Sandankyo 三段峡

photos & text by Daniel Simmons

The empty parking lot outside the southern entrance of Sandankyo was a lonely place, made all the more cheerless and desolate by a dousing of early November rain, but the spry and smiling parking attendant who came to greet me at the bus stop insisted that he wouldn’t trade his office space for anywhere else.

“I’ve traveled all over this country,” the attendant beamed, “and I think this is the most beautiful place in Japan.” He pointed past the small clutch of omiyage shops and cafes toward the entrance of the gorge proper, beyond which, he assured me, I would find wonders in plenty. “I hope you brought your camera.”

It was a man with a camera, Hiroshima-born shutterbug Nanpo Kuma, who first brought the beauty of Sandankyo to national attention in 1910. Prior to then, the gorge, like most of what is now Nishi-Chugoku Sanchi Quasi-National Park, formed a corner of wilderness in northwestern Hiroshima that was inaccessible to most visitors.

These days a tastefully constructed, largely paved promenade follows the eastern side of the ravine for much of its 16km length, winding past sheer canyon walls and plunging waterfalls. Twenty minutes into my hike, the rain lifted and revealed a series of rapturous sights: the rapids of the Shibakigawa tumbling over polished quartzite boulders; fiery maples and bright beeches mingling with dark stands of evergreens; brilliant turquoise pools overshadowed by lofty, mist-veiled granite precipices.

A round-trip hike through the gorge takes a minimum of several hours in any season, but prospective visitors should factor in more time during the fall foliage period, when crowds flock to enjoy Sandankyo’s exquisitely tinted scenery. (Apparently the rainy weather during my visit was actually a stroke of luck; I saw fewer than 20 other hikers on the trails.)

The most famous scenic spot in Sandankyo is the 30-meter drop of the Sandan-no-taki, or Three-Step Falls, near the northern end of the ravine, but better still in my opinion is the Kurobuchi abyss further south, which can be navigated either on foot or by paying a premium for a boat ride through the narrow gap between towering 400-meter cliffs. Here too is a small restaurant: the coffee and yakisoba are nothing special, but you can’t beat the view.

Access: Train service to Sandankyo was discontinued in late 2003, but those without their own transportation can use the Hiroden bus service from the Hiroshima bus terminal (2 hours, 1400 yen). Renting a car is your best bet, however, since you can explore not only Sandankyo but also the surrounding mountains (nearby Mt. Osorakan is Hiroshima’s highest at 1346m), alpine meadows, and hot springs in the area. Campgrounds abound.








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