Japan is a country well known for its dramatic natural scenery and deep history often associated with the most beautiful of locations. No place is perhaps more beautiful than Nara’s southern mountains, an area which gets more rainfall on average than any other location in Japan. Upon first moving to Yoshino and exploring this rugged landscape, I found myself repeatedly drawn to the historical Kisa-dani Valley and the towering Taka-taki Waterfall located deep in the heart of it.
How could I not be? It features amazing natural scenery, is easily accessible from the sightseeing hub of Yoshinoyama, and almost never has other people exploring it. I am the kind of guy who likes solitude and a feeling of immersion when I get out into nature, and for a small country with a huge population, places that are uniquely beautiful and still relatively untouched by hordes of tourists are few and far between. Fortunately, Takataki Falls is one such place.
In fact, the Kisa-dani Valley has been revered for its natural beauty since at least the Nara Period (8th century) as it is referenced within Japan’s oldest collection of poetry, the Manyoshu. The valley also makes up a part of an old Ise Kaido route to the Ise Shrine in Mie.
The flowing water in this valley is so clean that it is included among the 31 purest sources of water in the Yamato Region. In early summer, the area is known for its pleasant scenery and magical evening atmosphere of twinkling fireflies. The valley is also currently home to a small idyllic mountain neighborhood that gives those who walk through it a feeling of being transported to another, simpler time. Although it is, in my opinion, the most beautiful walking course in Yoshino, Kisadani Valley is rarely explored by international visitors as finding it be quite a confusing process.
The hike to Takataki Falls is not difficult, with the total distance of the valley maybe spanning around 4 kilometers. The trail itself, while steep at times, passes through fine scenery that is representative of Yoshino’s artificial cedar forests, which have been used for lumber and replanted for generations since the edo period. My favorite aspect of the hike is passing all of the different little streams which run from the mountains above into the Kisa-no-ogawa Creek that runs at the bottom of the valley and creates Takataki Falls. The area is also a haven for moss-lovers, as the bouldery creek and waterfalls are positively carpeted in the stuff, making an already deep green landscape somehow even more so.
Kisadani is also home to what may be my favorite shrine in the town of Yoshino, Sakuragi-jinja. The natural setting of this shrine is beautiful, with the entrance being a unique covered bridge that runs over the Kisa-no-Ogawa Creek. On the grounds of the shrine is an impossible-to-miss massive 800 year old cedar tree that is believed to be a shinboku 神木 (shin = god, boku = tree). The shrine is dedicated to Emperor Tenmu, who used to enjoy spending time in his imperial villa located nearby in Miyataki. Mostly, it is the atmosphere of the location that I have come to love, nestled in a beautiful river valley, immersed in nature; it seems like the perfect place for a shrine.
Lastly, if it’s the summer and you would like to cap off your day with a nice cool swim, the Yoshino River makes for a great location to take a dip. It is about a 15 minute walk from the opening of Kisadani to a popular swimming and BBQ spot. The river in this area gets especially narrow and bouldery so be careful not to get caught in unexpectedly deep waters. You can occasionally see groups of youth diving from the rocky banks of the river in this area, sometimes from several meters up. Maybe don’t attempt this yourself unless you have a lot of confidence in your ability to swim against the current.
So, in conclusion, why not make a day trip of discovering all the beauty this region has to offer with a trip to Yoshino and a hike to Takataki Waterfall? It is definitely on my personal list of best hikes in Kansai and is guaranteed to be an experience you won’t forget.
So how do you get to Takataki Falls and Kisadani Valley? Well, there are essentially two main routes.
The first route, which begins at the bottom of Kisadani Valley, (where the Kisa-no-ogawa Creek meets the Yoshino River) requires a very long walk from Yamato-Kamiichi train station following the Yoshino River upstream. This route is nice if you are into the idea of checking out the scenery of a rural riverside town in Japan. You could even do some swimming in the Yoshino River along the way if it is warm enough.
There is also a bus that leaves from in front of the station that will take you to Miyataki (the district wherein Kisadani is located), but it does not run very often and finishes early in the day. If you do decide to go there by following the Yoshino River, you can always return by a different path through the interesting Yoshinoyama area and catch a train from Yoshino Station. See the map below for more information on this route.
The second way to get to Kisadani is to start from the top of the valley (through the district of Yoshinoyama where you train access via Yoshino Station) and walk down to Takataki Falls. I personally recommend this route, as the area of Yoshinoyama is already a very interesting place to walk through, so the hike to Takataki Falls will be a fantastic bonus to top of an already great day.
For this route you can walk from Yoshino Station and either walk directly up to the main road of Yoshinoyama or go to the left and walk up the Sasayaki-no-komich Road through Onsen Valley. If you walk up the main street of Yoshinoyama, you will need to look for a sign (see below) that will indicate the trailhead.
Follow the direction of the “Yoshino Miyataki Mano-no-michi Road.” The trailhead is also a driveway for a house so be sure not to accidentally walk into someone’s living room. Where the driveway ends take the LEFT path after instead of heading up the stone steps or up to the houses. After the path becomes a dirt trail it will lead you through a cherry tree grove and eventually you will find the next sign which will point you in the direction of Miyataki (which is the way to Takataki).
If you decide to take the Sasayaki-no-komichi you will need to go straight and left from Yoshino Station and take the middle valley road that runs past the apartment complex. From there you will walk up a pleasant river valley until you hit a fork where you must go left again and pass through Nyoirin-ji Temple. Continue through the temple grounds and follow the driveway uphill to the road. Across the road you will see a cobble path that leads uphill. Follow the signs from there to Miyataki.
Either route you take from Yoshinoyama will require you to go downhill again for a ways to reach Takataki Falls but the route makes for a nice hike through the forest following the Kisa-no-ogawa Creek. Combining a walk through the riverside townscape or ancient temple district of Yoshinoyama with a refreshing walk in the forest makes for a perfect day plan.
Outside of Yoshinoyama, there are no bathrooms or amenities of any kind on this course. Bring any food or water you may need.