sponsored by Northern Kumamoto Administrative Headquarters
Shinrin yoku, or “Forest Bathing” is taken very seriously in Japan. The concept of shinrin yoku is to restore your mental and physical health by simply taking a walk in the forest. Sounds too good to be true? Studies so far have shown reductions in stress levels, anxiety, and even insomnia in those who regularly participate in it. Believing in shinrin yoku as therapy or not, nobody has ever regretted taking a stroll in a peaceful forest.
The forest enveloping Kikuchi Gorge in Kumamoto Prefecture is names as one of the 100 best places for forest bathing in Japan. This 4km long gorge in Aso Kuju National Park was created by water running down from the outer rim of the Aso crater, the active volcano that is the centerpiece of the Kumamoto landscape. The clarity of this cold (13-14 degrees C) spring water ranks it among one of Japan’s most excellent waters.
A Forest For All Seasons and Senses
There are two hiking courses along Kikuchi Gorge: a 1km course that takes 30 minutes and a 2km, one hour route. Each trail crosses the river at a lovely bridge and circles back on the opposite side of the river.
Notes: From December 2019 to March 2020, rock fall countermeasures will be implemented in some sections. Therefore, you cannot pass that section during that period.
Because the trail is relatively flat and easily accessible, it does not require special hiking equipment. It also makes the trail hike-able year-round to enjoy all four of Japan’s distinct seasons. Of course, Spring and Autumn are the most picturesque. But the coolness of the water also makes it a refreshing place to visit in the Summer, and a light dusting of snow can make it a Winter Wonderland.
Besides observing the beauty of the landscape, enjoy Kikuchi Gorge with all five of your senses. Smell the scent of the giant ancient cedars. Hear the calls of the dozens of species of birds making their home in the trees. Touch the rugged volcanic rock on the edge of the river. Taste the pure, clean spring water of the Kikuchi River. Indulging all of your senses is the best way to experience forest bathing.
Assuming you take the longer route, you will view four waterfalls, including Kakemaku Waterfall, the large curving falls near the entrance to the valley. My favorite was Reimei Waterfall, cascading around a large rock in the middle of the river, white foam on emerald waters.
Tengu and Yonjusanman (430 thousand) waterfalls are one on top of the other just past Ryugafuji bridge, which you use if you are taking the shorter course. The bridge is a great place to take a photo, or close your eyes and enjoy the sound of rushing water.
If you continue another 20 meters upstream, visit the adorable image of the Japanese zelkova tree hugging a rock. Call it a bit of forest love.
Forest Bathing and…
Because you only need an hour to enjoy hiking Kikuchi Gorge, combine your visit with some of the many activities available in this part of Kumamoto. Explore the many views of the Aso Caldera, the spectacular geographic formation of the region. Lose yourself in the relaxation of countless onsen hot springs resorts or a luxury ryokan. Or if you’re feeling adventurous, take a downhill cycling tour from the Aso Kuju Mountains or kayak down an irrigation canal!
Photos provided by Danny and Voyapon Staff photographers.
Address: Haru, Kikuchi city, Kumamoto Prefecture 861-1441
Office TEL: +81-968-27-0210 or +81-25-7223
Open Hours: 8:30 – 17:00 (Every day). Open from April to November. You can also enter from December to March, but there will be no attendants. Please be careful while enjoying your walk during this period.
Website: https://kikuchikeikoku.jimdo.com/ (Japanese only)
https://www.city.kikuchi.lg.jp/kankou/en/ (Kikuchi city website)
Please note that the area is closed for safety reasons in case of bad weather.
Access to the Kikuchi Area
Northern Kumamoto is best explored by car, from car rental locations near the Kumamoto, Fukuoka or Oita airports or any of the major Shinkansen stations that are gateways to Kyushu. There is no public transportation available to get to Kikuchi Gorge, so a car is a necessity. By car, the travel times to Kikuchi Gorge are:
From Ueki interchange: about 50 minutes
From central Kikuchi city: about 25 minutes
From Kumamoto city: about 1 hour and 30 minutes
From Kumamoto airport: about 1 hour
From Fukuoka city/airport: about 1 hour 50 minutes
From Oita city/airport: about 2 hours 20 minutes