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The Astounding Waterfalls of Chokai-san

Chokai-san is the tallest mountain entirely in the Tohoku Region of north Japan that is simply bursting with waterfalls. In fact, Chokai-san has both the highest precipitation, and most waterfalls, of any mountain in Japan (it’s also part of the prefecture with the most waterfalls too).

Naturally, it also has some of the freshest water. No wonder Yamagata Prefecture has some of Japan’s best oysters, a whisky factory featuring some of Japan’s finest, and of course hundreds and hundreds of rice fields.

So without further ado, here are some of my favourite waterfalls to check out in or around Chokai-san.

Ichi-no-taki, Ni-no-taki and San-no-taki Falls

On the southern side of Chokai-san, in Yuza Machi, lie Ichi-no-taki, Ni-no-taki and San-no-taki Falls. These three waterfalls are a cool location to escape to in the blistering summer heat.

From the Ni-no-taki Falls Carpark, it is a brisk 5 minute hike to Ichi-no-taki Falls and then another 10 or so minutes to Ni-no-taki Falls. Keep following this path, and it will take you past San-no-taki, and eventually up to Shoga-dake and Chokai-san.

The waterfalls are fun to simply go and check out, and you can even swim in the river in front of Ni-no-taki as well (just don’t go too close to the actual falls).

Ichi-no-taki and Ni-no-taki Falls in Yuza Machi. Photos by Kiwi Yamabushi

Dohara-no-Taki Falls

On the road that leads to Ni-no-taki Falls, there is a carpark on the left for Dohara-no-Taki Falls. You’ll notice it as it is an extremely popular destination.

Dohara-no-Taki Falls is much smaller than Ni-no-taki, but it is remarkable in that there are two natural springs right next to each other that taste completely different.

The name is literally ‘belly falls’, but don’t worry, it’s not that disgusting. The name comes from the fact that the falls lie in what would be the belly of Chokai-san. It’s fun just to check this place out, but make sure to fill up on fresh mountain water!

Tamasudare Falls

With a 63m drop, Tamasudare Falls is the tallest waterfall in Yamagata Prefecture.

Tamasudare was apparently named by Kukai (Kobo Daishi), the famous monk who brought Shingon Buddhism to Japan in the 9th century. The name refers to beads (Tama) falling down like a bamboo screen (Sudare). Regardless, the enormity of the falls really makes you feel the power of nature just by trying to stand next to it.

Tamasudare Falls in Sakata City, Yamagata Prefecture. The tallest falls in the prefecture with the most waterfalls. Photos by Kiwi Yamabushi.

Hottai-no-taki Falls

Hottai-no-taki Falls. The only waterfall on Chokai-san that actually faces Chokai-san. Photo by Kiwi Yamabushi

The 57m tall Hottai-no-Taki is located on the northern side of Chokai-san, and is known for being the only waterfall on Chokai-san that faces the summit.

Hottai-no-taki is said to be in the shape of a seated Buddha, and I guess it is true. It’s uncertain how Hottai-no-Taki was named, but the legend goes that Kukai (Kobo Daishi, recognise the name?) saw an old man there and asked the name of the waterfall, to which the old man simply replied ‘Hottai’. When Kukai inquired further, the old man replied ‘I am Fudomyo’o, The Immovable Wisdom King who protects this waterfall’, before quickly disappearing.

Hottai-no-taki. You can sort of make out the shape of a sitting Buddha from this angle. Photo by Kiwi Yamabushi.

Hottai-no-Taki features three main cascades, and was formed on a single sheet of molten rock that is over 50m in thickness. There are even some 2-metre wide potholes under Hottai-no-Taki formed by whirlpools created from erosion originating from the waterfall’s force.

The drive to Hottai-no-Taki is simply breathtaking, taking you over mountain roads, through tiny hamlets amongst the rice fields, and along pristine mountain streams. It is by far one of my favourite drives in Japan, and that’s saying something, and has the bonus of being great for picnics and camping.

Mototaki Falls

Mototaki Falls in Nikaho City. Photo by Kiwi Yamabushi.

Mototaki Falls is not as big as the other waterfalls on Chokai-san, but it is just as beautiful, if not more so. Mototaki falls is wider than it is tall, featuring hundreds of tiny cascades that all converge into the mountain stream below.

The ten or so minute walk through the bush and along the mountain stream to Mototaki Falls is really refreshing, and the falls themselves make an excellent spot to cool off from the summer heat as well.A video of a visit to Mototaki Falls.

Nasu-no-Taki Falls

On the way to Mototaki from the coast, it’s worth taking a little detour and stopping at Nasu-no-taki falls. Nasu-no-taki has a swing bridge nearby for viewing, and an awesome shrine in the middle of a forest as well. Just past the shrine there is yet another viewing platform for Nasu-no-taki.

Nasu-no-taki Falls in Nikaho City, Akita Prefecture. Photos by Kiwi Yamabushi.

Honorable Mention: Juni-no-taki Falls in Sakata

While not on Chokai-san, Juni-no-taki is near enough. Right behind Juni-no-taki lies Kyogakura-yama, a former Shugendo peak with a spectacular view of Chokai-san, and a famous backstory about sutras. Both Kyogakura-yama and Juni-no-taki are well worth a visit.

Juni-no-taki, literally twelve falls, is named after the fact that there are indeed twelve falls. The problem is, you have to climb up the opposite ridge to get a view of all twelve, and the bridge that allowed you to do that has since been taken down. Still, Juni-no-taki is a great destination for a picnic, or an escape during autumn (in the middle of summer it’s covered with sandflies! Make sure you bring bug spray!).

Juni-no-taki Falls Sakata City, Yamagata Prefecture in summer (left) and autumn (right). Photos by Kiwi Yamabushi.

In Conclusion

Chokai-san is covered in waterfalls, each with their own quirks. One of my favourite things to do is to do a loop all the way around Chokai-san, and visiting these waterfalls makes doing that all the more special. I hope that by learning more about these waterfalls, that you too will make the effort to go and check out at least one.

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Tim Bunting Kiwi Yamabushi

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Sakata City, Yamagata, Japan 

tim@timbunting.com

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