Irohazaka are a pair of winding roads connecting the lower elevation around central Nikko, in the mountains of Tochigi Prefecture, Japan, to the higher elevations of Oku-Nikko located in the northwestern part of Nikko. "i-ro-ha" are the first three characters of the 48 syllables of the formerly used Japanese alphabet (which is now known as "aiueo"), and "zaka" means "slope". The Irohazaka Winding Roads were so named because together they consist of 48 hairpin turns. Each turn is labeled with one of the 48 characters in the Japanese alphabet. Although the narrow road has been modernized over the years, care has been taken to keep the number of curves constant.
Irohazaka consist of two roads that were respectively built in 1954 and 1965 as some of Japan's first toll roads, but were later turned toll free. Today, the older road is only open to downward traffic and includes a pit stop from where you can see two waterfalls. The newer road is only open to upward traffic as far as the Akechidaira Plateau near the top of the road. The plateau offers an observation deck with views over the Irohazaka and the valley below. A ropeway lifts visitors in three minutes from the parking lot at the plateau to an observation platform further up, which presents views of Kegon Waterfall in combination with Lake Chuzenji. From late October to early November, one can view spectacular autumn colors along Irohazaka.
The road played a significant role in Japanese history - the route was popular with Buddhist pilgrims on their way to Lake Chuzenji, which is at the top of the forested hill that this road climbs.
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