Created by two volcanic eruptions from nearby Mount Aso over 120,000 years ago, this magical fairytale-esque gorge cuts its way through the valley of Takachiho in Miyazaki prefecture, down on the southern island of Kyushu. With sheer walls that drop over 100 meters, mossy forest footpaths and the ancient basalt cliffs of the gorge all make for a dramatic view against the milky emerald waters of the Gokase River.
Famed as the place where Amaterasu hid herself from her brother in a cave and therefore plunging the world into darkness without the light of her sun, the area is steaming with myths and old legends.
The legend of Amaterasu and the Heavenly Cave
Legend tells that the Sun Goddess, Amaterasu hid herself in a cave known as Ama-no-Iwato which translates as the heavenly cave alongside the Gokase river, when she became fed up of the pranks her brother the Storm God Susano-o would pull on her. Susano-o’s tricks on the Goddess were often cruel and devious, such as when he killed one of her attendants and destroyed her loom with a flayed horse. The last straw for Amaterasu was when Susano-o destroyed her rice fields, this is what led Amaterasu to hide inside the Ama-no-Iwato and plunge the world into darkness.
In the darkness, crops failed to grow and chaos ensued, prompting the other gods to gather in the nearby Amano Yasugawara cave and discuss their strategy to bring Amaterasu back out into the world. At first the gods tried to entice Amaterasu out with prayers and chants, but after that failed the God of Wisdom, Omoikane, held a party outside of the cave she was hiding in hoping the fuss would interest the goddess, however, this too failed. It was only when the goddess of Dawn, Ame-no-Uzume danced provocatively outside of the cave and the other gods fell into fits of laughter, that Amaterasu peeped out to see what all the fun was about. When Amaterasu peered out from the cave, the crowd grabbed the goddess and pulled her back out into the world, thus returning the light of the sun. The special dance that Ame-no-Uzume performed to persuade Amaterasu to reappear is believed to be the foundation behind the Japanese Shinto ritual dance known as Kagura.
Locals of the area also claim that the nearby mountain Takachiho-no-mine is where Amaterasu’s grandson Ninigi-no-mikoto descended to earth to begin the lineage of the Japanese emperors, although this claim to fame is disputed with the mountain of the same name on the Kirishima plateau.
Viewing Kagura dance performances at Takachiho
Traditional Kagura dance performances can be seen nightly in the Kagura-den at Takachiho-Jinja in the main town area, with which a trip to Takachiho is not complete without viewing. An hour performance includes the story of Amaterasu and her cave and ends with a dance symbolising the birth of the Japanese nation. Performers are chosen at random from 550 residents, who also perform at the yearly Yokagura festival held from the middle of November until the end of February. The Yokagura festival is a performance that lasts all through the night and into the next day, retelling stories of Japanese shinto mythology through movement.
How to see the gorge
At the southern side of the Gorge, the waters are calm and visitors are able to hire rowing boats for 2,000 yen for 30 minutes. From below, the view of the basalt cliffs and the thundering roar of the Minainotaki waterfall which plunges to the river partially along the gorge are highly impressive. The boats can be rowed out along the river up until the ring of buoys which prevent boats from ending up on the rocky rapids further upstream.
Alternatively or in addition to the boat hire, visitors may choose to walk alongside the gorge on the pathway that runs beside it for over 1km. This pathway offers beautiful views out across the gorge and over the Minainotaki waterfall. Drastic changes in the rock formations and the depth of the gorge can be viewed father along the walk.
Catch your own somen noodles in Takachiho Gorge
At the base of the gorge the restaurant Chiho-no-ie serves nagashi-somen for 500 yen and allows customers to have fun catching their own sōmen with chopsticks as it floats past (supposedly in purified river water) in halved bamboo poles.
How to get to Takachiho and Takachiho Gorge
The town of Takachiho used to be served by the JR Takachiho train service, but unfortunately services stopped after a typhoon washed away parts of the track in 2005. The town is now served by two daily bus services from Kumamoto, but it is preferable for visitors to have their own transport for the gorge and other sights around the area.
On weekends and public holidays an irregular bus service runs between the gorge and the bus centre, but does not run on normal weekdays. It is also possible to reach the valley in a 45 minutes walking descent from the Takachiho Bus Center.
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