My family and I spent this past Saturday on a day trip down to Takachiho. It’s on the other side of Mt Aso from Kumamoto City, tucked into the northwest corner of Miyazaki Prefecture. My husband and I had been before, just the two of us, but this time we took our three-year-old along and discovered that it was a surprisingly good place for a kid who loves the outdoors.
Takachiho’s main attraction is its gorge, a dramatic cut in the land that was formed by erosion and lava from nearby Mt Aso. Visitors can follow a one kilometer path – mostly concrete with some steps – from one end of the gorge to the other. At the gorge’s eastern end, it’s possible to rent rowboats and take to the river itself, rowing right past the Manai Waterfall which tumbles from the cliff above into the turquoise water. Boats are usually rented for an hour and there isn’t much chance of getting lost as the route is short. On days when the water is too high, no one is allowed on the river.
In summertime, several of the eateries in the gorge offer nagashi somen, or somen nagashi. These are “flowing noodles”. thin wheat noodles that slide down bamboo tubes and must be fished out by the diner with chopsticks before being dipped in a soy-based sauce. If the wily noodles slip past you – and they did even for those of us quite proficient with chopsticks! – they land in a basket at the end of the tube and will be brought back to you after the final portion has been sent your way. Nagashi somen portions aren’t huge and it’s more of an entertainment factor than a hugely filling meal, but it’s a hit with kids and adults alike and a bargain at only ¥500.
It’s worth lingering in Takachiho to catch one of the nightly yokagura performances. The yokagura dances, performed nightly at the Takachiho Shrine, stem from the tradition of locals performing masked plays that told the stories of Japan’s ancient gods. Whether by accident or design, the land around Takachiho lends itself readily to Japan’s creation myths. A cast of characters ranging from Amaterasu (sun goddess and supposed progenitor of the Japanese Imperial line), her brother Susano-o (the Storm God), and Izanami and Izanagi (the creators of the Japanese islands) supposedly cavorted in the Takachiho region eons ago and their stories are faithfully retold by generations of Takachiho residents. There are no words to the performances, simply drums, flute and dancing, but an English leaflet provides an overview of each act.
Takachiho isn’t a big town and it’s a bit out of the way, tucked as it is into that corner of Miyazaki. But if you are traveling from Kumamoto to the other side of Kyushu, this makes an excellent, family-friendly stopover. You can get here either by rental car or bus from Kumamoto; if you drive, there are parking areas both at the top of and down in the gorge just outside of town.