Written by Susan Spann
Japan, Off The Beaten Path (4) - Hiking To The Famous Yoro Falls In Gifu
“Japan, Off The Beaten Path” is a travel essay series by Susan Spann, author of the Hiro Hattori mystery novels. This time she tells us about her trip to Mt. Yoro and its famous waterfall, the Yoro Falls, in Gifu Prefecture.
Japan is known for rich history, scenic beauty, excellent hiking, and delicious food. When I travel, nothing makes me happier than a place where I can enjoy this all in a single day—especially when there’s a legendary waterfall involved.
Last month I traveled to the town of Yoro in northern Gifu Prefecture (about four hours south of Tokyo), to climb Mt. Yoro and two of its neighboring peaks, and to visit Yoro Falls, which appears on the official list of the one hundred most beautiful waterfalls in Japan.
I spent the night before my hike in neighboring Ogaki, and arrived at the station the following morning to learn that trains on the Yoro Line run only once an hour. Luckily, the next one was leaving in less than five minutes, so I didn’t have long to wait (but, lesson learned: check the schedule in advance if you plan to visit Yoro).
A Pleasant Hike to the Legendary Yoro Falls
A free shuttle runs between Yoro Station and Yoro Park on weekends, but I didn’t feel like waiting an hour for the first shuttle run of the day, and I had heard that the walk to the park was fairly easy, so I set off up the road.
During the ten-minute walk, I passed Yoroland, a local amusement park complete with a Ferris wheel, spinning teacup ride, and a colorful elevated train. It looked like fun, but I had a full day ahead, so I bypassed the park and started up the tree-lined path through the park to Yoro Falls.
Like many Japanese waterfalls, you can’t reach Yoro Falls by car or bus. The approach is broad and paved, and follows the course of a narrow, rocky river for a kilometer and a half to the base of the waterfall.
En route, I stopped to visit Yoro Shrine, a Shinto holy site dedicated to the deities of the waterfall and the area’s healing springs.
Mount Yoro is composed primarily of chalk and it purifies the water that filters down through the mountain to emerge at the spring and falls. The water is high in minerals, and for centuries, people have also believed it possesses healing properties.
In the early eighth century, the Japanese Empress Gensho visited Yoro Falls and declared it a “fountain of youth,” capable of curing diseases, purifying the skin, and restoring eyesight. Since that time, many people travel to Yoro to see the falls and drink from the sacred springs.
As I approached the waterfall, I saw some plum trees with blossoms just beginning to emerge. They weren’t quite in bloom, but the flashes of color on the branches promised that spring was just around the corner.
I reached the waterfall so early that I had a rare opportunity to enjoy the famous falls without a crowd.
Yoro Falls consists of a single bridal-veil column that free-falls thirty meters into a sacred pool. As it overflows the pool, the water tumbles down a rocky slope, creating smaller falls along its way to the river that flows past the shrine and a line of shops as it heads toward the town of Yoro.
Two sacred stones encircled by shimenawa (sacred Shinto ropes) sit near the pool at the base of the falls, marking this as a sacred space. I stood beside them, listening to the splash of the falls and enjoying the fine, cool mist on my face. I could have stayed to watch the falls all morning but, as usual, the mountains called.
To the Summit of Mt. Yoro
At the trailhead, I signed the mountain ledger with my name and address, departure time, and planned time of return. Trailhead ledgers are fairly common in Japan. They’re used to help the authorities know when someone goes missing on a mountain trail, though I hoped, in my case at least, there wouldn’t be any need for a rescue.
It took a little over an hour to reach the summit of Sampozan (723 m), with its spectacular views of Gifu Prefecture. From there, I hiked along a ridge and up an unbelievably muddy, slippery slope to the top of neighboring Mt. Ogura (841 m), down the other side, and along a narrow snowy path to the summit of Mt. Yoro (859 m), my goal for the day.
Despite the cherry blossoms about to bloom in the valley below, winter had not surrendered her grip on the mountains. Between the sucking mud on the trail and the snow on the ground beneath the trees, I felt as if I’d experienced three seasons in a single day.
I retraced my steps to the trailhead and signed myself off the mountain at 13:00, with plenty of time to enjoy a second trip to the waterfall and a leisurely stroll through the shops that lined the path beside the river.
Sampling the Local Specialties: Mochi, Gourds and Cider
Outside one shop, a vendor was grilling skewers of chewy mochi balls over a bed of glowing coals. Grilled mochi (pounded glutinous rice) is among my favorite Japanese snacks, and nothing stops me faster than the sight of fresh ones cooking on a fire.
The vendor brushed my skewer with a sweet, tangy glaze made from red miso—a specialty of the area—and toasted the mochi one last time before handing me the delicious snack. I savored every bite.
With the mochi gone, I moved on to the next task: finding omiyage (souvenirs) for my family and friends. The shops had many choices, including something truly unique: bottles of sparkling Yoro cider made with water from the famous spring.
On the way out of town, I visited the Yoro Gourd Lantern Museum, which features an amazing display of illuminated lanterns made from Gifu gourds.
A local artisan creates elaborate pictures and patterns on the hollow gourds, using tiny holes to create amazing works of art. He even gave me a personal tour, pointing out the way the lanterns also cast detailed shadows on the walls and ceiling.
I came to Yoro for the waterfall, but quickly discovered this little town has more to offer than just a healing spring. From hiking and amusement parks to tasty treats and works of art, Yoro has something everyone can “fall” for.
Text and photos by Susan Spann
Susan Spann is the author of the Hiro Hattori mystery novels. She lives in Tokyo, but frequently travels across Japan, climbing mountains and seeking adventures off the beaten path. You can find her online at www.susanspann.com.