Chasing Waterfalls in Nishizawa Canyon
A scenic hiking trail filled with lush greenery, babbling brooks, and eight stunning waterfalls lies west of Tokyo in Yamanashi Prefecture. This place referred to in Japanese as Nishizawa Keikoku has many different English names – Nishizawa Canyon, Gorge, Ravine, Valley – but one thing is definite, it is a place of natural wonder and absolute tranquility.
Nishizawa Canyon is part of the Chichibu-Tama-Kai National Park that comprises of mountains, gorges and forests in the neighbouring prefectures of Yamanashi, Saitama, Nagano and Tokyo. The 10 km loop trail takes about three and half hours to complete, and offers breathtaking views of the crystal clear Fuefuki River, enjoyed against a backdrop of verdant leaves in the summer and coloured leaves in the autumn months.
The hike starts on a paved road and after ten minutes of walking the first waterfall comes into view. Although it was small, it was a great feeling to see a waterfall so soon and I knew it was just a taste of what was to come.
Following the trail further, I walked down a series of narrow paths and bridges until I reached the 2 km mark, where I saw one of my favourite sights of the hike. Standing on a suspended bridge, I had a panoramic view of a beautiful dam spillway. Despite not being a natural waterfall, the water cascading vertically down the spillway against the backdrop of white rocks pulled in by the current, and ever expanding greenery behind was breathtaking.
After passing along the bridge and continuing further along the path another waterfall came into my view. It was partially hidden by trees but there was a good lookout point from the steps. I stopped to take it in then proceeded up some stairs to higher ground. There were signs around warning hikers about bears and monkeys, as well as ones prohibiting canyoning, canoeing, rafting, and pets in the area.
As the trail got closer to the stream I had to take care not to slip on the rocks wet with gushing water. For this reason it is important to wear sturdy, water resistant shoes for the more slippery parts of this hike. Fortunately there were enough metal chains and ropes to hold onto to hoist me up as I climbed upward. Being so close to the stream I was struck with how perfectly clear the water was.
The sound of the trickling water, the birds and insects chirping, the cool fresh air, the scent of the trees, and the glinting sunshine was so relaxing. It is no wonder that Nishizawa Canyon is an official “Forest Therapy Base”, a title given as part of an initiative by Japanese local governments to promote the calming effects of nature on mental and physical well-being. Studies indicate that walks in the woods, or ‘forest bathing’ as it is referred to, can reduce stress levels.
At the 3 km mark there were a cluster of waterfalls with beautiful caverns cut into the granite and dazzling emerald waters. The mist given off in the early summer air gave them an almost mystic quality. The path that continued up was quite steep, rugged and narrow at times but there were handy ropes and chains to assist me.
About two hours into the hike at the 4 km mark was the final and most spectacular waterfall. Nanatsugama-Godan, meaning seven pots and five steps, is a five-tiered waterfall with seven basins and five falls. It has been named one of the 100 best waterfalls in Japan due to its unique beauty of looking like a set of stairs. The view of the waterfall was a welcome reward for completing the most difficult part of the hike.
The hike back was a much easier and flatter path and only took an hour and twenty minutes to complete. Along the way I saw beautiful pink rhododendron flowers, and the rusted remains of the old track that was used in days gone by to transport logs. A series of bridges brought me neatly back to the trailhead where I had started, and could catch the next bus back to Enzan or Yamanashishi station.
Nishizawa Canyon is a place of great scenic beauty and can be enjoyed by anyone capable of walking on some slightly difficult terrain. The path was not really busy even on a fine Sunday, and hikers from children to seniors passed me in groups saying a friendly ‘konnichiwa’, as is the custom. There were people having picnics along the stream and lone travelers sitting on rocks taking in the restorative powers of nature. Nishizawa Canyon can be enjoyed as a day trip getaway from Tokyo, or as a detour for those traveling to the Fuji area. Come and “forest bathe” in this waterfall paradise hidden in the Japanese countryside!
Best Times To Visit:
May/Early June when the lush greenery and pink rhododendron flowers can be seen, and October/November when there is beautiful autumn foliage. Hiking is not permitted during the winter months.
Nishizawa Canyon can be reached in 60 minutes by local bus from Enzan or Yamanashishi station, or a 30-minute taxi ride from Yamanashishi station. From Shinjuku, JR Chuo line local trains can reach Enzan station or Yamanashishi station in 2.5 hours. There is also a limited express train from Shinjuku that reaches Enzan station and Yamanashishi station in about 90 minutes.