One of the first kanji I learned in Japanese class was waterfall (don’t ask me why) and it’s served me well these past few months. Sometimes all it takes is a random road sign to steer me off in the direction of another one of Japan’s beautiful cascades. If you don’t have a car, however, the first three on this list can easily be reached by public transportation.
1. Akiu Falls (Miyagi Prefecture) – This waterfall takes a bit of hiking to get to, down a steep path in the woods outside of Miyagi’s well-known onsen escape. But in the heat of summer, it’s not uncommon to find day trippers enjoying the cool waters here. Take off your shoes and stay awhile or return in autumn, when the area is stunning in its fall colors.
2. Minoh Falls (Osaka Prefecture) – This waterfall is only a 20 minute train ride from Itami Airport outside of Osaka. The path to the falls takes a good 45 minutes to walk, though there are no major elevation changes. Along the way, you’ll pass through a small village and several cafes line the route. Autumn is the best time to be here, as the route is lined with maple trees that turn crimson in mid to late November.
3. Nachi Falls (Wakayama Prefecture) – Impressive. There’s no other word for what greets you at the bottom of the ancient stone staircase near Nachi Shrine. This waterfall is Japan’s highest, tumbling 133 meters from clifftop to the stream below. Shrouded in the mist that often pervades this part of Wakayama prefecture, this is one of Japan’s most stunning chutes. Don’t miss it.
4. Higashi Shiiya Falls (Oita Prefecture) – This waterfall is considered the Kegon of Kyushu, named after the famous falls in Nikko. Unlike in Nikko, there is virtually no one else to enjoy Higashi Shiiya’s splendor. A short five-minute hike along the river leads to this roaring cascade. You can scramble up the rocks to get a close-up view or even sneak a dip in the pool in the humid summer.
5. Sendan Todoroki Falls – While it ranks as one of the top 100 waterfalls of Japan, no one outside of the country seems to know it exists. Tumbling 70 meters, this waterfall is perfectly framed by maple trees in autumn. It’s a short five-minute walk to the first viewing area and then a steep five minutes more down to the waterfall’s base. If you’re driving, there is also a stunning view of the cascade and the surrounding mountains from the road just south of the waterfall’s parking area.