Monday, August 29th, 2022

Dondo Dam and the hidden Be Kobe sculpture

Landscape photograph of a Japanese valley from atop a dam, with the course running through the centre down to houses, paddy fields and forest

I have lost count of the number of times I've driven past the lake. Once I stopped at a small car park and had a brief and uneventful walk. I looked out across the water and saw, in the distance, the top of a dam. At which point it was added to my list of places to visit.

The Dondo Dam is unremarkable as dams go. It's not particularly tall or wide, but it serves an important purpose. The reservoir - the lake I'd admired - serves the local area with its water needs. It irrigates the land, prevents flooding and it possible the water in my coffee came from it. There's also a small hydroelectric plant, though it generates little of the city's power.

There was another reason for visiting the dam. I'd heard rumours of a second "BE KOBE" sculpture. The two word phrase is Kobe's unofficial motto, and I've often seen queues of people in Harborland waiting to take their photograph with a large, white version. Google Maps promised me a 2.5km round trip walk from the dam to its sister.

It was hot, not quite full summer, but the temperature still topped 26 degrees. I arrived at the dam, parked and enjoyed the stunning views out across the Shijimi River. Photos were taken, then it was time to walk.

Much of the walk was under shade, merciful given the intensity of the sun. A few breaks in the trees teased the far bank, or the mighty bridge across which the E2 expressway runs (another favourite of mine). A shrine, dedicated to those who worked the dam, nestled on the hillside amongst the trees.

Where the reservoir narrows is a bridge, a single track suspension bridge that is the only crossing point on the Tsukuhara lake. A cycle path, some 60km long, runs along the bank, and where the path meets the bridge is a small park. A place for cyclists and walkers to rest in shade. And enjoy the artwork installed there.

This is where the second BE KOBE sculpture is to be found.

Unlike its large, white, and perhaps overbearing sibling, it is small and wooden (locally sourced, the inscription assures us). It didn't demand attention, and there were no queues of tourists lining up for selfies. Nor was any of this disappointing, as it seemed to fit perfectly with the majesty of its surroundings.

Photographs taken, a gentle stroll returned me to the bridge. When the temperature has cooled, and the autumn tones have started to appear, I think I may return here. It seems there are more secrets for the lake and its surroundings to reveal.

My name is Ross Hori

I'm a freelance writer, designer and photographer. By day I create articles, features and reports. At night I take photos and write fiction. Find out more.