Takachiho embodies old town charm and history, as much as serenity and beautiful scenery. The bus ride from the most likely station, Nabaoke is magnificent, offering enchanting views of vibrant rolling hills and rice steps. It’s a bit out of the way of normal Japan sightseeing loops, but if time allows, we’d highly recommend stopping in for a visit.
The history of Takachiho. It’s said that once upon a time, thousands of years ago, the sun goddess Amaterasu escaped to hide in a cave, in Takachiho, to escape the nasty pranks her brother continuously played on her. Leaving the rest of the gods to live in darkness, they all met and agreed to work together to persuade her out of the cave. A series of dances, known as, Yokagura (or Kagura as it’s often referred to), were performed in front of the cave, and eventually, she came out. Much of the mythical history of Japan is rooted here, and it still preserves a very quiet and spiritual energy that are quite opposite of its popular city counterparts.
People’s Lodge. We stumbled upon this place in a quick search for accommodation in Takachiho and found ourselves happily surprised to walk into a beautiful traditional Japanese styled room, with a view looking out over the entire valley. We felt like we were alone with the world here, and the man who owns it went out of his way to make us feel at home. An array of foods were served to us each morning, ranging from hard boiled eggs to macaroni and potato salad; all delicious. It was also within walking distance of everything we wanted to see, so was quite convenient that way. It was hard to leave, especially as the man happily drove us to our bus!
Takachiho Gorge. This is the gorge in which the sun goddess was said to have hidden. It’s also said to be one of the most spiritual places in all of Japan. We sadly visited at a time soon after an earthquake in the area, so many of the hiking trails were closed off. Luckily we were able to rent a canoe and row down the turquoise river, past the waterfall to beautiful vantage points, and hike through the short trails that were still operating.
There is an open air trolley car called a Smart Cart, that runs the old Takachiho railroad track. It’s a brief ride, but takes you through tunnels and mountainside, to a stunning lookout point spanning the entire valley. Ideal for the avid photographer.
Takachiho’s Yokagura. A traditional Japanese folk dance that’s been passed down through the generations. It’s said to have originated when the goddess Amano-Uzume performed a dance to entice goddess Amaterasu out of the Amano-Iwato cave where she was hiding. Traditionally there are 33 dances that are performed to display the full tale, but an abbreviated 4 are performed nightly from 8pm – 9pm at the top of the Takachiho Shrine. Tickets are 700 yen. If you have time before the show starts, put some change into the fortune teller machine near the entrance. Although the fortune is solely in Japanese script, it’s said to be good luck (and you may be lucky to find someone who can help you translate it for you!)
- Name unknown: Noodle Shop.* On the left hand side of the street, in front of a grocery store, after the shrine. You’ll know you’re in the right place if you walk in to see the walls covered in running photos. An English menu is available, and we’d recommend getting the udon noodles with beef and tofu. The owner is an older man who was a former professional marathon runner. His finisher photos from races all over the world, many with gold medalist Olympians, are all over the walls. I asked him about them, and he eagerly took me on a full tour, explaining as best as he could, where all the races took place and who all the people in the photos were. A really special way to connect after a great meal!
- Name unknown: Izakaya.* On the right hand side of the street after the 2nd stoplight if you’re walking away from the gorge. We had a very animated conversation with the owners, interested in getting to know us, and we, interested in getting to know them. The food was great to our delight, as we had simply pointed to a few things and hoped for the best! They’ll offer a conversion menu with a few graphics which you can’t be completely sure what they translate to, but trust that all the food is good, so you likely can’t go wrong!
- Miyazaki / Takachiho beef. This is also one of Japan’s finest types of beef, and we were able to get a taste of it via yakatori at the izakaya. There are two BBQ steak houses in town that serve this beef, owned by the same person. Ask your host to point you in the right direction.
*Unfortunately, everything, including the maps, listed these places in Japanese script, but they were easy to find, and worth the hunt!