The Most Beautiful Gorges in Japan

Although most associated with the towering skyscrapers of Shinjuku, and the neon lights of Akihabara, make the effort to heard out of the city and you’ll realize Japan is home to superb pockets of untouched natural beauty. From the roaring waterfalls of Aomori up north to the inspiring beauty of southern Yakushima, here are some of the country’s most stunning gorges.

  • 01

    Oirase Gorge Aomori

    Oirase Gorge Aomori

    Oirase Gorge Aomori

    Dotted with waterfalls, covered in lush foliage, and practically untouched by man, Oirase Gorge in Aomori Prefecture is generally considered done of Japan’s most beautiful river valleys. It’s an excellent place for a day out and about exploring. To minimize your impact on the land and to get an immersive view of the area, leave the car behind and take the journey either by foot on rental bike, available at the Oirase visitor center. There’s plenty to see along the way, but keep a lookout for the 25-meter high Kumoi-no-Taki Falls, and the Tamasudare-no-Taki Falls where the water that flows from Lake Towada is forced down the fall in spheres, creating a natural optical illusion. Once you're done be sure to stop off at Hoshino Resorts Oirase Keiryu to soak those tired muscles in hot spring water and treat yourself to tea and sweets.

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  • 02

    Kiyotsukyo Gorge

    Kiyotsukyo Gorge

    Kiyotsukyo Gorge

    Tucked between the towering cliffs of Yuzawa in Niigata sits Kiyotsukyo Gorge. The sharp angles of the mountainsides come together to craft an almost perfect V formation. The cliff faces are separated by a roaring passageway of brilliant blue rapids and covered in a smattering of vibrant, green foliage, it’s a nature photographer’s dream. Look up close, and you’ll notice that the gorge’s texture is somewhat unique, it’s made from what’s called ‘columnar jointing’ a result of an underwater volcanic eruption that took place about 16 million years ago. To really take it all in, head over to one of the four viewing areas in the Kiyotsukyo Tunnel Museum for a better view.

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  • 03

    Shiratani Unsuikyo

    Shiratani Unsuikyo

    Shiratani Unsuikyo

    Yakushima’s Shiratani Unsuikyo Ravine is so beautiful it’s said to have inspired the iconic Studio Ghibli film Princess Mononoke. During the making of the film, the lead artist Kazuo Oga spent countless hours in the area, sketching tirelessly to recreate the scenery's unparalleled beauty. Although rather untouched by human construction, the gorge has some easy trails to follow, making it accessible for non-experienced hikers, but there are longer, more arduous paths, including around 10-hour journey for those looking for a challenge.

  • 04

    Takachiho Gorge

    Takachiho Gorge

    Takachiho Gorge

    Located in Miyazaki Prefecture, Takachiho Gorge is such a popular and important religious site that it attracts one million visitors annually. Ruggedly beautiful, the towering walls were formed from volcanic basalt columns, where roaring waterfalls cascade down the cliff faces into the river beneath. There are two main ways to witness the beauty of this landscape; via the paved path running high along the edge of the cliffs, or for a different perspective you can take a cruise down the river by boat. For something truly special, during the summer months, Takachiho Gorge is illuminated after dark offering incredible nighttime viewing.

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  • 05

    Geibikei Gorge

    Geibikei Gorge

    Geibikei Gorge

    Sitting just outside Hiraizumi in Iwate Prefecture, is a peaceful lush foilage flanked gorge with calm waters and incredible views that transform with the passing seasons. Not to be confused with the nearby Genbikei Gorge, Geibikei Gorge is also home to Geibikei Gorge Boat Trip, a 90 minute cruise that allows visitors to really enjoy the landscape; fiery red in fall, creeping wisteria blossoms in May and crisp, clear skies in winter, it seems there’s no bad time of year in Iwate. If you’re worried about the cold winter days, don’t, because many of the cruise boats also serve Kinagashi Nabe, a hearty hot pot, miso soup based dish of meat, tofu, and other seasonal ingredients.

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