As summer officially begins mid-July here in Aomori Prefecture -- located in Tohoku, the most northern region on the mainland of Japan -- it is finally the time to shake off the spring chill as we enter into August’s hot and humid temperatures. There are trips to plan, festivals to attend, and the busy northern dwellers are out and about in abundance during the short summer season. Where do the locals recommend you visit? The Oirase Gorge of course!
The Oirase stream (奥入瀬渓流, Oirase Keiryū), supplied by the water overflow from Towadako (Lake Towada), is it’s source of grandeur. Forming waterfalls that tend to reach the sky when looking upward is spectacular to witness. Not to downplay the crystalclear waters of the rushing streams and smaller falls encompassed by beautiful emerald foliage and unique rock formations that line the 14km river/stream landscape between Yakeyama at the foot of Hakkodasan and Nenokuchi on the shore of Towadako which is breathtaking in itself but, the larger cascading waterfalls are definitely its highlight.
Photo: Dao-hui Chen on Flickr
If you are adventurous, love walking, hiking, cycling and nature, or just acquisition photography as your hobby or just want to take a drive through the twists and turns of the tight laned road through the forest viewing it’s beauty from your car, there is an option available for you to absorb all that the stream has to offer.
Clearly marked hiking trails are along the banks of the river with several choices of entrance where you will encounter the waterfalls and rapids up close with some whimsical names such as the Soryu Waterfall (Two Dragon Waterfall),Tomoshiraga Waterfall (Happy Marriage Waterfall), Kudan Waterfall (Nine Stairs Waterfall), Shiraito Waterfall (White String Waterfall), Shirakinu Waterfall (White Silk Waterfall), Tamadare Waterfall (Bead Curtain Waterfall) and the Shimai Waterfall (Sister Waterfall).
The White cedar, Japanese beech and maple trees dot the the landscape along this mountain stream with impressive steep cliffs and convenient foot bridges to admire the scenery up close. Not be left out are the amazing rock formations with information including the given names of each which are are Fudo Rock, Byobu Rock, Makado Rock and Tengu Rock which you can depict by the signage in front of them mainly viewed from the road.
View in Summer
Photo: Dao-hui Chen on Flickr
Whether it is in summer with its clear waters landscaped naturally with unusual greenery or the winter snow blanketing the ground with cliffs of sparkling frozen icicles or the freshness in the air of spring and the former seasons snowmelt or to just peep at the fall leaves of magnificent pageantry which is Japan’s most popular and visited sites Oirase Gorge is a must-see any season deservedly given the titles of Japan's National Special Place of Scenic Beauty and National Natural Monument.
View in Winter
Photo: Chris Lewis on Flickr
Yakeyama is the established starting point for people traveling the Oirase Gorge. There are several inns, hotels, and guest houses in the village. Before you get started; a visit to the two small museums is worth a gander. The Oirase Keiryukan Museum
(Oirase Water Museum) and the Oirase Yusuikan
(Oirase Stream Museum) the origins of the waters are explored. The Museum’s also bottles the pure water in their own factories and coffee brewed with pure river water is available to drink while you enjoy a light meal then shop for souvenirs. Both provide pure water for sale. “Enjoy it with your friends or keep it with you for Oirase Stream stroll.”
View In Autumn
Photo: かがみ～ on Flickr
Conveniences for daytripping include bicycles for cyclists offered for rent, buses, taxis and luggage secured storage. At Ishigedo there is a rest center and a small snack shop and most importantly, toilets. If you reach Lake Towada buses and taxi’s are available to take you back to your destination if you do not wish to make the hike.
From Ishigedo it is 8.9 km on the hiking trail to Nenokuchi, around 21/23 hours of walking depending on the climate so be sure to take some water to keep you hydrated.
Getting to Oirase Gorge
Driving from Aomori city you take the National Highway 103 that skirts Mount Hakkoda and the Hakkoda Ropeway heading south. From Aomori City Hall National Highway 103 begins as Kanko Road. From Hirosaki head east on National Highway 102 to arrive at Lake Towada or National Highway 394.
By bus, Oirase Gorge is about 50 minutes from JR Hachihohe Station or 2 hours from Aomori Station.
JR buses are suspended from November to April for the winter.