Sunday, February 4, 2018

Kyushu Itinerary: 1 day in Takachiho

       Takachiho is a town in Nishiusuki District Northern Miyazaki, known as the "land of Japanese Mythology”. It is made famous by the legend of the Sun Goddess who hid in the cave to protest against her brother’s (Susano'o) violence. Takachiho is also mentioned in many other legends, for example, the story of god Ninigi descending from heaven.
Takachiho Attractions

      As I am a fan in world mythology, this is one of the must-see spots high on my Japan bucket list, just second to Mount Fuji. However, when I was researching into the ways to reach Takachiho, the resources online were limited and mostly in Japanese.
      Takachiho’s beauty isn’t a “secret”, but only a few foreign tourists make it this far, now I know exactly why. Hence, since I’ve been to it and back, I would like to share my experience with you.
How to go to Takachiho Gorge

How I Got There? 

       First and foremost, you will not be able to use your JR Pass for this day trip. There used to be a railway track between Nobeoka and Takachiho but it was destroyed by Typhoon Nabi in 2005, rendering the Takachiho Station useless. Since it is now easiest accessible by bus from Kumamoto or Nobeoka, I used the pass to catch a Shinkansen to Kumamoto to spend the night.
       I stayed in Nest Kumamoto, a decent hotel around the corner to Kumamoto Kotsu station(熊本交通センター). The next day at 8, we walked to Kumamoto Kotsu Station (open from 6.40am) to buy our tickets at the vending machine (If you try to buy it at the counter, the staff will take you to the vending machine and press the buttons for you. Easier for people who don’t read Japanese. ): ¥2300 for a one way tickets or ¥4110 round trip. Turned out, we don’t even have to be that early! Seat reservation is not necessary, very few people will be on it anyway.
How to go to Takachiho Gorge

       At 9.11am, bus stop #26, we got on the Express bus (Kyushu Sanko/ Miyazaki Kotsu) to Takachiho. Exactly at 12.09pm, the bus pulled over at the Takachiho bus station. Please be aware that the bus company only operates 2 round trips per day so don’t miss the morning bus as the next one only depart late afternoon. The express bus will first make a stop at the Kumamoto airport before continuing any further. If you’ve decided to go to Mount Aso instead of Takachiho, you’ll have to wait at the same bus stop at Kumamoto Kotsu Center.
Kumamoto Bus to Takachiho

       As the bus slowly made its way to Takachiho, we saw people boarding or leaving the bus without tickets. Only then we knew that we can actually get on the bus and pay in cash at our destination. The LED board at the front will show you the exact fare and you just have to pay through a machine beside the driver. If you don’t have the exact change, there is a money changer below the fare collecting machine, however larger bills like ¥5000 or ¥10,000 aren’t exchangeable. Anyhow, I still recommend buying a round trip ticket at the station so that you get that return trip ¥550 return trip discount.
Kumamoto Bus to Takachiho

How Can YOU Get There? 

       Use the method above if you are departing from Kumamoto or the Aso Kumamoto Airport. Alternatively, you can get to Nobeoka (the closest JR station from Takachiho). However, there are no Shinkansen to Nobeoka so going to this city itself is a longer journey. It will take 4 hours on a Sonic Express Train from Hakata in compared to 40 minutes Shinkansen Hakata-Kumamoto journey. That's the exact reason why I chose Kumamoto over Nobeoka. On the other hand, Nobeoka has more frequent (15 trips per day) bus services to Takachiho so you won’t need to worry about missing bus. The fare is also a lot cheaper, at only ¥1700 +/-.
       If you are traveling further in Miyazaki, Nobeoka will be a better base for you. You can also purchase a day pass that enables you to enjoy unlimited bus rides on all Miyazaki local buses at only 1,800 yen! As you can see, by paying only ¥100 extra, you get to board the bus back to Nobeoka for free!
       You can also reach Takachiho from Hakata station or Tenjin bus terminal. However, I have no information about this bus trip so you’ll need to ask around in the station. All I knew was that it wasn't an option for me since the journey takes longer and the fare much more expensive! The bus service (4 times per day) is operated by Miyazaki Kotsu in collaboration with Nishitetsu Bus.
Bus to Takachiho

My experience+ suggestion of what to do in Takachiho. 

       Time was not on my side when I only had about 5 hours to explore the whole area. To get to Takachiho Gorge from the Takachiho Bus Center, you need to walk straight down the paved road, pass the Takachiho Shrine and descent a winding hillside (also paved road). The whole journey will take about 20 minutes without stopping. There was actually a shuttle bus operating between the bus center and the gorge, however, it is no longer in operation so this is why a taxi ride to the gorge cost more than ¥1000 in less than 6 minutes!
Takachiho Trail

       Takachiho Gorge, to me, is one of those sacred places which is perfect for a spiritual experience. It was precipitated from Aso’s lava which eroded over time by the Gokase River to form the high cliffs we see today. You can really feel the force of nature here at its full glory.
Takachiho waterfall

       We tried walking on the hiking trail to catch a glimpse of the 17-meter-high Minai-no-taki waterfalls but in my opinion, it is best viewed from the waters. We rented a boat and paddle up close to the waterfall (¥1500/30 minutes for 3 person). The boat was pretty easy to navigate, the only obstacles that I could think of, is bumping into someone else boats.  
Takachiho boat
Takachiho boat

       After that, we did some shopping in the on-site souvenir shop, where we tried everything mango- and orange- flavored. If you are planning to bring something uniquely Takachiho back, Kagura senbei (rice cake with yokagura dancer printed on it) is a good choice.
Kagura senbei

       To please our stomach and palate, we walked into Chiho no Ie Teahouse (千穂の家) recommended by the friendly staff at the Takachiho Tourist Information Center. It is located at the trailhead (you need to turn left into the garden area, walking past the big rock with “Takachiho” carved on it), perched on the cliff atop the boating deck. We are here to try the specialty of Takachiho, the Nagashi Somen (そめん流し).
Takachiho Nagashi Somen

       Nagashi Somen is directly translated into "flowing noodles”, which more or less tell you what it is from the start, but I was still super excited to catch my noodles. There were 8 bamboo chutes with running water in the restaurant. To our surprise, the restaurant was completely empty, in contrary to what we’ve read online, saying if this one is full, we should go to the restaurant directly opposite it. We didn’t have to. We picked the coziest seat... For 500 yen per person, we were given a set of chopsticks and a cup of dipping sauce. Then the waiter goes into a small hut at the start of the bamboo flume… On top of her lungs, she shouted “Let the noodles flow!" and the first batch of noodles came rushing down the flume. We missed some as the clusters came progressively faster after the first few nabs. At the end of our session, the waiter presented us a basket with the noodles we had missed (can’t believe we let so much flowed by!)
Takachiho Nagashi Somen
Takachiho Nagashi Somen

       We tried some other items on the menu. We also heard that they have one of the best wagyu in Miyazaki due to the fact that battles are fed with beer curd here.
Takachiho food

       We passed by Takachiho Shrine without stopping by just now and so on our way back, we made a point to at least check it out. The Shrine is located in the heart of Takachiho town.
Takachiho shrine
Takachiho shrine

       The Takachiho shrine hosts a 1-hour Kagura show every night in the small wooden building next to the main hall. Kagura is a Shinto Native dance reenacting the Japanese legends. Admission is only ¥500 per person. If you plan to stay for Show, Takachiho B&B is a cool place to spend the night. Note that the true Kagura dance is performed all night, this 1-hour show is just a presentation for tourists with shorter attention span. If you are keen to join the dusk to dawn show, it will be held at varying local farmhouses several times between November and February.
       Then after the show, in the morning, you can take a taxi to Amanoiwato Shrine which is a little out of the town. The fare should be no more than ¥2500. Amanoiwato shrine is the site where Amaterasu (the Sun Goddess) hid. Mortals could never go into the actual cave, but there is an observation deck built to accommodate pilgrims, where they piled up countless stones on the path.

---- The End----

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