The Best Waterfalls in Nikko, Japan

A small section of Kegon falls in winter.
A small section of Kegon falls in winter. | Source

Nikko (日光) in Tochigi prefecture, Japan, is well known for its large temple complex - Toshogu Shrine, Rinnoji Temple, Futarasan Shrine and Taiyuin Mausoleum.

However, Nikko is also surrounded by many rivers and mountains, with gorgeous waterfalls.

Many of these waterfalls are within walking distance from bus-stops, car parks, or as half-day or full-day walks from Nikko and Lake Chuzenji.

Notes on naming: The -taki or -daki ending on a name means waterfall in Japanese. The -ko ending means lake.

Nikko, land of the waterfalls

Traditionally, Nikko has been called the land with 47 or sometimes even 72 waterfalls, some large, tall and majestic, and some quite small, falling only a couple of meters. Surrounded by lush forest, national parks and tall mountains, the scenery changes each season.

Bright greens and blossoms color the waters in spring, after the ice has melted. In summer, Nikko's waterfalls are shaded by range of lush greenery, water dripping from leaves and moss.

Stunning colors in fall, and piles of fallen leaves signal winter's approach. Nikko is beautiful in mid-winter, when many of the waterfalls are half or fully frozen, rocks covered in snow and icicles.

In summer you can hike through the marshland between two of the main waterfalls (Yu falls and Ryuzu falls), and in winter, you can cross-country ski along the same route.

A small section of Urami falls in winter, Nikko.
A small section of Urami falls in winter, Nikko. | Source

Yudaki and Kodaki

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Yu falls (Yudaki) - from the bottom!The edge of Yunoko lake as it empties into Yu falls.Half-way down the cliff steps, next to Yu falls (Yudaki).Ko falls, through the summer growth in the forest.
Yu falls (Yudaki) - from the bottom!
Yu falls (Yudaki) - from the bottom! | Source
The edge of Yunoko lake as it empties into Yu falls.
The edge of Yunoko lake as it empties into Yu falls. | Source
Half-way down the cliff steps, next to Yu falls (Yudaki).
Half-way down the cliff steps, next to Yu falls (Yudaki). | Source
Ko falls, through the summer growth in the forest.
Ko falls, through the summer growth in the forest. | Source

Yu falls

Yu falls (Yudaki - 湯滝) are found at the edge of Yunoko lake, opposite the onsen town of Yumoto. There is a bus stop at the bottom of the falls (Yudaki-iriguchi), on the bus line from Nikko and Lake Chuzenji to Yumoto onsen.

A long, stepped descent snakes down the cliff directly next to the waterfall, a stunning drop of 70 meters. These stairs may be closed for safety when the ground is icy. In summer, be prepared to be overtaken by many energetic school groups.

The waterfall splits at the bottom on a huge rock, protecting a small tree.

An observatory platform and a rest-house with grilled mochi (soft rice cakes), other delicacies and souvenirs can be found at the bottom of the falls.

Tip: It is a beautiful 30 minute hike from Yumoto onsen to Yu falls, along the edge of the lake (on the opposite side to the road). Arrive early in the day to avoid the school and senior groups, out for a day of hiking.

Ko falls

Not far from the base of Yu falls, heading towards the Senjogahara marshlands, is a small, peaceful waterfall of about 5 meters. Ko falls (Kodaki - 小滝, meaning child falls) is surrounded by overhanging trees, and looks stunning in all four seasons.

You will walk past Ko falls if you want to walk along the boardwalk, through the marshlands, from Yu falls to lake Chuzenji (about 2-3 hours).

Ryuzunotaki

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The dragon's head in Ryuzu falls.Ryuzu falls in summer.Another section of the Ryuzu falls in summer.
The dragon's head in Ryuzu falls.
The dragon's head in Ryuzu falls. | Source
Ryuzu falls in summer.
Ryuzu falls in summer. | Source
Another section of the Ryuzu falls in summer.
Another section of the Ryuzu falls in summer. | Source
Hiking in Japan (Lonely Planet Walking Guides)
Hiking in Japan (Lonely Planet Walking Guides)

My most oft referred to book for sightseeing in Japan (I like hiking more than cities). With great maps and details of public transport, places to stay and places to eat.

 

Ryuzu falls

Ryuzu falls (Ryuzunotaki - 頭ノ滝) is a very long, stepped waterfall, edged by spring and autumn flowering azalea plants and maples - beautifully colored in spring and autumn.

In winter, snow sits on the higher rocks, and the falls half-freeze. In summer, the edges are shaded by dense greenery.

Ryuzu means dragon in Japanese, and it was named for the rock towards the end of the falls, shaped like a dragon's head.

Ryuzu falls is about 210 meters long, and is one of the four most well known waterfalls around Nikko. The top of Ryuzu falls is at the edge of the Senjogahara marshlands, and the end of the boardwalk hike from Yunoko lake to Chuzenji lake.

In winter, the stairs alongside the falls may be closed in icy conditions for safety. There are souvenir shops and a cafe at the base of the falls.

Buses between Chuzenji and Nikko regularly stop at the base of the falls.

Tip: Chuzenji lake is gorgeous in all seasons, and edged with paths, cafes and souvenirs stores. It is the highest lake in Japan, at over 1200 meters above sea level. You can walk around the edge of Chuzenji lake from Ryuzu falls to Kegon falls in 1-2 hours. In autumn, the leaves can form drifts up to your knees!

Kegonnotaki

Click thumbnail to view full-size
A frozen Kegon falls, in the middle of winter.A frozen Kegon falls, in the middle of winter.
A frozen Kegon falls, in the middle of winter.
A frozen Kegon falls, in the middle of winter. | Source
A frozen Kegon falls, in the middle of winter.
A frozen Kegon falls, in the middle of winter. | Source

Kegon falls

Kegon falls (Kegonnotaki - 華厳ノ滝) is the most famous of Nikko's waterfalls, being the tallest at 97 meters. It is also ranked in the top three waterfalls in Japan, with Fukuroda falls (Ibaraki prefecture) and Nachi falls (Wakayama prefecture).

Right next to the bus interchange in Chuzenji, Kegon falls has a number of souvenir shops and cafes at the top. An elevator began operating in 1930, taking visitors down the rocky cliff wall to a tea house and observatory platform built at the base of the falls.

In summer, especially when there is high humidity, the falls may not be visible in the thick mist. In winter, the rocks are covered in thick icicles and snow, often looking quite blue.

Autumn colors on the slopes surrounding the waterfall, look amazing, but can cause traffic problems.

Downstream from the main waterfall, there are a number of smaller stepped waterfalls called Shirakumo falls (white cloud falls), also viewable from the tea house and observatory in the Kegon falls basin.

Unfortunately, from the early 1900s after the tea house was built, it was a place where suicides often occurred.

Uraminotaki and Jakkonotaki

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A frozen Urami falls in winter.Urami falls and boardwalk in winter - icicles and freezing water everywhere!Jakko falls, mid-winter.Jakko shrine, next to Jakko falls.
A frozen Urami falls in winter.
A frozen Urami falls in winter. | Source
Urami falls and boardwalk in winter - icicles and freezing water everywhere!
Urami falls and boardwalk in winter - icicles and freezing water everywhere! | Source
Jakko falls, mid-winter.
Jakko falls, mid-winter. | Source
Jakko shrine, next to Jakko falls.
Jakko shrine, next to Jakko falls. | Source

Urami Falls

At 45 meters high, and with multiple paths down the rocks, Urami falls (Uraminotaki - 裏見ノ滝) was visited by famous poet Basho in 1687. Basho's Tanka (Fudou Myouou) was inspired by this waterfall:

For a while:
Shut myself in the fall
Early summer

Urami means 'view from behind', indicating you can look behind the waterfall from the boardwalk and read the Tanka carved into the rocks.

Surrounded by colorful foliage in autumn, brilliant greens in spring and summer, and long icicles in winter, the boardwalk offers easy access to this wide waterfall. Be careful of slippery ground, especially if the ground is icy in winter.

You can reach this waterfall by walking north-west along route 195 from its intersection with route 120 and the Tamozawa bus stop. It takes about 50 minutes to reach the waterfall from the intersection.

Jakko falls

Another short walk from the main road in Nikko, Jakko falls (Jakkonotaki - 寂光ノ滝) was named after the old Jakkoji temple, built in 820. It is said this was the birthplace of a buddhist chant, the kugi(nuki) nembutsu, to cure the wounds of hell.

Jakko falls is also known as the seven-stepped waterfall, as there are seven stepped sections in the 50 meter drop.

There is still a small shrine just before Jakko falls, with beautifully carved eaves. It can feel quite eerie, as it is in a remote forest location.

Kanmangafuchi abyss

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Jizo statues, watching over Kanmangafuchi abyss.Kanmangafuchi abyss - extremely loud rushing water.
Jizo statues, watching over Kanmangafuchi abyss.
Jizo statues, watching over Kanmangafuchi abyss. | Source
Kanmangafuchi abyss - extremely loud rushing water.
Kanmangafuchi abyss - extremely loud rushing water. | Source

Kanmangafuchi abyss

The Kanmangafuchi abyss (憾満ガ淵) was made by lava flowing from the eruption of Mount Nantai. It was named for the last phrase in a buddhist Shingon chant (Kanman).

At the entrance to the abyss stands Jiunji temple, originally built in 1654. Upstream of the temple, looking over the abyss stand about 70 Jizo statues, many with red caps and bibs, made by the locals.

Known as the Hyaku jizo (100 jizo), 30 statues were washed away during flooding. They are also called Bake jizo (Ghost jizo), because despite counting them many times, people couldn't agree on the number they counted.

Kanmangafuchi abyss and the Bake jizo are a peaceful walk through a mossy forest, providing a quieter refuge away from the crowds in Nikko's temple complex.

From the main Shinkyo bridge at the start of the temple complex, walk upstream, staying close to the river. Cross the Kanman bridge, continue along the road to the park with the Jiunji temple.It's about 30 minutes from the main bridge. Alternatively, the entrance is a 10 minute walk from the Tamozawa imperial villa bus stop.

The Taisho emperor composed a poem while walking around the abyss:

Sleeves were wet by the spray at the river of Daiya. Cold moonlight night comes over the shore.

Shiraitonotaki

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Shiraito falls in summer.The cobblestone path leading to Shiraito falls and Takinoo shrine.A Jizo statue at the shrine near Shiraito falls.
Shiraito falls in summer.
Shiraito falls in summer. | Source
The cobblestone path leading to Shiraito falls and Takinoo shrine.
The cobblestone path leading to Shiraito falls and Takinoo shrine. | Source
A Jizo statue at the shrine near Shiraito falls.
A Jizo statue at the shrine near Shiraito falls. | Source

Shiraito falls

After a very peaceful 1km walk along a cobbled path, north west of the main temple complex, you will reach Shiraito falls (Shiraitonotaki - 白糸ノ滝, meaning white thread falls), a stepped waterfall with graceful angles.

Shiraito falls are just in front of the Takinoo shrine, a subsidiary shrine to Futarasan. The priest Kukai built the shrine to the 'daughter of god', Tagorihimeno-mikoto, the symbol of the nearby Mount Nyoho.

Takinoo shrine was moved in 1645 to it's present location, surrounded by huge trees. A restful break from the crowds at the main temples.

In 1486, Jiko, a priest from Kyoto's Seigoin Temple, wrote a poem about the Shiraito falls:

After many years of marriage, the end is just like this end of the waterfall - it is like white thread.

Nikko has many other waterfalls!

There are so many other waterfalls in and around Nikko. Some are easily accessible by car or bus, but some are deep in the national parks, and reached by a long day of hiking.

Kirifuri falls, north of Nikko, has multiple falling streams and is definitely worth visiting.

All of these waterfalls are gorgeous in all seasons, and even within the town of Nikko, you can always hear the relaxing sound of running water.

The information kiosk in the middle of Nikko town, and the information desk at the Tobu railway station have detailed maps of the area, with many waterfalls marked.

Plan to stay a while, and visit as many waterfalls as you can!

Waterfalls around Nikko

show route and directions
A markerRyuzu falls -
竜頭の滝 Chugushi, Nikko, Tochigi Prefecture 321-1661, Japan
[get directions]

Gorgeous, long, stepped waterfall, at the inlet to Lake Chuzenji.

B markerYu falls -
Nihon Romantic Hwy, Yumoto, Nikko, Tochigi Prefecture, Japan
[get directions]

A tall waterfall emptying Yunoko lake into the Senjogahara marsh.

C markerKegon falls -
Nihon Romantic Hwy, Chugushi, Nikko, Tochigi Prefecture 321-1661, Japan
[get directions]

Spectacularly high waterfall which half-freezes in winter.

D markerKanmangafuchi Abyss -
Nikko-Utsunomiya Rd, Nikko, Tochigi Prefecture, Japan
[get directions]

A noisy gorge waterfall, overlooked the Bake jizo statues (stone buddhas).

E markerKo falls -
Nihon Romantic Hwy, Chugushi, Nikko, Tochigi Prefecture, Japan
[get directions]

A short, peaceful and graceful waterfall.

F markerUrami falls -
Japan, Tochigi Prefecture, Nikko, 県道195号線
[get directions]

A waterfall with a boardwalk to look behind the falling water.

G markerJakko falls -
Japan, Tochigi Prefecture, Nikko, 県道194号線
[get directions]

A multi-tiered waterfall near a small temple.

H markerShiraito falls -
Japan, Tochigi Prefecture, Nikko, Hangakimen, 2241
[get directions]

A small but pretty waterfall, next to Takinoo shrine.

I markerKirifuri falls -
Japan, Tochigi Prefecture, Nikko, Tokorono, 1546
[get directions]

A beautiful multi-stream waterfall, with an observatory.

Your favorite waterfall in Nikko

After seeing the photos, which waterfall would you definitely visit if you travelled to Nikko?

See results without voting
Must-See in Nikko (Japan in Your Pocket Series) (No. 6)
Must-See in Nikko (Japan in Your Pocket Series) (No. 6)

A book just about Nikko and it's attractions - ideal for learning the most about this World Heritage town.

 
Toshogu mausoleum, Nikko.
Toshogu mausoleum, Nikko. | Source

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Comments 6 comments

hildred profile image

hildred 4 years ago from Oregon, USA

Very nice. I visited Nikko during Golden Week back in 2009. Granted, I was super sick during the time so I barely remember it, but I do remember it being very beautiful. I also remember ascending almost all the way to the top of Tokugawa's shrine before bowing out, and THEN being told afterwards what it was when it was too late :P.


ytsenoh profile image

ytsenoh 4 years ago from Louisiana, Idaho, Kauai, Nebraska, South Dakota, Missouri

What an incredible hub you have produced. It is so well-organized and articulated really nicely to demonstrate you know this subject. Thumbs up on this interesting subject. Thank you!


Robin profile image

Robin 4 years ago from San Francisco

The frozen falls are breathtaking. Japan is on the top of our list to visit; I would love to go to Nikko. This will be and incredibly useful guide when we go!


nifwlseirff profile image

nifwlseirff 4 years ago from Villingen Schwenningen, Germany Author

hildred - Nikko would have been packed during Golden Week! It's dreadful you missed seeing the shrine! I hope you can manage a return visit sometime. The stairs up to the mausoleum are rather steep (and there are way too many). I kept taking breaks to photograph things, as the school kids ran past me. It made me feel quite old!


nifwlseirff profile image

nifwlseirff 4 years ago from Villingen Schwenningen, Germany Author

ytsenoh - thank you! I visit Nikko every time I go past, and try to get to at least one new waterfall each time - they are beautiful!


nifwlseirff profile image

nifwlseirff 4 years ago from Villingen Schwenningen, Germany Author

Robin - thank you! The frozen falls are amazing, especially for me, as I grew up without snow and ice - winter was never cold enough. I hope you enjoy your trip, when you get there! Nikko is stunning, one of my favourite places in Japan, although I found it better when I was able to avoid the school and tour groups!

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    Kymberly Fergusson (nifwlseirff)677 Followers
    89 Articles

    Kymberly became interested in Japan and made several solo trips before moving there to teach English in 2010-2011.



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