Searching for Ubara Utopia.

Recently, our Japanese-language reporter Mariko Ohanabatake was in Chiba Prefecture, Tokyo’s neighbor to the east, doing field work for an article. She was all set to head back to Tokyo, but suddenly decided to take a detour to Utopia.

And no, we’re not speaking metaphorically. Utopia was clearly marked on a local tourism map.

Ubara Utopia, or Ubara Risokyo (risokyo meaning “utopia”), is located in the town of Katsuura, on Chiba’s eastern coast. According to the map, Utopia is just a seven-minute stroll from Ubara Station. Mysteriously, the map didn’t say what exactly Mariko could expect to find at this promised paradise, so she was going to have to hop on a Sotobo Line train to go check it out for herself.

Trains are few and far between on this line, usually with only one per hour. When Mariko’s got to Ubara Station, she was the only one who got off there, and there wasn’t another soul to be seen on the platform…

…inside the passenger waiting room…

…or even at the ticket gate, since the station is unstaffed.

Mariko tapped her IC card against the terminal to complete the payment for her fare, and as she stepped out into the street, she was still completely alone, and starting to get a little unnerved.

She quickly spotted a sign with an arrow pointing in the direction of Utopia (理想郷), but the blood-red color of its “Welcome!” (ようこそ!) text also seemed somehow sinister.

Following the arrow, Mariko began walking down the road, but aside from a very small number of people she passed by, the place felt deserted.

▼ Walking route from Ubara Station to Ubara Utopia

The isolated atmosphere was feeling creepy now, and Mariko felt her steps slow, then stop, as she approached a tunnel she was supposed to pass through on her way to Utopia.

▼ Do…do people who walk through this tunnel never return?

Mariko took a deep breath to try to calm her nerves. Just as she was about to force herself to take a determined step forward, though, a shipping truck came barreling by with its cargo rattling. Startled and freaked out, Mariko pulled up Google Maps on her phone to see if there was an alternate route she could take to Utopia without going through this tunnel, and when she found one, she decided to follow it instead.

This route took Mariko through a neighborhood with houses and ryokan inns. With a few more reassuring signs of nearby life, Mariko breathed a sigh of relief and could appreciate the quaint architecture and lush greenery.

Eventually the road went up a small rise…

…and Mariko was presented with a beautiful view of a sandy beach, the sea, and the blue sky.

There was even a touch of divinity in the form of a Shinto torii gate, painted white, standing on the beach.

As pretty as it is, though, this stretch of the seashore isn’t Ubara Utopia. This is Moriya Beach, which has been voted one of Japan’s 100 most beautiful shorelines.

Ubara Utopia, meanwhile, is farther down the road, Google Maps indicated. So Mariko kept walking…

…passed by another torii gate…

…and then…

the road just, kind of, stopped.

Now Mariko was very confused, because according to Google Maps, she hadn’t yet reached Utopia.

She turned around to look back and see if she’d missed a turn-off somewhere along the way, but instead actually spotted another person, an elderly man who looked to be a local fisherman.

“Excuse me, which way is Utopia?” she asked him. “Just keep going the same way you were,” he told her. “Didn’t you see the tunnel? Utopia is on the other side.”

Sure enough, when Mariko walked back to where she thought the road had ended…

she could see a shadowy tunnel.

Small, dark, and damp, this tunnel creeped Mariko out even more than the one she’d gone out of her way to avoid earlier. This time around, there was no other way to progress, so stepped inside.

Jaw clenched as she moved forward, Mariko approached the light at the end of the tunnel…

…and stepped out into Utopia.

“Welcome to Ubara Utopia!” the cheery sign greeted her, and it was now that Mariko finally learned that Ubara Utopia is…

a hiking trail inside Minami Boso Quasi-National Park.

The paved road quickly turns to gravel, and that turns to dirt paths and stone steps, and it was still early enough in the summer for Mariko to see some pretty hydrangeas along the route.

So why is this place “Utopia?” Likely because the trail splits off into a number of different branches, which each lead to different scenic outlooks to the sea and surrounding coastline.

As we mentioned above, Mariko was making her visit to Utopia on her way home from a different appointment in Chiba earlier that day. She’d gotten a late start to her hike, and was actually lugging her laptop too, so she decided to just hit the nearest point of interest on the trail, the beautiful Kedo Misaki (Cape Kedo).

With trains being so infrequent on the Sotobo Line back to Tokyo, she decided to cut her hike short on this day, but she did get a bonus view of Moriya Beach on the way back to the station…

…and now that she knows how to find Utopia, she can go back and explore the rest of it whenever she feels like it.

Related: Ubara Utopia website
Photos © SoraNews24
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