Japan’s cities hold endless fascination for me, but step out of the urban sprawl and you’ll find a country chock full of natural wonders. Here are some of my favorite waterfalls in Japan, a few that aren’t too far off the beaten track:
1. Nabegataki Falls – It’s worth venturing into the Kumamoto countryside to track down this stunning chute in rural Oguni. Take the stairs down into this forest vale for a close-up look at this horseshoe-shaped waterfalls and even venture behind it to see how the water has carved out the landscape over the years. There is free onsite parking and a bus stop about a mile away.
2. Harajiri Falls – It’s known as the Niagara of Japan, a moniker that oversells this place a bit much but it’s still a worthwhile stop if you’re in the area south of Oita city. You can see the semicircle waterfall from the swinging rope bridge and then circle around the rice fields to the top of the falls and even dip your hands in the chilly stream. If you’re here, it’s only a short drive to the Usuki Stone Buddhas, another little-visited site.
3. Nunobiki Waterfall – If you’ve got a few hours to kill in Kobe, this waterfall is practically on the doorstep of the Shin-Kobe shinkansen station. Tackle the stairs just behind the station and within ten minutes, you’ll be sitting at the base of Nunobiki Falls. A short hike further up and over the hill and you have stellar views of the Kobe skyline on a clear day.
4. Kegon Falls – Nikko is more than just shrines and temples, and with the restoration work ongoing for the next year or so on many of the shrine buildings, you might want to look at some of Nikko’s attractions further afield. Kegon Falls is a powerful chute flowing 100 meters straight down from the sizable Lake Chuzen-ji. The autumn colors that surround the falls are stunning, but it’s a beautiful side trip any time of year.
5. Gorogataki Falls – The best thing about this waterfall is that no one else knows about it. Hiding on a trail behind the Tsujunkyo Bridge in rural Kumamoto, I never fail to see a rainbow rising from the mist of this cascade. For those with no vertigo, the best view is from the suspension bridge. There are a lot of steps to get here but it’s worth it.