Mystic Takachiho

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Last weekend, I went to spend 3 days in Miyazaki prefecture, in the southeast of Kyushu island. My first and only trip to Miyazaki was in 2011. I had spent two days in the main city and I couldn't do anything because of the heavy rain. I decided to take a revenge and to go this month. My mother is currently in Fukuoka so I also wanted to show her some Kyushu.
Today I take you in the mountains, in the small village of Takachiho.

Les gorges de Takachiho
Takachiho gorges

Takachiho village

Takachiho is located in the mountains in the north of Miyazaki Prefecture, next to Mount Aso and Kumamoto. Takachiho is a well-known place among Japanese but not by foreign tourists because it is a famous place for its link to Japanese mythology.
The village is divided into two (at least) parts. Downtown is really quiet with many closed shops it has little charm. I liked much better the part around Amano Iwato located ten minute drive in another valley. It is surronded by rice fields in terraces, numerous mountains and below a gorge carved by the Gokase River and its unleashed waterfalls. In morning and evening, clouds cling to the top of the surrounding mountains. We arrived on a cloudy afternoon and gloomy weather reinforced the mystic atmosphere of the place. Generally, I like much more Japan under the clouds that under a large sun so I was delighted to walk in this environment and I continued to walk until dinner time while my mother preferred to go back to the ryokan.
What is good and surprising in Takachiho is that this is a place that attracts many visitors but almost nothing in the city is done to tourism, apart from a few shops. We had the feeling of landing in the village daily life and  blend into the crowd ... even if with our Western faces people stared a lot on us. Another point that we liked is that the dolls of the girl festival (Hina matsuri ,ひな祭り) was still displayed all around the city.

Plaque d'égout de Takachiho

Village de Takachiho

Village de Takachiho

Village de Takachiho

Poupées de Hina matsuri
Hina matsuri dolls
Village de Takachiho

Explications sur comment se purifier, sanctuaire d'Amano Iwato
Shrine good manners at Amani Iwato shrine
Village de Takachiho

Carpes à Takachiho

What to do in Takachiho ?

Going to the gorges

Takachiho Gorges  (高千穂 峡, Takachiho-kyo) are of course the main attraction of the village. Dug in an old lava flow from Mount Aso (located 28 km away!), it's surprising geometric shape is due to the lava's rapid cooling. People can rent boats to explore some part of the gorges but the day we visited all already full. Anyway none of us felt the courage to drive a boat. Instead, I made all the about 700 meters walk along the river. Each step offered me a new perspective and couldn't hlep but taking photos every 5 minutes. The most spectacular view was probably the Mihai no taki waterfall (真名井の滝) at the beginning of the course. I could spend hours watching it. Despite the large number of tourists there were only a few stalls selling mango soft serves and dangos. At first we wanted to have lunch in the village in a cute place I founded on my guide book but it was crowded so we though eating at the gorge... we couldn't. 

Boat rental

Everyday from 8:30 am to 4:30 pm (7:30 to 6pm in summer)
2000 yens per passenger for a 30 minutes ride. Boat for 3 people max.

Gorges de Takachiho

Kyôkoku dango
Kyokoku dango

Discovering Japanese mythology at Amano Iwato

The other place to explore is related to Japanese mythology : the Amano Iwato shrine and the Amano Yasugawara cave. To access to the cave, the most interesting place to me, people must pass in front of the Amano Iwato shrine. Then we continue on a path that goes down into the gorge until arriving at the river. Few meters and a pretty round shapped bridge later and we arrive at Amano Yasugawara cave. It is said that it is here that  the sun goddess Amaterasu hid and this brought the night on earth. In and around the cave, there are thousands of small stone towers created by visitors. I would have liked to build one too but there was no more stones left one the area.

On my way back, I climbed just over 100 steps to a seast part of Amano Iwato shrine, did a little pray, had a look at the spring water (I didn't want to drink it because frogs were swimming in) and admire the 7 cedars perfectly aligned (it doesn't sound exciting but it was quite pretty to see).

Amano Yasugawara, Takachiho

Amano Yasugawara, Takachiho
Amano Yasugawara cave
Amano Yasugawara, Takachiho

Amano Yasugawara, Takachiho

Sanctuaire d'Amano Iwato
Amano Iwato shrine
Sanctuaire d'Amano Iwato

Riding the super cart

The village of Takachiho has a railway station, now disused. Until 2005, Takachiho was the last station of the line of the same name but 11 years ago a typhoon washed away two bridges. They were never rebuilt and the line was closed permanently. In recent years, local authority and former train drivers are reviving the Takachiho station and the end of the line by offering small train rides without windows, between the station and the bridge of Takachiho. I have experienced this attraction thanks to my Japanese guide book and I really wanted to do it because I love Japanese small train stations and lines. When we arrived the first day everything was already full. We went back there really early the next day and managed to buy a ticket for the 10:30  ride.

While waiting for our turn, we were able to explore the station, dock and a train line. I was thrilled. Do I not trying to convert me gently to the UR Bex? We took lots of pictures and then we saw the train back off: it would be our turn. The walk was really nice. We discover another aspect of Takachiho, we pass near private gardens where people were we cuckoo hand. The mild spring and the breeze was pleasant but I would not recommend this attraction in winter! Before the entrance to the bridge, drivers check the power of the wind. As there are no windows and the train passes 103 meters above the gorge winds can be dangerous.

During our visit there was a slight breeze so we could move forward. Back in Takachiho, the wind had risen considerably and the next trains could not go on the bridge. We were really lucky. Without going on the bridge the ride would be a bit too expensive.

Takachiho Super Cart

Open everyday from 10am to 4pm.
1300 yens for a 30 minutes ride
Gare de Takachiho
Takachiho station
Super Cart, Takachiho
On Takachiho bridge
Train de la Takachiho Railways

Gare d'Amano Iwato, Takachiho

Watching a traditionnal Japanese performance called Yokagura

In the evening, do not miss the yokagura (夜神楽) , a dance and traditional music show. After the meal, the ryokan has led to Takachiho shrine the clients who wished to to attend the performance. Upon exiting the vehicle, we grabbed a floor cushion and sat in the tatami room tatami among a hundred other tourists. The original show is played from November to February and lasts from 9pm to  6am ! The one we saw and which is played the rest of the year is just an excerpt of an hour and shows 4 dances : 3 are talking about the sun goddess and the last was telling a piece of the Japan's creation legend.

There are almost no serif during the performance so there is no need to understand Japanese to enjoy it but it is better to know the story beforehand, especially for the first three dances. The music and movements are very repetitive and very different from what we can see in Europe. This may a bit boring but don't do what my mom did and left before the end because the last dance is SO hilarious. The Japan creator gods are drunk and will dredge the public. A must to see.

Yokagura de Takachiho
And also...
The sea of cloud Kunimigaoka, Kushifuru and Aratate shrines and so on.

Whare to stay

Like every small town in Japan, Takachiho is a perfect place to stay in a ryokan (traditional Japanese hotel). There is a nice offer but prices start at about 10,000 yen per person per night (including dinner and breakfast). Smaller budgets can also find a room in a youth hostel (4500 yen per night) or in a minshuku (homestay) from 6,000 yen.
Most of the time I travel alone : Daisuke works on Saturday and I like to do things at my own pace. Because of my way of traveling, I almost never stay in ryokans because they rarely accept single travelers. So this time I took the opportunity to have my mother with me to take a room in the Hana Ryokan Iwatoya which is 10 minutes drive from Takachiho bus center, near Amano Iwato.

Hana Ryokan Iwatoya 

Chambre japonaise, Hana Ryokan Iwatoya
Our room
The ryokan is on a 3 floors wooden building and fully tatami fursnished inside. The room was large and very clean. There was even a toilet and a bathroom with a small square bathtub which wasn't mentionned on the website. Meals, sumptuous, were served in a dining room on Western tables. I was a little disappointed because I had read that they were served in rooms. Dinner included countless dishes so I won't mention all of them but I was delighted by the Takachiho beef which melts in the mouth, the sweet potato gratin and the black rice from Takachiho. It was so good that I thought seriously about putting the leftovers in a box to bring it back. Breakfast meanwhile I was ok. I must say that I don't eat in the morning usually and although I like Japanese breakfast , I find those ryokan ones almost always disappointing and this one was not an exception.

The service was good too. On a simple phone call, we were picked up at Takachiho Bus Station and was redeposited there the next day. Before take us into town, the staff offered us black rice dumplings as a snack for the day. A delicate and delicious attention.

Dîner, Hana Ryokan Iwatoya
Service à thé et ikebana, Hana Ryokan Iwatoya

Yukata à Hana Ryokan Iwatoya
of course I wore my yukata
I really liked Takachiho. It is an ideal place for a nature break off the beaten track that all the tourists go to. I 'd like to go again, maybe this summer or next year, even if it's just to rent a boat (I would also explore the surroundings and the famous train line). Did you know this place?

Access and useful informations

Takachiho (高千穂) 

Access from Fukuoka :
Take the "Gokase-go" highway bus bound to Nobeoka in front of Miyazaki station.  Three hours and 50 minutes for 4020  yens. Four round trip per day.

Access from Kumamoto :
Take the "Takachiho-go" highway bus bound to Nobeoka in front of Miyazaki station.  Four hours for 4110 yens. Two round trip per day.

Access from Miyazaki :
Take the highway bus bound to Takachiho in front of Miyazaki station.  Three hours for 2500 yens. One round trip per day.

Getting around
From the center of Takachiho, most of the tourist spots (gorges, Takachiho shrine, station...) are within a walking distance.  For the other ones there are electric bikes for rent in front of the bus center (300 yens per hour or 1500 yens a day) and a bus service which serves all the tourist destinations including Amano Iwato. They are infrequent but fast and very practical. To visit outside the town, a car is essential .

Best time to go
Spring, summer and autumn for some fantastic landscapes. Rainy season is to avoid. Landslide occur quite often in Miyazaki and boat rental will close if the level of the river rise.

How much time
Because it is a tiny town, everything close down at 5pm so I'd say one day and a half or two days are the best.

What to eat
Takachiho beef, black rice, kyokoku dango, all regional specialities.

What to buy
Lucky charms from all the shrines and also very nice pictures.

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