The famous Nikko waterfall at Kirifuri Falls presents a problem: you simply cannot get close enough to actually experience its full magnitude and wonder at its 75 meters of violently beautiful, plummeting water. Not only does the waterfall look incredibly thin from the distant viewing platform, but it is also shrouded in trees and foliage. Considering I had imagined being so close that I could practically bathe in it, Kirifuri Falls ending up being somewhat disappointing.
A little hiking can get you a long way. Luckily, I had a Japanese friend who held that insider information you cannot usually find by doing a quick internet search. He introduced me to not one, but three secluded, mystical, peaceful spots, which made for a far more immersive experience.
Each waterfall lies just a short walk past the last, traversing over rocks, through forests, over small hills and through shrouded pathways. The Nikko Tourism Association labels the route a ‘serious hike’ but, while there are a few high rocks you must climb over, the hiking is not actually too strenuous if you are adventurous, have good health and of course, if you have some fabulous hiking boots.
Tyouji Falls is a truly worthy member of the secret Nikko trio. Its unique hiking trail develops majestically from the first sights of moist earth, then over the swirling motions of a twinkling stream. Curling through the rockery, you can find yourself standing just meters away from its falling waters, feeling the fresh spray upon your face and catching glimpses of red berries in the otherwise greyscale November scene. It may be the waterfall trio’s smallest, but Tyouji’s unique, curvy, almost snake-like hiking trail through the mossy rocks has a somewhat mesmerising quality. This, coupled with its dark, cool, mysterious atmosphere and the smell of fresh earth settling into your nostrils makes the site feel like your own private den.
Tamasudare Falls is a waterfall that becomes present all at once, hitting your face with smells, sounds and, of course, beautiful scenes before you can really process what you are seeing. Unlike the shrouded Tyouji Falls, this waterfall is very open, enabling its flowing waters and tiny rock pools a sunny touch. The fall itself stands only 10 meters high but its shimmering, cascading sheets of water, like the famous Japanese bead curtain from which it gets its name, demand the same attention as a much bigger waterfall. Its beautiful bordering foliage that one can only imagine would look spectacular during Nikko autumn, makes Tamasudare Falls a unique experience that, even during November, would entice you to take your shoes off for a dip after a little hiking.
Makkura Falls (Makkura-no-taki)
In classic style, this hiking route saves the best for last. Not only does Makkura Falls stand the tallest, but it is also surrounded by amazing rockery and encased in mysterious shrubbery, creating a dark, shadowy atmosphere even during the day. The narrow opening into the Makkura Falls enclosure, coupled with the contrast from light, warm daylight to a dark, enclosed, cave-like scene is like walking through a doorway into a secret land. But this is not what makes it my favourite. What really makes this Nikko waterfall special is the chance at hiking the nearby rockery for a spot right by the waterfall’s center. For the first time, I was so close that I could feel the subtle breeze created by the free-falling water, while peering into the elongated droplets as they fell like heavy bubbles bursting onto the rocks below. This waterfall can be experienced from so many different angles depending on your sense of adventure. It would also make an amazing picnic spot. I’m confident saying that I stayed there for a long time.
After the slight disappointment at Kirifuri and other large, look but do not touch, selfie-only waterfalls, I was fairly sure that I would be doomed to watch from distant viewing platforms forever. But it seems that all you need is a good nature-loving friend that can show the way. If you have not already, I would urge getting the full waterfall experience for yourself. Try hiking some rocks, run your hands through the water and maybe finish with a stroll up the mountain opposite Makkura Falls. Take some food, have a picnic – enjoy some Nikko nature as it was intended.