the world, the 24.5-kilometer Laerdal in Norway.

My favorite tunnel is the Aqua Tunnel along the Tokyo Bay Aqua Line. It is Japan’s longest underwater tunnel at 9.61 kilometers (5.97 miles). The one I’d like to drive through the most is the Amagi Tunnel in Shizuoka Prefecture, along the old Route 414. This is the longest ashlar tunnel in Japan and is the first tunnel to be designated a 重要文化財 (Juuyoubunkazai or Important Cultural Property). The tunnel was completed in 1904.

Enasan Tunnel. Warp speed.

Enasan Tunnel. Warp speed.

While we’ve driven through quite a number of tunnels I often forget to take photographs. I took the ones above in the Enasan Tunnel on the Chuo highway. This tunnel is around 8.5 kilometers long (the 5th longest in Japan) and connects the prefectures Nagano and Gifu. We were going at around 100 km/h. Reaching the end of a long tunnel often reminds me of a scene in the ’90s movie Go Toward the Light.

External Links

Amagi Tunnel – Wikipedia entry and source of Amagi Tunnel photo.
Tunnels in Japan – Wikipedia entry and source of tunnel stats.

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  1. Erica /

    Coz I wondered:

    1. Masonry made of large square-cut stones, used as a facing on walls of brick or stone.

    • Ah, sorry for that. I should have defined the word in parentheses or linked it to a photo. There are two types of ashlar masonry, depending on how the stones are stacked: coursed ashlar (stones of similar size coursed in a running bond) and random ashlar (stones of different sizes). Judging from the tunnel’s photo in Wikipedia it seems to be coursed ashlar for this one.

      Wikipedia has a nice photo of ashlar masonry. In Japan it’s called 切り石 (kiriishi).

  2. krissw /

    hey! the amagi tunnel sequence can make for nice animation. with star trek music in the background…lol

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