photo by Netanya Fink
Come Autumn (or Fall, if you’re from the USA or in the unlikely event that you’re from pre-industrial revolution England), the colours of the leaves change into vibrant shades of orange, red, yellow, and brown. It’s a magnificent sight that has inspired artists and poets for centuries. Again, if you hail from the Northern Hemisphere, this information is possibly a yawn, but I love Autumn.
In Japan, the natural phenomenon is called koyo (meaning red leaf) and inspired the activity of searching for the most striking shades of leaf from momiji (Japanese maple). It is known as Momijigari (red leaf hunting) and has been popular in Japan for centuries.
However, if it’s autumn lour you want you’re bound to find it at Sandan-kyō, a beautiful 16-kilometre (10 miles) long ravine running through the mountains in Akiota, northwest of Hiroshima City in the Nishi-Chugoku Sanchi Quasi-National Park. The lush greens of spring, rich vermillion and red of momiji and the golden hues of larch make Sandan-kyō a glorious spot for momijigariya, amblers and nature-lovers alike to hike. Enjoying its autumn leaves in fall (or perhaps its refreshing greenery during summer?), you can leave your worries behind and recharge your batteries. There are some breath-taking waterfalls and crevasses in the gorge, including famous two-tiered and three-tiered waterfalls.
Now, very few people had ever penetrated Sandan-kyō Gorge until a little over a century ago and while Sandan-kyō is accessible on public transport from Hiroshima City, it is only an 80 minute bus ride from the city centre – once between its sheer cliffs, surrounded by verdant vegetation and hearing the rush of the crystal clear water over rocks, it’s easy to grasp why it has become the attraction that it is.
Ordinarily, the best time for viewing is between late October and early November large numbers of autumn colours and viewers make the trip to see its famous Autumn colours. Surprisingly even then you won’t find Sandan-kyō over-crowded and isn’t that the point? To escape the hassles of the city for a day and immerse oneself in the beauty of nature. A word of caution though: this year, as I intimated above, you may want to wait till mid or late November before making the trek.
The out-and-back trail (actually, much of the track surface is rough concrete) is very clear and it is very difficult to get lost. Although the path does undulate, is very doable for anyone with a reasonable level of fitness. The main goal for most is Sandan-daki, the three-tier waterfall for which the gorge is named, and which ambition makes the hike a full day commitment. One of the most popular walking trails is a round-trip that begins at the Sandan-kyō front gate with the lovely Kurofuchi pool as the turning point. The hike only takes about an hour each way and is not overly strenuous. The Kurofuchi pool is known for its emerald green water and it is possible to take a short ferry ride across it to a restaurant on the far bank. On this route, you will also see the stunning Shimai waterfall and Ishidoi rapids.
At the entrance to the gorge, there are a few small shops (which serve some food and will hold onto baggage for a small fee). The bathroom where the bus drops you off, while not the only one on the trail, is definitely the nicest). The start point of the hike is the worn, but charming Sandan-kyō Hotel, where day-trippers, as well as overnight guests, can take a hot spring bath.
Trek time guide
Entrance to Kurobushi 50min one way (3.7km)
Entrance to Sandan-daki via Sarutobi & Nidan-daki 5hrs round trip (approx. 19km)
If you manage to catch one of the buses that run between the gorge entrance and the parking near Deaibashi it should take about 2hrs to loop Sandandaki, Sarutobi, Nidandaki and back. The whole 12km trail from gorge entrance to Hijiriko Lake can take up to 5hrs one way.
Location: Yokogou, Akiota, Yamagata District, Hiroshima
Access: Buses to Sandan-kyō leave from Hiroshima Bus Centre (Platform #7). Express buses (¥1440 one way) take about 80min while local buses (¥1230 one way) take well over 2hrs.
**The 08:18 express bus arrives at the gorge at 09:33 and the 15:00 departure from Sandan-kyō will get you back at 16:20 (after that local buses leave at 15:30, 16:30 and 17:55).
For an early start, the 06:10 local bus from Hiroshima will get you to the gorge just before 08:30. 19:10 is the last departure from Sandan-kyō taking you as far as Kabe JR Station from where local trains depart for Hiroshima.
boatman phot by Eric Kraus