Because nothing says “stupid” like a drive to lake Chuzenji (中禅寺湖) in the middle of January, in a minicar (yellow tag car) without winter tires, we immediately decided to do it. Hey, we might be highly educated, but I’ve never said we were smart.
Initially, all we wanted was to go to Nikko. And once in Nikko, we just kept going. And before we knew it, we were on the Irohazaka and since it’s a one-way road up the mountain, we had no choice but continue.
Irohazaka is one twisty mofo of a road, and even if you suddenly wanted to turn around and go back to Nikko proper, you can’t. There’s no such option. You have to go all the way back before you can drive down.
I say “Nikko proper”, because while Chuzenji is still technically within the Nikko city limits, in reality it’s about 20 km away. You see, in 2006 Nikko city swallowed a whole bunch of smaller towns (like Imaichi) and now is the third largest (by area) municipality in Japan. Size? 1,449.87 km². Population? Less than 100,000. Yes, I know that compared to Kiruna’s 20,714.66 km² (or Shire of East Pilbara in Western Australia – municipal area: 379,571 km²) Nikko is tiny, but by Japanese standards it’s huge.
And even what is “Nikko proper” can be debated, because when those other towns were incorporated into Nikko, the main city hall was moved to Imaichi (one of those “other” towns).
But where were we? Ah yes, lake Chuzenji last weekend.
It was cold. Very cold. And windy. The thermometer showed only about -3 degrees Celsius, but with the windchill it felt like a lot less than that. And since we were already there, we thought we might as well be tourists for a day (or at least for as long as we could stand it in the open air) and see the sights.
Kegon Falls (華厳滝) was first on the list, because nothing says “a great weekend” like looking at a half-frozen waterfall while the wind does its best to rip your head off. What can I say? We like to suffer.
A group of mainly Korean tourists suffered along with us. Koreans are hardy people, they’re not afraid of cold weather. But even they didn’t stay on the viewing platform very long choosing to seek refuge in the gift shop instead.
Kegon Falls is indeed a very pretty waterfall. I guess. I can only assume it’s very pretty during more temperate seasons, because it was really hard to determine the full extent of its beauty last weekend.
To get to the viewing platform you need to take the elevator – tickets: 530 yen adults, 320 yen kids (as of January 2010). Then you need to walk a little bit through an underground (or rather – in the rock) passage, and go down a few steps.
Sadly, the viewing platform may not be accessible for people with impaired mobility, but if you’ve been in Japan for more than a week, you should be used to this sad fact. Most places in this country are not exactly wheelchair friendly. And Kegon Falls is no exception.
The waterfall used to be a favorite location for suicide jumpers, but not these days. And I’m not surprised, after all, it’s only 97 meters high. So while it may be a very picturesque place to kill yourself, there are many other, and a lot more convenient, ways to check out.
The most famous Kegon Falls jumper was 18 year old Misao Fujimura (藤村操) back in 1903. A girl rejected his advances and he apparently figured that killing himself was the only way to deal with it. And so he traveled to Chuzenji (which back in those days must have been a rather slow and difficult journey), wrote a farewell poem on a tree trunk and jumped. And that made him famous.
Apart from a dead forlorn teenage poet, Kegon Falls is famous for its beauty and considered one of the finest waterfalls in Japan (along with Nachi in Wakayama prefecture and Fukuroda in Ibaraki).
I’ll be sure to investigate this beauty in greater detail when the weather gets a bit warmer and the surroundings greener.