When one thinks of Japan, they most likely picture the bustling metropolis of Tokyo, particularly the ever-popular Shibuya crossing, which sees countless thousands of people walk through it each day. Others might think of the many ancient temples of Kyoto. What any new visitor to Japan should surely consider is the breathtaking beauty of the country’s mountainous terrain. Japan is a country of countless natural wonders. From the world-renowned and majestic Mt Fuji in Shizuoka Prefecture, the scorching hot natural hot springs of Nagano, to the stunningly beautiful beaches of the Okinawan islands, Japan’s incredibly varied geography has something to offer every visitor to this great land.
Visitors in the springtime might find themselves hiking through Kyoto’s Fushimi Inari shrine, or climbing Tokyo’s nearby trek Mt Takao, and during the summer will likely be attempting to conquer Mt Fuji. But as the weather becomes cooler, some places become particularly worth exploring, due to the emergence of “Momiji” or Autumn leaves. Momiji season is incredibly popular for locals and foreign visitors alike, as many trees, especially the maple tree, experience a changing of their leaf colours from green to red. This season is often considered to be on par with the “Sakura” or cherry blossom season, as it is yet another opportunity to experience the natural beauty of Japan.
The Sandankyo Gorge
Just two hours outside of Hiroshima City lies one of the most amazing geographical wonders from which to appreciate the Momiji season: the Sandankyo Gorge. A 16-kilometre-long ravine, which runs along the Shibakigawa River in north-western Hiroshima, the Sandankyo Gorge allows guests a perfect opportunity to escape the hustle and bustle of the big cities and explore something which few foreign tourists even know about, whilst immersing themselves amongst gorgeous Autumn foliage alongside the soothing sounds of numerous waterfalls pouring out into a constantly flowing ravine.
Getting to the Sandankyo Gorge
The Sandankyo area is accessible only via a bus that begins at the Hiroshima Bus Center, which is located on the 3rd floor of the SOGO Department Store, about a 15 to 20-minute walk from Hiroshima Station. Once inside the bus center, head to the ticket counter and ask for a ticket heading to Sandankyo (“Sandankyo ma-de kudasai”), which will cost 1,230 yen for a one-way journey (the return journey can be paid on the bus upon your return to Hiroshima). The bus to Sandankyo runs sporadically throughout the day from Stop #7. For exact arrival and departure times to and from Sandankyo, check Hiroden’s schedule here. The bus ride itself takes just over two hours, so it is recommendable to begin your day early in order to make the most of your time there.
Sandankyo Gorge, Let’s get started!
Upon arriving at Sandankyo bus stop, make sure to buy some water and snacks from the nearby stores or vending machines, as the trail through along the ravine does not provide any opportunities to purchase refreshments.
Follow the signs downhill to the beginning of the trail, a short red-framed bridge that takes you over the river and onto the trail itself. Just in front and below the bridge is the first little landmark, a 100m long area open for swimming during the summer season named “Nagabuchi”.
Continue up the trail, where shortly after a map of the gorge can be found. This is where visitors can gauge how long they will need to traverse the path. Keep in mind that depending on the weather it might take a little bit longer to walk the path due to the slippery rocks and a few steep inclines.
Along the path, the terrain varies both on the walking path and along the river. Watch the river while walking through the valley and a drastic change will occur, beginning as a rather peaceful stream along Nagabuchi, transforming into a form of rapid called Tatsunokuchi, before transforming again into an almost completely still rock pool known as Meotobuchi.
Along the way visitors can also spot a few different waterfalls, including Shimaidaki, a large waterfall early in the trek, as well as Akidaki and Medaki, two smaller waterfalls on the right side. Do not be worried about spotting precise landmarks, as this whole area is so beautiful, it is more important to just relax and take in the entire majestic scope of the natural wonder.
During days with decent weather, and outside of the winter months, travellers can actually take a ride in a small boat through the rockpool area known as Kurobuchi. A return ride is only 500 yen, so hopefully your timing is right! Unfortunately on my visit the boat ride service was closed due to repairs, so it might be wise to enquire with the local government services before visiting if you really want to ride the boat.
Continuing along the path you will continue to see a great deal of beautiful terrain, surrounded by nothing but clean mountain air and the relaxing sounds of flowing water. For travellers who have allocated more time, there are some more landmarks to see further down the path. For more detailed information, consult the map or this information page ( Japanese only).
The Sandankyo Gorge is a great way to escape the monotony of city life and really immerse oneself in truly pure and refreshing natural surroundings. The best advice for keen travellers is to arrive early and choose as clear a day as possible in order to really maximise what this amazing valley has to offer. Stay safe, travel responsibly and enjoy your time at Sandankyo Gorge!
Matt De Sousa
Originally from Melbourne, Australia, I am a freelance filmmaker, writer & photographer based in Tokyo. I moved here to study Japanese language and like many others, fell in love with Japan and decided to stay. In my rare moments of spare time you can find me reading Dragon Ball manga or eating at CoCoIchi Curry.
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