Akame Shijuhachi Taki: the Forty-Eight Waterfalls
The Akame 48?
I was looking at pictures of pristine natural beauty. It was a temperate rain forest. There were native Japanese trees, moss-covered rocks, winding rivers and white waterfalls.
Just looking at these were a welcome relief from my urban life in Japan. "Where did you take these?" I asked my fellow expat as I handed the pictures back to him.
"It's the Akame 48," he responded. He explained that the Akame Shijuhachi Taki is a collection of waterfalls in the Muro-Akame-Aoyama Quasi-National Park in Mie Prefecture.
These falls are formed by the Nabari River as it flows through part of the park. A visitor can easily see them all in a few hours by hiking the forest trail and back--a total of four kilometers (2.5 miles). What makes it special is that the area is so well-preserved. It's an excellent example of ecotourism in Japan.
I had to go. I told my girlfriend and she already heard about the Akame Forty-Eight Waterfalls. She always wanted to go but didn't tell me because she thought I wouldn't be interested, after all it isn't a festival or shrine.
The Akame Shijuhachi Taki is beautiful all year round. In winter we can see ice-covered waterfalls. Spring hikers enjoy warmer temperatures and occasional sakura (cherry blossom tree) blooming. The summer rainy season shows the waterfalls gushing at full force. Autumn, its most popular season, is when the forests alight with spectacular foliage.
Let's do it!
Welcome to the 48 Falls of Akame!
What does Akame Shijuhachi Taki mean?
It's a mouthful so let's break it down.
"Akame" means "red eye" in Japanese. The idea is that centuries ago a man named En no Ozunu saw Fudo-myoo (the god of fire) riding an ox with red eyes in these forests. "Shijuhachi" is the Japanese word for the number "forty-eight." Finally, "Taki" means waterfalls.
There's no need to count the number of waterfalls here because shijuhachi also means "many."
You'll see a statue of the red eye ox along with the legend written (in Japanese) on a wooden tablet above it before you hit the trail. There's no need to leave any money here but some people do. I had a lot of change that day so I splurged.
Oddly, there seem to be two names for the Akame 48. There is the official "Akame Shijuhachi Taki" but there's also the "Akame Shiju Hattaki." The latter is a contraction of the last two words to make two different words. It's OK to use either, as a foreigner you'll be forgiven. Still, don't be upset if you can't find the "Akame Shiju Hattaki" on any maps.
The Forest Trail
Even before I entered the Forty-Eight Waterfalls I heard them. The sounds of rapids were with me for the entire trail. It dampened the sounds of any birds or wildlife but it also kept us hikers quiet. Talking took more effort over the sounds of the falls so it was easier to stay quiet and reflect on the beauty of the scenery.
Also the river rapids and the forest canopy created a special micro-climate. I visited in early autumn so the humidified air was welcome from the dry smog of the city. Summer hikers would appreciate the shade of the trees and how it kept the water and lands cool.
So where were the "gaijins"? There were few hikers to begin with but it seemed like I was the only foreigner there. This was understandable. Between Mie and Nara Prefectures, the Akame Shijuhachi was a bit out of the way for tourists. Tourists in the Kansai area cities would do fine staying there. Still I expected to see at least a few other expats. Maybe another time.
It looks like the locals don't expect much foreign traffic either. Almost everything is in Japanese, hardly anything is in English or Chinese. I was thankful that my Japanese was getting better and that the hike itself is pretty straightforward.
What I didn't expect was such mountainous terrain. This isn't mountain climbing but my leg muscles got a workout as did my cardio. The way back is largely downhill, which means a lot of high-impact action. By the end of the day my knees were aching but it was the best 48 waterfalls I'd ever seen.
A peek into Akame 48 Waterfalls
How to enjoy the Akame Waterfalls
Here are a few tips to remember so you can enjoy your visit. Most of it seems like common sense because it is. Still, take a look and don't say I didn't tell you:
- Safety first! The trail is safe but not idiot-proof. Take a look at the picture to the right. Those stairs are steeper than they look and not all stairs have railings. Depending on the season rocks get slippery. Also, the trail gets narrow at times. As long as you watch your step you'll be fine.
- Take it slow. This isn't a race. Enjoy the forest around you. It's OK to stop for a few minutes at any time to catch your breath or feel the micro-climate. If you hurry, especially on your way back, your joints will feel it.
- Get ready to sweat. I saw people in their sixties and seventies making their way up and down the path but it's an effort for anyone. If you're huffing and puffing take a breather. There are a surprising number of benches along the way. If you're not sure you can make it, turn back. You can always return to Akame when you're in better shape. Also think twice before bringing anyone under ten.
- Check the weather. This is mountain country so dress accordingly. If rain or snow is expected it's best to come another day.
- Be good. Be quiet. People come here to enjoy nature. They don't want to hear you talking on your cell phone. It's OK to let some walk by if they're on their way back or walking faster than you. If they let you pass, say "arigatou" quietly and walk by.
- Don't steal any wildlife. Leave all plants, animals, insects and especially giant salamanders alone. The Murō-Akame-Aoyama Quasi-National Park is protected by the government.
- Don't litter. Please. Miraculously I didn't see a spot of trash the entire day. There are no wastebaskets on the trail so if you brought snacks or drinks, keep the trash with you until you see one.
- In autumn it gets crowded. The Japanese love their foliage so autumn is when traffic peaks at the Forty-Eight Falls. Keep this in mind when traveling.
- Bonus tip: If you're driving there's usually plenty of parking so don't rush into the first parking lot you see. Prices are the same (800 yen) so keep going closer to get a good spot.
What to wear and what to bring
What to wear
What to bring
Water (or drink)
Long sleeve shirt
Long sleeve pants
Coat or jacket
Snacks (or bento)*
There's more! Ninjas and giant salamanders
Believe it or not there's more at the Akame Shijuhachi Waterfalls. Centuries ago, this forest was the training ground of the Iga Akame ninja assassins.
The forest provided countless places for ninjas to practice their hiding. The terrain challenged their strength and balance. The sounds of the waterfalls forced them to refine their senses.
No ninjas today but there are a handful of shops that sell ninja souvenirs--fortunately nothing dangerous. For those who want a hands-on ninja experience, there is a day-long course at the Akame 48 Waterfalls Ecotourism Center. For more information there is a link below.
I outgrew the ninja thing but I was fascinated by the Japanese giant salamander (Andrias japonicus). Japanese giant salamanders are native only to Japan. They are a threatened species but have been spotted in these forests. For this reason this species is a kind of celebrity in the area.
The Japanese Salamander Center is a museum that houses several large, living specimens and provides more information about the species. It's easy to find--you need to go through it to start the Akame 48 hiking trail!
Where are the Akame 48 Waterfalls?
How do I get to the Akame Shijuhachi Taki?
Visiting the Akame Forty-Eight Waterfalls is easy but may take time depending on where you are. We went by car from Osaka. It took about two hours including daytime weekday traffic.
Mass transit takes longer but bus and train tickets cost less than highway tolls and gasoline. Unfortunately it's a bit of a hike from the closest bus stop. Take a look at the map to the right for directions.
Once there the entrance fee for the Waterfalls is 400 yen for adults and 150 yen for children. Not bad considering that it includes the Japanese Salamander Center.
From late spring to autumn (April 1 to November 30), it is open from 9am to 5pm. From winter to early spring (December 1 to March 31), it is open from 9:30am to 4:30pm.
For more information...
- The official site (in English) of the Akame 48 Waterfalls
The official website also includes plenty of information about its ninja history and even its ninja training courses
- The Japanese Giant Salamander (andrias japonicus)
For more information about the Japanese giant salamander click here
- Myth and Faith Come to Life at Ise Grand Shrine
Until now, my natural Japan was at Ise Grand Shrine
- More places to visit in Japan
For more of my adventures in Japan, click on the link above!