In the mountains of Kitago, Nichinan, there is a hidden ravine that has the ability to relieve its visitors of their ailments. It’s not local lore or legend – spending time here has been scientifically proven to heal the body and mind. The Inohae Valley (猪八重渓谷 ) is one of three spots in Miyazaki prefecture that have been certified as “forest therapy bases” by the Japanese Society of Forest Medicine.
Forest therapy bases are parts of a forest where various psychological and physiological experiments have been conducted that show the healing and preventative medical benefits of the area. These range from boosting immunity and lowering blood pressure, to decreasing heart rates and relieving stress, anxiety and depression.
It sounds like hippy pseudoscience, but the concept of shinrin-yoku, or “forest bathing” as a health-enhancing practice is well established in Japan. It’s backed by an every-growing body of research that suggests a walk in the woods is one of the best things you can do for your health. A certification program to register forest therapy bases was started in 2006 and since then, 62 sites have been designated across the country.
If ajisai is the quintessential flower of tsuyu season, the firefly must be it’s insect. Called hotaru in Japanese, these lightning bugs swarm around streams and rivers in the countryside from late May to June and can be viewed in some places up until August. In Kobayashi, Idenoyama Park hosts a firefly festival every year, and after talking about going for almost a month, I finally got to it.
I must have woken up half of the forest with the scream I let rip when I felt my legs giving way beneath me, but Mark grabbed my arm and steadied me before I hit the ground. “Hahaha, you’re so weak,” he retorted with a smile. Three minutes later, he slipped and almost knocked himself out.
The rain had cleared up by the time I got back from the cave into Bungoono proper, so I took myself off to see the Harajiri Falls, nicknamed the “Niagara of the Orient”.
I’ve discovered that Japan is sometimes guilty of exaggerating its attractions in write ups, though, and the falls are no exception. They are indeed beautiful, and earn the 91st spot on Japan’s Top 100 Waterfalls list, but at only 20 m (66 ft) high and 120 m (410 ft) wide, they don’t live up to the comparison. Nevertheless, I would be lying if I said I didn’t marvel at them just a bit.
If you’re prone to motion sickness, the road up to Kegon Falls is a challenge. Ascending 400m in just a few kilometres, it snakes around 20 hairpin bends (yes, 20!) before reaching the top of the Nikko mountains. But it’s worth it. On the third day of our trip up north, after arriving just the night before, John and I decided to spend the morning exploring the most famous of Nikko’s 48 waterfalls.
Part of the Nikko National Park, Kegon-no-taki is considered one of the top 3 most beautiful waterfalls in all of Japan. And when you take the elevator down through its bedrock to a multi-platform viewing deck (550円/$4.59 per adult), it’s easy to see why.
“Woaah!” I exclaimed to Mark. “Are you seeing this?” The red shrine that he was investigating wasn’t enough to distract me from the roar of water falling down. An unexpected stop on our roadtrip to Miyakonojo had led us down a flight of stone stairs to meet the majestic Sekino-o Falls.
With the cherry blossoms forecasted to open in Miyazaki later this week, our original plan was to see if we could catch any early bloomers; the sakura festivals will take place around Miyazaki next weekend but I’ll be away in Nagano and Nikkō then.
We had been in Mochio Park, enjoying the couple of blossoms that had opened and the tree lilacs in full bloom. We were definitely too early to see the sakura in all of their pink and popcorn glory, though. But the view of the surrounding countryside from Mochio Shrine was pretty impressive.
When I first visited Takachiho back in July, it left quite an impression on me. I knew I wanted to go back and explore more of the area, so when a friend and fellow blogger, Lauren, invited me along on her birthday trip to the Land of the Gods, my answer was immediately yes.
We headed to the gorge first. Being a long weekend, the parking lot was already full of people lining up for a shuttle bus. We decided to walk it and a few members of our group hurried ahead to put our names down for boats. The wait would be 4.5 hours.
On a long weekend in July, I made the 106 km (67 mi) trek up north by car to Takachiho Gorge. Since the holiday was Marine Day, it seemed fitting to spend it at one of Miyazaki’s most famous bodies of water.