Cruising through a gigantic volcanic valley in my white Toyota Vitz (such a gangster car…) on my way to Nanadaru, I did not expect to be taken on a geographical history lesson.
Nanadaru means seven waterfalls in Japanese. They are located inland this time. I had seen a lot of black lava coastline this week and learned that all of it was produced by Izu’s submarine volcanoes.
These submarine volcanoes are now very much not submerged under the ocean. After colliding with Honshu due to northward tectonic plate movement, they ARE Izu Peninsula.
I was driving through them.
On THIS road.
Kawazu-Nanadaru Loop Bridge was built this way because the sides of the mountain are so steep it was impossible to build in the usual methods, to try and get vehicles down into the valley. With panoramic views of the stunning forested mountainsides with little Japanese houses clinging to the sides, curvy and seemingly suspended in the centre of the valley, this is probably one of the best drives in Japan.
Izu Peninsula, the only area in Honshu situated on the Philippine Sea Plate, was designated as Japan’s 9th UNESCO Global Geopark. A Geopark is an area of international geological significance and is managed to protect it for educational purposes and to encourage sustainable development of the local communities. In Izu you will drive past a bunch of brown signs with “Izu Geopark”, many which will be worth a visit.
Nanadaru is a leisurely hour long walk past seven stunning and diversely shaped waterfalls. They range from 30 meters tall to 2 meters tall.
Ō-daru (Big Waterfall)
Height: 30 meters. Width: 7 meters
At 30 metres tall, it is the highest of the Seven Falls. There is a separate downhill track from an attractive looking tea shop leading down to it. The trail stops at a viewing platform and a gate next to a wooden ticket office-like building. There was no-one around but I think you can buy a wristband for the onsen below here.
The onsen is right underneath Ōdaru Falls, and looks like the perfect place for a soak. The geothermal activity from the volcanoes will heat the water for these pools. Try not to trespass though, because if you’re caught, you will be fined 1,000,000¥.
Deai-daru (Meeting Waterfall)
Height: 2 meters. Width: 2 meters.
At the point where two rivers meet, is Deai-daru. There are a couple of impressively sounding waterfalls here and a smaller one, which you can get up really close to. Walk all the way to the end of this path to see the water cascade over a large semi-circular hole.
Each waterfall has a stamp that you can collect too. If that’s your thing, see if you can find all seven.
Kani-daru (Crab Waterfall)
Height: 2 meters. Width: 1 meters (15 meter long).
In comparison to Deai-daru waterfall, Kani-daru is less impressive in terms of size and noise, however its secluded setting in a deep green mountain stream makes it a tranquil place to perch on a rock by the pool and observe the crystal clear water caressing the pebbles as it floats by.
Between Kani-daru and Shokei-daru is quite a pleasant walk along a river lined with Japanese Maple trees, with some pretty falls and a couple interesting rocks. I expect this walk would be a great place to see the red leaves in autumn.
Just before approaching Shokei-daru, there is a huge boulder sat in the stream with washi paper tied across it, and a tiny shrine on top, indicating that it has some spiritual importance. A cup of grey-blue stones stands by the side of the trail, and for 100¥, you can have a try at throwing three at the bowl that sits atop the boulder.
I gave it a go.
Ok so I was rubbish so I tried again with another close-by wishing rock a little nearer this time.
Close!… but still rubbish. My wishes weren’t meant to be this time round 😉
Height: 10 meters. Width: 7 meters.
I passed a huddle of old Japanese folk on a falls tour around the perfect spot for taking selfies with a bronze statue of “Odoriko (dancing girl) and me”. This sculpture is from a renowned book called ‘The Dancing Girl of Izu’, a story about the interactions between a young male student from Tokyo, and a small group of travelling performers from nearby Oshima island. Written by Kawabata Yasunari, a Nobel Prize winner, it’s associated with the region of Kawazu Town, where these waterfalls are located.
This spot is also a main venue of the Taki Matsuri which means “waterfall festival” in Japanese. There is also a Sakura Matsuri in February.
Hebi-daru (Snake Waterfall)
Height: 3 meters. Width: 2 meters.
It is named Hebi-daru, as the pattern of basalt rocks around the waterfall looks like scales of snakes. This pattern in the rock is no accident, I saw the same hexagonal columns all over the coastline.
It is formed when lava pushed up from the erupting submarine volcanoes cooled rapidly under the sea’s surface, forming small 90° cracks which, as the lava cooled further these little cracks would consolidate into larger cracks down the columns, shifting to an angle of 120°, the same angle as the corners of a hexagon. This is really common in basalt rock, and some famous examples are found at Giant’s Causeway in Ireland and Fingal’s Cave in Scotland.
A good view of the hexagonal basalt rocks can be seen from the Kawazu Odoriko Takimi-bashi Bridge.
Ebi-daru (Shrimp Waterfall)
Height: 5 meters. Width: 3 meters.
This waterfall is named after its appearance like a tail of shrimps. It is the oldest waterfall in the area, indicated by the fact that it has worn away the hexagonal basalt rocks from 25,000 years ago and left the original strata of the submarine volcano exposed.
This particular waterfall involves a slight detour from the main trail towards Kama-daru to view it, and it is well worth a look at its pale blue pools with foamy white falls in between.
Height: 22 meters. Width: 2 meters.
Kama-daru is a gigantic waterfall, the second highest among the Seven Falls. It’s really quite stunning viewed from the miniature shrine in the corner.
Each one had a little stone figure of a deity related to the waterfall. An opportunity to take some time to pay respects in such a beautiful natural setting.
Another beautiful viewpoint of Kama-daru is up to a wooden platform. Here you can get really close to the waterfall and I came away all clothes quite damp from the cool mist coming from the cascading water.
A really sweet young Japanese couple excitedly brought to my attention the combination of sun and this mist here making a beautiful double rainbow.
If you are really keen for a long hike you can continue past the falls and Saruta Depth pool, and go into a thick forest of cedar trees that tower above your head. This part of the walk becomes quite and is a chance to really enjoy Japanese nature.
The whole hike to Jōren Falls is 18.9km, which passes through Amagi Tunnel, another notable landmark.
Hidden within the bushes are some man-made, stepped waterfalls which I could see some tiny plants sprouting from the troughs with water continually flowing over them. At first I disregarded them but upon seeing a few more I was curious.
A sign read わさび, which I instantly recognised on the little packets of green paste that comes with sushi. These are wasabi farms. This area is really famous for wasabi and many of the gift stores sell wasabi flavoured gifts such as chocolate and miso.
Wasabi looks like a big root, and traditionally wasabi was served as the root with a small grater, to compliment simple dishes such as sashimi or sushi.
I decided to be brave and try wasabi ice-cream. There are many stores you can try this from, I decided to go for a small kiosk next to the main carpark, which seemed like a popular choice with the tour groups here. You could have full wasabi or a mix of wasabi and vanilla.
The taste is actually a lot less offensive that I expected. It had the creaminess of vanilla with a slight familiar spicy taste that wasabi gives you. Similar to chilli ice-cream.
Height: 25m. Depth of Plunge Pool: 15m.
Finishing my 12km hike for the day, I drive on towards Jōren Falls, to the last waterfall along this stretch of road within the valley.
The walk is short but leads to an impressive steaming waterfall. It was appointed as one of “Japan’s Top 100 Waterfalls” by the Japanese Ministry of Environment in 1990.
According to Japanese folklore, this is home to the legendary mistress of the Jōren Falls, Jorōgumo; a spider that can transform into a seductive woman.
Local stories I found on this yōkai (creature, ghost or goblin) Jorōgumo, tells of a man being dragged into the Jōren Falls deep plunge pool by her webs. The man managed to free his leg from the webbing and attach it to a nearby tree stump, which was dragged into the waterfall instead. After that, people of the village dared not venture close anymore. Then one day, a visiting woodcutter tried to cut a tree and accidentally dropped his favorite axe into the basin. As he tried to fetch his axe back, a beautiful woman appeared and returned it to him. “You must never tell anyone what you saw here”, she said. Initially he kept the secret, but as the days went by, the need to spill the story burdened him. And finally after a few drinks over dinner, he told the whole story. Feeling at peace, he went to sleep, and the woodcutter was pulled outside by an invisible string and his corpse was found floating the next day at the Jōren Falls.
The little stores around here sell more delicious wasabi based products and is also where you can hire a rod and go rainbow trout fishing for a small fee.
Full of information, I headed on to stay in Itō. I couldn’t wait for tomorrow when I had planned to hike one of the volcanoes responsible for the abundance of black basalt rocks lining Izu Peninsula’s coastline.
‘Til next time…