While most visitors to Naruko will spend the majority of their time taking in the therapeutic waters of the local hot springs, there are other sites nearby the Naruko onsen town where you can enjoy the man-made wonders and natural splendors of Tohoku.
Up High: Naruko Dam
While the Naruko Dam in central Miyagi prefecture might be considered an “off the beaten track” attraction to many, it is a wonderous site and definitely worth the trip. At nearly 95 meters high, the view from the top can be unnerving, but is certainly magnificent all the same.
The main function of the dam is to control flooding and provide for agricultural irrigation, but it also supplies hydroelectric power. Completed over 50 years ago, it was also the first dam in Japan completed entirely by Japanese engineers; previous constructions had always relied on foreign engineering.
Though Lake Arao is a manmade reservoir, its location in Miyagi prefecture means that the large natural area surrounding it is rich in biodiversity. Great efforts are made to maintain this beautiful area and educate citizens about the nature of Miyagi. The dam and the role it plays in protecting the people and environment are featured once a year in late July during a special week dedicated to learning more about forests and lakes.
The lake, dam, and park are all gorgeous year round, but around Golden Week in May, the water levels of the lake are very high from the thawing snow, so water from the lake is discharged and can be seen spilling over the top of the dam. To celebrate Children’s Day, which is one of the Golden Week holidays, koi nobori, koi streamers, are strung across the length of the dam and look like fish swimming upstream. This “Koi Waterfall Climb” makes Naruko Dam a very popular destination during Golden Week.
The dam and administrative offices are open to the public, and special tours can be arranged of the dam operation facilities.
Down Low: Naruko Gorge
About 90 minutes west of Sendai there is a beautiful spot where the Oyagawa River snaked through the mountains and carved out the Naruko Gorge. At about 100 meters deep, it is roughly the same height as the nearby Naruko dam, but unlike the dam these steep cliffs are completely natural. The gorge ranges from 100 meters wide to only about 10 meters in some places.
As with all of Miyagi prefecture, the gorge is beautiful year round, but between late October and early November it is ablaze with fall foliage. It is extremely popular during this time, with tourists coming from all over the region to enjoy the scenery.
The trail down to the viewing platform at the bottom of the gorge is about 2.5 km long. The whole gorge is over 4 km long, but a good portion of the walking trails have been closed since an earthquake in 2008. Even so, the views at the end of the accessible portion of the walking trail are stunning. There are many different rock formations, small waterfalls, and bridges to enjoy. From the bottom of the gorge you can gaze up at the Ofukazawa bridge, and from the Ofukazawa bridge above you can take in the expanse of the gorge and see the JR Rikuu-to line running through the mountain.
There is a resthouse at the top of the gorge with basic facilities, food, and a small gift shop. During the popular Autumn season, there are also festival stalls set up in the adjacent parking lot selling food and drinks. Speaking from personal experience, save the jagabata, a heavily buttered baked potato (jagaimo = potato, bata = butter), for after your trip down into the gorge. While it’s delicious and a nice warm snack to enjoy in the cold weather, you won’t appreciate it on the trek back up!
Naruko Dam (Japanese Only)