Travel diaries

Nametoko Gorge 1

2011.03

Crystal-clear waters flow among huge boulders, creating hundreds of small waterfalls and eddies rushing along smooth rocks. The mountains tower above, and even in the summer much of the valley is in shadows, touched only briefly by the sun. There is little sound aside from the trickle and rush of the waters and the occasional breeze through the trees and the cry of a monkey. Trails wind throughout the area, leading to beautiful waterfalls and local peaks. It is a glimpse of old Japanese nature, so elusive in this era. This is Nametoko Gorge; one of the most beautiful and unique places in Ehime Prefecture.

Nestled in the mountains east of Uwajima, in the little town of Matsuno, Nametoko Gorge is difficult to get to, but worth the effort. Driving through the mountain roads to Nametoko, small farmhouses and rice paddies line the road and the view. The bustle and rush and concrete jungle of much of Japan is hardly imaginable here; rather, the view does not seem to have changed much in decades, and it is easy to imagine how much of Japan must have looked.

Deeper into the mountains the road narrows, until there is only space for one vehicle at a time; when two meet one person must graciously back up to one of the few wider areas along the way.

Continuing on, a European-style chalet comes into view on the right, the Morinokuni (Forest Country) Lodge. With a steeple red roof, white paint and brown trim, it may not look Japanese, but it fits well into the mountainous environs. Across the river to this lodge is a nice suspension bridge, which is frequently adorned with various decorations depending on the season. Perhaps the best time is in early spring when the carp streamers hung up for Children's Day flutter in the wind.

The interior of the hotel is also European-style, with ornate woodwork and furniture, high ceilings, and an interesting, almost campfire-style fireplace. There is a restaurant and also an onsen (hot spring) at the hotel, and a soak after a day of hiking is a must. If you're just visiting for the day, the hotel is still worth a quick look, and the lobby has various local products including jams made from yuzu citrus and mikan oranges, wines, cookies, and much more. If you are staying the night, there are European and Japanese-style rooms with average prices ranging from \12,000 to \18,000.

Although the hotel can be reached by the bridge, continuing on will take you to the main parking area just across the main stone bridge over the river. Continuing on the road will take you down to the primary Morinokuni Hotel's parking area. There are several lodges near Morinokuni hotel, however; they are not all currently in use.

Above the lodges is a parking area where most day hikers park. There is a bathroom for any pre-departure needs, and hikers should be aware there are no restroom facilities past this point.

It is common to see Japanese macaques near the parking lot, and seeing Japanese animals in the wild is definitely a treat. However, be forewarned that the monkeys are not to be taken lightly. Beware of leaving car doors open or anything lying on the ground; more than one sandwich has been lost sitting in a lunch bag. Hikers have even had monkeys steal food right out of their hands when they weren't looking!

In addition to monkeys, there are numerous Japanese deer in the area, as well as boars, though it is rare to see either.

  • Name:

    Christopher Reed

  • National origin:

    USA

Top of page

Nametoko Gorge 2

2011.03

From the parking area, it is only a few meters down to the bridge and the real start of the hiking trails. There are trails running along both sides of the river up into the mountains, and they both have many lovely views. For the first time hiker, the right-hand trail has some huge boulders and small shrines at the beginning which are very neat and Japanese, and this is the recommended route.

The river constantly cascades over rocks, creating numerous shallow pools all along the way. Some of these are easily deep enough to swim in, and there are even rope swings hanging over two of the pools. The river water is quite cold throughout the year, so unless you are used to cold-water swimming you probably won't want to go outside of July and August.

Continuing on up the trail past huge boulders that seem out of place among the smaller stones and more typical stream-features, you will eventually come to one of the main highlights of the area, Yukiwa Falls. This waterfall is formed by a long, sloping rock face which the water runs down into a shallow pool. This is a lovely area for photography, and there is a viewing platform above the falls as well. Next to the waterfall is a small pool formed from a natural bowl in the rocks. The water has cut an almost perfect curve into the rock, and the water is an enchanting, shimmering green. It is also surprisingly deep; despite the clear water it is impossible to see the bottom of the pool.

In summer this is one of the best places to go swimming in the gorge. Yukiwa Falls is very popular with groups; people often hike up and spend the afternoon sliding down the falls on tubes or other devices. It is not uncommon to see chains of more than three people all sliding down together. It is possible to jump off the rocks above the deeper pool without hitting bottom, but they quickly become slippery and the climb becomes dangerous.

  • Name:

    Christopher Reed

  • National origin:

    USA

Top of page

Nametoko Gorge 3

2011.03

Past Yukiwa falls trails begin to branch out and head deeper into the mountains. It is even possible to hike from Nametoko Gorge to nearby Kihoku Town's Narukawa Valley, and even to Uwajima, though these are serious hikes and a round trip in one day is not possible for all but the fittest and strongest hikers. It is quite manageable to make the hike to the top of several surrounding mountain peaks and back in a day, though. Most of these hikes take from six to eight hour depending on the peak and the condition of the hikers.

For people interested in hiking past Yukiwa Falls, but not to the top of mountains, another highlight of the area is Okura Falls. The waterfall is a vertical rock wall, with water hitting only a few small outcroppings on its way down to the large rocks below. From there it collects in multiple small pools and waterfalls and flows down into the valley.

Okura Falls is secluded, and requires a one to two hour hike past Yukiwa Falls. To get there, continue past Yukiwa Falls and cross a small bridge over the river. From there, look for a trail that branches off to the left, and a warning sign about the poor condition of the trail. Continue on up the trail, which can be difficult to follow in a few places. The last part of the trail has two rope ladders which extend up a large rock face; from the top of these ladders Okura Falls will be visible. The rock face is very slippery when wet; considerable caution is recommended if climbing in the rain or in wet conditions. However, in wet conditions there will be more water in the fall, and occasional mist hanging lightly over the fall is worth the slippery climb.

After a long day of hiking and enjoying the area, a soak in a hot springs is sheer heaven. In addition to the Morinokuni Hotel hot springs, the very nice Poppo Onsen in Matsuno is only a fifteen to twenty minute drive from the gorge. Located on the second floor of the Matsumaru train station, Poppo onsen is small, but very well-designed and atmospheric, with charming rock features and wood décor. There are two sides, one for men and one for women, and they alternate throughout the week. Each side has nice outdoor pools, saunas, and large indoor baths. Shampoo and body soap are provided, and towels are available for purchase. The cost for adults is \500.
If you get back to Matsuno earlier in the afternoon, there is a large aquarium and glassworks that are well worth a trip, and the plaza that houses them also has a shop that sells many local products made from mikan, yuzu and numerous other crops.

There are many beautiful and scenic places in Ehime, but Nametoko Gorge ranks with best of them. If you are touring the Prefecture, a visit to Nametoko will be one of the highlights of your trip. Escape the crowds, and come see an area of Japan that few people will ever see.

  • Name:

    Christopher Reed

  • National origin:

    USA

Top of page

WELCOME TO MIKAME !

2011.03

Mikame is a small, pretty fishing village in Seiyo city located on the coast of Ehime between Akehama and Yawatahama.

It has a population of about 6000 people, most of whom enjoy fishing.

Mikame is made up of several sub-villages which stretch along the coast. It takes about 25 minutes to drive to Mikame from Uwa (the main town in Seiyo city.) Just the drive to Mikame reveals a lot of beautiful Japanese countryside with many rice fields and shrines and a mountain road that seems to just lead out to the middle of nowhere. Wild boar are often seen on the road and seeing deer is also not unheard of.

Mikame town centre sports a small Shotengai and while there is no longer a lot there, there are many cheap, tasty restaurants, izakaya bars and a couple of nice cafes.

From most places in Mikame you can see the ocean. Always a beautiful colour blue and standing on the edge of the water anywhere along the coast, you are bound to see many fish. Fishing is a popular pastime and with many friendly fishermen to chat to, one can learn a lot about the long history and culture of Mikame.

Driving or biking along the opposite coast on your way out to Akehama is a wonderful experience. There are a few sightseeing places and look out points which are especially beautiful during a sunrise or sunset.

While there are no onsen or sento in the area, it only takes about 45 minutes by car along the same coast to Akehama's Hama no Yu Onsen.

While the climate in Mikame is fairly mild all year around, it does snow quite heavily once or twice a year in the winter.

Please come to Mikame and experience this friendly and beautiful countryside for yourself.

  • Name:

    Adam Butler

  • National origin:

    New Zealand