Kuroyama is a beautiful, mystical, rugged area of Ogose town. It is best known for the three waterfalls of Kuroyama (Kuroyama Santaki), which were once ranked as the 9th most scenic waterfalls in Japan. They don’t enjoy as much fame these days and the area – while beautiful – does feel quite neglected, doomed even. The closure of the natural hot springs Kuroyama Kosenkan in 2014, which were a draw for more than a 100 years, sealed the end of an era. However, thankfully the hot springs have recently reopened as the chic Cafe St Gallen with a popular “love” photo spot.
Off the bat the place feels very touristy. You drive (or walk) through an arch marking the main entrance to the area. It also seems to mark the divide between the “normal” flat lands and the enchanted albeit ill-fated wooded mountain village. About half a kilometre past the entrance through a mature wood the car park is on the right hand side. From there it is an easy and scenic walk to the furthest of the three Kuroyama falls which are only about 800 meters away.
- Waterfalls of Kuroyama
- Annual light up event
- In summation
- Information and access
1. Kuroyama background
Reading about the history of Kuroyama and then seeing it, I got a strong sense that the area is somewhat accursed. It starts with the fall of the yamabushi monks.
>>Yamabushi monks, shugendo and takigyo
The waterfalls were initially discovered by Yamabushi monks. Said to be ideal for the practice of takigyo – waterfall meditation – the monks were drawn to the area as an ideal spot for their ascetic Shugendo religion. However, Nobunaga Oda almost eradicated the monks as payback for Ikkō-ikki, a Buddhist revolt against feudal leadership. And the monks moved on from Kuroyama. The area is now Shinto territory.
>>Cafe St Gallen / Kuroyama Kosenkan
In most recent history the famed hot springs Kuroyama Kosenkan that thrived in previous eras fell to ruin. As recently as 2014. Thankfully the beautiful building, was renovated last year and converted into a chic cafe. The menu is very mixed, soba, cheese curry, toast… we were after the ice-cream and shaved ice, but unfortunately the cafe is actually closed right now due to the coronavirus outbreak.
The cafe has both indoor and outdoor seating. Indoors is retro living room style. Meanwhile the outdoor seating is modern and chic, in a photogenic courtyard. The courtyard is located right beside the public car park. If you are visiting the restaurant it has a car park of its own across the road from it, beside the small but beautifully done garden with the love statue.
As far as I know the love statue was added when St Gallen opened a few months ago in the old Kuroyama Kosenkan. There is sign up at the garden to “use freely” which implies that you don’t have to be a patron of the restaurant to use the garden. There are tables and chairs behind the statue and two swings behind them. The garden also has some bamboo trees and a roofed tatami mat rest area.
About 200 meters after passing the Kuroyama Kosenkan (and another restaurant with a tree trunk outside) you cross over a bridge. On the left hand side you can see a collection of stone statues on the other side of the river. And a broken bridge that prevents you from crossing over to investigate. I have to say that this curious collection of tablet-like-stones intrigued me the most on our visit. When I got home I tried to unearth some information.
Piecing together bits of information I found online it would seem that Sanpei Owariya erected these stones. Sanpei Owariya was born and raised in current day Ogose town. He left Ogose to work in Edo (Tokyo) were he eventually became a prominent pleasure house owner. He pretty much claimed the Kuroyama falls as his family’s. The stone statues marked his territory.
They are in a state of disrepair now and with the bridge crushed (possibly by a stone during a typhoon) you can only see them from a distance. There is currently scaffolding around the stones, but that is also falling down so I doubt they will be fixed up anytime soon.
About 250 meters after the religious tablets and just before you come to the first of the three waterfalls, there is a ramshackle building over a precariously perched bridge on the left. It is home to a fishing center. But they also sell salted grilled iwana (a type of trout) on a skewer so you can walk and eat. The Arakawa runs by the fishing center, but I doubt that they catch the trout there as it is tiered and rocky in this area. Maybe further up or down river. There is a charged car park just past the fish kiosk. I wouldn’t really recommend it if you have a seven seater car as there doesn’t seem to be a lot of room to maneuver.
2. Waterfalls of Kuroyama
The three waterfalls of Kuroyama, Kuroyama Santaki, are Odaki “male waterfall”, Medaki “female waterfall” and Tengu Taki “heavenly dog waterfall”. Shortly after you pass the charged parking lot you come to the first waterfall; Tengu Taki.
>>Tengu Taki “heavenly dog waterfall”
Tengu is a legendary figure in Japan. They are considered a type of shinto kami (God) or supernatural being called a yokai in Japanese. Easily recognizable by a characteristic long nose often painted in red, there are lots of theories on the history of the Tengu. One which I find amusing is that they were modeled on the “long noses” of foreigners. The twenty meter falls were called after the mythical character as he is believed to live in the Kuroyama mountains.
Unfortunately the Tengu Taki are currently off limits due to damage from typhoon Hagibis last year. You can see them from the road. However, normally you can actually cross over a bridge and walk along a ridge to see them. Just past the Tengu falls there are shide, the zigzagged white paper markings of shinto religion, stretched from a large stone into the forest. It marks the area as spiritual.
>>Rest area / Shop
Shortly after the shide and Tengu falls you come across two buildings with steps up to a tunnel. This marks the area of the Odaki and Medaki falls. The building on the right is actually a regular home, still inhabited, but yet part of the public area. The building on the left is a tuck shop. It isn’t open at the moment due to the Coronavirus outbreak. When you pass through the tunnel there are a couple of rest areas. And you will see some religious statues in an area up some steps. You can also see, hear and smell the Odaki waterfall…
>>Odaki and Medaki
The “o” of Odaki falls denotes male in Japanese. Daki is taki, the Japanese for waterfall. Likewise the “me” of Medaki indicates female. The “male” Odaki falls are above and flow into the female Medaki falls – take from that what you will! They are also larger, longer – and more conspicuous. The Medaki falls are smaller, shorter softer and more secluded. Odaki is ten meters high. Medaki is five meters. You can imagine the Yamabushi monks sitting in the fall pools of Odaki and Medaki meditating with the falls plummeting on their heads.
The Odaki and Medaki falls mark the end of the road. There is another walk if you pass over the picturesque bridge, but its off limits at the moment due to damage sustained during typhoon Hagibis. Taking that route though would take you back to beside the Tengu falls. And you can actually climb up to the top of Odaki and continue on a longer hike into the mountains:
If you climb up to the top of the Odaki waterfall there is a hiking trail that leads further into the mountains. You can climb up the steps by the residence, where there are lots of religious statues, and around a bend onto a path. From there markers on a tree indicate the way. It is very wild and we actually turned back after coming across a lot of wild animal droppings. The Ogose town website has information for several hiking courses including this one at the waterfalls of Kuroyama (Japanese language).
>>Annual light up event
Every year around Obon the Kuroyama falls are lit up at night accompanied by music:
3. In summation
Despite the star-crossed past of the area and the current state of disrepair, the natural landscape, quaint village and mystic vibes are enough to keep the tourists coming. It is an ideal spot to recharge the batteries with the negative ions (a positive thing!) from the Kuroyama santaki falls and the lush nature for forest bathing.
Kuroyama Santaki area doesn’t enjoy the fame it did in the past, but it is still a busy spot especially on weekends. It seems to be mostly Saitama-jin that visit today, not the Tokyo city dwellers of yore who would make the trip to escape city life. Supposedly the area was particularly popular with writers during the Meiji period. Nowadays writers have been replaced with photographers. In this age of Instagram the love statue alone has renewed interest in the area. But Kuroyama as a whole is very photogenic and a haven for photographers and Instagrammers alike.
Round trip the walk is only about 1.6 kilometres and the incline isn’t bad making it suitable to visit with small children. And then there’s the reward of ice-cream and swings, if you so choose, in the garden of the former Kuroyama Kosenkan now Cafe St Gallen! However, due to the lack of fencing or barriers along the route and the rockiness of the area around the male and female falls, you would need to be extra vigilant with toddlers. Also, you would need to park a buggy / stroller at the top before the twin falls. There are no diaper changing facilities along the way as far as I know, but there are toilets near the Tengu falls.
I have no hesitation in recommending a visit to the area if you live within commutable distance. If you are visiting from further afield it would make a nice stop on a longer drive of the area. See the “also in Ogose” section at the bottom of the post for more ideas.
4. Waterfalls of Kuroyama Information
|Address||Kuroyama, Ogose, Iruma District, Saitama 350-0424|
|Hours||In theory 24 hours|
(No lighting at night)
|Cost||Free and free parking|
(There is also a charged parking area – 500 yen for the day)
The entrance to the Kuroyama santaki falls is easy to spot with its large colorful arch. It is off route 61. If the car park is full, which it often is, there is another free public car park by the purple mountain. You can also park at the (Kuroyama Kosenkan) St Gallen cafe, if you are eating there. And there is a charged car park close to the Tengu Taki.
By public transport there is a bus stop near the archway that marks the start of the Kuroyama falls area. The walk from the bus stop to the falls is a longer one than if you come by car, but still very manageable at just over two kilometres round trip. The bus goes to and from Ogose station on both the JR Hachiko line and the Tobu Ogose line. The Tobu Ogose line connects from Sakado on the Tobu Tojo line from Ikebukuro.