Takachiho Gorge is a must see when visiting Kyushu. It is located almost in the exact center of the island, so is a perfect stopping point when traveling around Kyushu. The town isn’t serviced by a train line, but you can take a train to Aso, or Nobeoka, and catch a bus the rest of the way. If you enjoy seeing beautiful landforms, as well as cultural performances, Takachiho will not disappoint.
So, how can you get to Takachiho Gorge?
Getting there isn’t difficult, but it can take a bit of time depending on where you are coming from. The reason it takes a little longer to get there is because the former train line that serviced the town is no longer running. So you need to either take a 3 hour bus from Kumamoto or a 4 hour bus from Fukuoka. You could also break up the trip and make a stop in Aso before getting on a shorter bus to Takachiho.
Once you arrive, the town isn’t that big, and it is easy to get around on foot. From the bus station it takes about 10-15 minutes to walk down to a big shrine, and about 20 minutes to get to the main part of the gorge. The city has a few restaurants and a couple bars. Most of the places appeared to only have Japanese menus, but people were helpful when ordering food.
So, what is there to see and do in Takachiho?
The shrine was beautiful, tucked inside a grove of tall cedar trees. I consider it one of the more beautiful shrines I’ve seen in Japan, mainly because of the surrounding trees. It reminded me of my college days when I lived in Santa Cruz, California, surrounded by the redwoods. Apparently, this shrine has a history that goes back 1800 years. I also read that it is a great place to pray for a good harvest, lifting of bad luck, and marriage proposals.
This is the main attraction in Takachiho, and at least a half-day activity. Combine it with a few of the local shrines and you have a nice long day of exploration. Conveniently, there is a tour bus that can take you to all these destinations. You can find the bus schedule as well as all the stops at the visitor center, located across from the bus station. The ladies working there know a bit of English and were incredibly helpful, even helping us find a nice place to eat lunch before heading to the gorge.
It’s about a five or ten minute walk down into the gorge from the shrine. You can also take a nice hiking trail from the back of the shrine to the gorge. We didn’t know about the trail until we finished and decided to walk back through the forest rather than walk along the road. When you get to the bottom of the road your first views are of the sheer walls of the gorge, but the amazing part is still to come.
Next you walk by small waterfalls created from springs on the side of the cliffs. Just beyond that is where you come to a bridge over the river and are rewarded with some amazing views of the gorge. From here, you can choose to rent a boat or you can walk the trail that leads you down the gorge. According to a friend, being in the boat is really amazing, but I didn’t have any desire to knock around with all the other boats down there. I am an Earth-bound person, and love walking, so I stuck to hiking the trail instead of getting on the water.
We went in late fall, and were rewarded with beautiful fall foliage. Sadly, it was a gray day with a bit of rain. The pictures you usually see of the gorge show these amazing blues in the river but alas, without the sun, the water appeared a dark green/black. But it was still amazing to me. What is more impressive is that the whole gorge was carved by lava flow from one of Mt Aso’s last big eruptions. That’s impressive because Aso is about an hour or so drive away from Takachiho. All the rock is volcanic, which creates a really amazing pattern in the rocks.
Takachiho Kagura Dance
If you make it to Takachiho, it would be a total shame if you didn’t make it to the dances. It is a perfect way to spend the evening and is a must see! I recommended this to my Japanese coworker and she and her friend really enjoyed the performance too.
The shows are an hour long and start at 8 every night. It costs 700 yen, so even on a tight budget you could allow for this. I suggest getting there at 7 when they start to sell tickets so you can get a nice seat. The seating is on a tatami floor, and you can bring snacks into the show. Some people even had nice sitting pillows that they brought with them.
Every night they perform four different dances from the kagura repertoire of thirty-three. All the performers are from local dance troupes. When you purchase your ticket they give you an English sheet with the dances that will be performed and a little story about them. The dances and performances don’t have any speaking, just music. In between the dances there is a bit of narration in Japanese, but it didn’t seem very important that I couldn’t understand it. The performers are all men who wear amazing wooden masks. The music is played by Shinto priests, and is very basic but beautiful, especially with the accompanying dancing. The last act was so funny the whole crowd was laughing.
Have you been to Takachiho? What was your experience like?