Tochigi #8: Kegon Falls (華厳ノ滝)

Nikko is one of Tochigi Prefectures most famous locations for good reason… the splendid shrines and temples, the cooler temperatures even in summer, and gorgeous fall colors make it a popular place for both Japanese and foreign tourists to visit. I’ve already done a post on the Irohazaka, or the colorful winding road that leads from the shrines and temples of Nikko up to Oku-Nikko, home of nature and Kegon no Taki, the Kegon Waterfall.

Along with Fukuroda Waterfall in Ibaraki Prefecture (also a postcard), and Nachi Falls in Wakayama Prefecture, Kegon Waterfall is considered one of the three most beautiful waterfalls of Japan. Its almost 100 meter falls can be seen from a free viewing platform or a paid viewing platform, and in all seasons. In winter, the waterfall often freezes solid!

I visited Kegon no Taki many years ago during the cherry blossom season. Unfortunately, spring is actually probably the most unattractive season in the area, as the snow has already melted, but the trees haven’t turned green yet. At that elevation, there weren’t any cherry trees, so everything just looked bare and brown. But you could see the waterfall really clearly! I’d love to go back one year for fall colors, but since everyone else in Japan tends to have that same plan, it can be the most crowded season then as well. Maybe summer, like it is pictured in the postcard, is best!


Kegon no Taki
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Tochigi #2: Three Wise Monkeys (三猿)

These should look familiar! Tochigi’s 2nd postcard today is of the Three Wise Monkeys, demonstrating the principles of “hear no evil, speak no evil, see no evil”. This famous carving can be found in the ancient city of Nikko, where the shrines and temples have been worshiped in for centuries. The most famous of these is Toshogu Shrine, the final resting place of Tokugawa Ieyasu, the founder of the Tokugawa Shogunate. You can read more about him here. The monkeys can be seen with a trip to Toshogu, but the other shrines and temples of Nikko are also not to be missed. You can read more about Toshogu here and here.

I have visited the shrines and temples of Nikko just once although I’ve been to the area a couple of times. My first visit was truly magical, and I was able to see the famous monkey carving, as well as several others in the area. It seems as though every building in Nikko is elaborately carved and painted, and I can see that postacollect probably had a hard time choosing what to depict in the postcard! Although the monkeys are perhaps most famous, my favorite carving in Nikko was the sleeping cat. Anyway, here are some pictures of the carving, alas with no postcard to compare!


A roof top in Toshogu


The monkeys up close


And close enough to the postcard, cute monkey omikuji bought at the shrine!

Nikko is close enough to Tokyo for a day trip, but to truly appreciate its size and beauty I wholly recommend staying the night. Still, any glimpse of this beautiful area is worth it!

Tochigi #6 – Irohazaka (いろは坂)

Lots of the postcards represented in the collection are seasonal, whether they’re depicting a once-a-year festival, a product that is harvested during a certain time, or flowers that have a growing season. Some have general seasonality, or don’t have anything specific that gives me a time period to say one season or another, but I’d say the majority of cards do. But what surprises me about the collection is that only one postcard features what I consider to be one of the highlights of Japan: fall colors, called “kouyou” here.

Just one! Okay, I know the cherry blossoms are better known (and you can bet I’ll be having a posting ball with that once spring comes), but I’d think the fall colors would have a little bit more representation!

So the one card that depicts the beautiful reds, oranges, yellows, and fading greens of fall is Tochigi’s sixth and most recent postcard showing the winding road of the Irohazaka in famous Nikko. The two roads that make up the Irohazaka connect lower Nikko with the higher elevated Okunikko, and have a fabulous and fun 48 hairpin turns together, hence the name “Iroha” which comes from the name of the Japanese alphabet which has 48 characters plus “zaka” for slope.

There’s not a place where you can see the roads as depicted on the cards, but an observation plateau on the upward road does give some views of the road curving down. We visited Nikko and Okunikko one busy fall weekend two years ago, and it was as crowded as it could be. Cars were taking a good three hours to make it up what should normally take maybe 20 minutes… luckily, we were on a motorcycle and could bypass a lot of the traffic, but it was still bad. We skipped the plateau in order to make it up to the top as soon as we could, but we did stop to see the waterfalls on the way down, so here are some pictures of those:


I have mostly videos of the crowds on the up road, this is the only picture, but those cars are stopped.


Beautiful colors on the way down!


The two waterfalls together

By the way, I would wholly recommend going to Nikko during the fall colors, but not on a weekend as the Irohazaka can get unbelievably backed up. If you must go, try to go up as early as possible; down’s usually not as bad. You can read more about the Irohazaka over at Japan Guide here, as well as the most recent report of the color status at Nikko here. Colors are early this year, so go soon if you’re going!