By Elena Lisina
Waterwheels have been used since ancient times, but using the same concept and combining it with the more modern invention of hydroelectricity would not happen until the early 1880s in the United States. Just 30 years later the advanced technology made its way to Japan, coming to Sendai before anywhere else.
The Sankyozawa hydroelectric power plant was built in 1910 during the Meiji era, a time Japan rapidly adopted new western technology and infrastructure. A portion of the Hirosegawa River running through the heart of the city was diverted to provide the natural energy needed to create manmade energy. The success of the project was immediate as it was the only source of electricity the city had at the time. In the coming years the gas lamps dotting the streets would be replaced with electric substitutes. Amazingly the one generator operation still continues over a century later.
The grand achievement is remembered and celebrated with the admission-free Sankyozawa 100-Year Electric History Center. The first floor of the center provides easy-to-understand explanations of the history of electricity, how it connects with our lives, and the nature around Mount Aoba and Hirosegawa River (in Japanese). The neighboring building houses the water wheels and power generator. It can be viewed through a large glass window.
Children will fall in love with the large and entertaining second floor play area. It features playing structures, an interesting ball game built into the wall, a library, and simple toys and art pieces. A sign on the door next to the stairs in Japanese suggests you step outside to the balcony. From there you will get a great view of the hill behind the building. On the left are the modern pipes which transfer water to the power plant, replacing the old Meiji era tunnels seen on the right.
The Sankyozawa 100-Year Electric History Center is located near Bus Stop #11 on the Loople Sendai Sightseeing Bus. Next to the center is a small shrine with a charming waterfall and the Sankyozawa Bicycle Safety Park. Combine these activities for a perfect (and free) day trip for families with young children. The area is also full of cherry blossoms around late April.
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Justin Velgus (ジャスティン ベルガス) is a long-term resident and promoter in the Tohoku region. He has been a content producer for JapanTravel.com since 2012 and was the Miyagi Prefecture Regional Partner 2013-2015. Justin’s over 300 published travel and culture articles come from a background of studying in Akita, teaching English in Miyagi through the JET Program, and working for the government in Fukushima. He lives in the gyutan capital of the world, Sendai. Justin is an expert in local culture and history. He was the first foreign volunteer at Sendai City Museum and regularly advises the local volunteer guide group GOZAIN , which he is a veteran member, on guiding techniques and hidden locations in the city even locals don't know about. In his free time he enjoys delivering original walking tours, such as his Dark Sendai Tour (ghost tour) or Kokubuncho Mystery Tour (redlight district tour). Justin is also a Certified Sake Professional.