The green trees on these majestic rock faces hide a world of natural beauty, with temples, Buddhas, and amazing natural scenery straight from a Ghibli movie.
Tucked away among the mountains that run through Japan’s San’in region, not far from sites like the Grand Shrine of Izumo but hidden in the wooded hills, Tachikue Gorge (or Tachikuekyo, 立久恵峡) is a go-to spot for beautiful hikes and peaceful walks under the green trees. The gorge is known for the striking fractured cliff faces that loom high above the Kando River as it runs towards the Sea of Japan, and the roughly eroded rock surrounded by ancient pines almost looks like a waterfall of stone flowing into the water. Once home to mountain ascetics who flocked to the area’s strong spiritual pull, the area now attracts travelers looking for a glimpse of the San’in region’s natural beauty.
While the rock faces of Tachikue Gorge are beautiful to look at from the far side of the river, it’s even better when you cross one of the bridges and head into the woods to take a look around! Visitors looking for a serene stroll under the sun-dappled will find easy walking paths along the river, but hikers can get the blood pumping by tackling the short trail that heads higher up into the mountain. Those willing to climb up the mountainside and aim for the top are rewarded with some great views from the mountaintop lookout!
No matter the route chosen, the forest is bursting with life, and warm weather really brings out the vibrant greens of the leaves overhead and the soft moss underfoot. Tiny lizards dart across the path and dragonflies whip through the air overhead. Fans of the movies made by Studio Ghibli might just begin to understand where the inspiration for all the beautiful scenes of Japan’s countryside comes from―it looks like Totoro could pop out from among the trees at any time.
Between two bridges in a shady enclave near the river, one of the Tachikue Gorge’s must-see spots is this collection of jizo (地蔵), Buddhist statues. Over 1,000 of the stone figures stand silently in the mossy clearing, gathered in small crowds around the trees or against the cliff face. The sheer numbers lend the area a uniquely mysterious atmosphere, but the quiet spot by the rushing river is undeniably tranquil at the same time.
Visitors might not want to look too closely at all the Buddhist statues, though! Each of the thousand different jizo is a little different from the next, in terms of size, pose, costume, and of course facial features. Local legend says that out of those thousand different faces, one of them is bound to look like you… and that might not be a good thing. If you happen to find your twin while examing each of the jizo, legend says that you’ll be inescapably cursed with some kind of misfortune, bound to catch up with you in the following three days!
Next to the jizo clearing, a set of uneven stone steps, with bits of green bursting from between each of the rocks, leads up to one last Tachikue Gorge spot: Reikoji Temple. The history of this Buddhist temple is said to go back 1200 years, to the era of Emperor Junna, when a traveling Buddhist priest was passing through the area. After hearing a voice coming from the river, the priest went to the water and found a huge blue-shelled turtle, with a Buddhist statue floating on its back. Taking the statue and setting it up in a cave in the mountainside, the priest established a temple in the spot in the 4th year of the Tencho era (828 AD), and that temple eventually became the modern day Reikoji Temple.
For those willing to climb the steps, the temple is easily accessible, but the temple has a separate inner sanctum deeper in the mountain. This second structure is generally unmanned and empty, but visitors who stay after dark sometimes claim to hear the sound of a Buddhist fish gong echoing from the mountainside, said to be the work of a local tengu!
For a peaceful hike through the verdant mountainside, and a quick trip into what feels like another realm, Tachikue Gorge is just outside the popular traveler destination of Izumo! Don’t miss a trip to this unique destination in the San’in region.
Name: Tachikuekyo/Tachikue Gorge (立久恵峡)
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