Mountainous Japan is home to many beautiful gorges, carved into volcanic rock by fast flowing rivers. Perhaps one of the most spectacular is Shosenkyo, in the Yamanashi part of Chichibu Tama Kai National Park. It's beautiful in any season and is also relatively easy to reach, being just 30 minutes by bus from Kofu Station, which is 90-105 minutes from Shinjuku by limited express train.
It is recommended to begin your visit from Shosenkyo-guchi bus stop to walk upstream through the four-kilometer gorge. The trail is paved and takes about an hour.
Steep granite rock formations with trees growing from fissures form the walls of the gorge. In many places they are reminiscent of 18th century woodblock print renditions of Japan's mountains.
As you walk, you are accompanied by the sounds of the Arakawa River rushing below you, now louder, now quieter as the water tumbles through rocks and even boulders in a steep decline or slows where the course is more level. There is also abundant birdsong to keep you company. On weekends, a horse-drawn cart offers rides along the lower 3/4 of the gorge to those who prefer riding to walking.
Along the way are a number of footbridges leading to hiking trails into the mountains on the other side of the gorge.
About halfway up, you begin to pass small rest huts and even a spot where you can wander down to the edge of the river. Then a few soba shops come into view, perhaps just in time, if you're ready for a rest. A bit further on are accommodations and more eateries, as well as souvenir shops. Given the geology of the area, there are a number of shops selling crystals, amethysts and other stones. Not far from here on the road is a bus stop called Greenline Shosenkyo, another potential place to begin your walk if you don't have the time or inclination to cover the entire 4 kilometers.
From here the gorge and the trail narrows and the scenery becomes even more dramatic. At one point, an enormous boulder overhangs the trail forming what is called Ishi-mon (stone gate). A little further on a bridge takes hikers to the other side, where the trail has been carved into the rockface. Just around a bend is one of the great treats of this walk: Sengataki Waterfall. Here the river narrows to just a couple of meters and plunges 33 meters. The falls seem to have a permanent rainbow about 1/3 of the way up, where the eternal mist has also led to an abundance of moss on the rocks.
To climb out of the gorge, there is a long (and seemingly perpetually damp) staircase, followed by an alleyway of shops (sake tasting anyone?) and restaurants emerging onto the road above. The road crosses the river just above the falls and there is another bus stop here, called Shosenkyo Taki Ue.
But don't think you've finished with this area just yet. A 5-10 minute walk further up, past other shops and restaurants, takes you to the lower station of the Shosenkyo Ropeway. In five minutes, the ropeway will take you to the observation deck at 1,058 meters, almost to the top of Mt Rakanji. To the right from the observation deck is a shrine and behind that, a "power spot" (currently all the rage in Japan).
To the left of the observation deck, a 20-minute walk along a delightful sylvan trail gets you literally to the top, a round knob of granite with a chain and carved footholds to help you to the summit. On a clear day, Mt Fuji can be seen to the southeast, the Japanese Alps to the north and west, and Lake Nosen, formed by the Arakawa Dam, to the northeast.
The ropeway operates from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. (4:30 p.m., December to March). Roundtrip ropeway tickets are 1,200 yen (600 yen for children) and oneway tickets are 650 yen (350 yen for children). You can take your dog along for 300 yen. Most of the time the ropeway runs every 20 minutes, but in the peak leaf-peeping season it runs every 7-10 minutes. Nonetheless, lines can be long, so if you are planning a visit in the peak season (usually the month of November), consider beginning your visit with the ropeway in the morning before it gets too crowded and then walk downstream through the gorge.
As a general rule in Japan, beautiful, noteworthy, or historic sites style themselves as "one of the three best," but Shosenkyo has been so bold as to claim to be THE most beautiful gorge in Japan. And rightly so!© Japan Today