Akigawa Valley: Waterfalls, Local Food & Hot Springs in Tokyo’s Countryside

If you are looking for a short excursion outside the big city, how about going on a daytrip to the Akigawa valley? This little-known area West of Tokyo will surprise the intrepid traveler with its natural and culinary wonders.

Hossawa Falls: See a Famous Waterfall

Sign at the entrance of the short path to the waterfall

Despite the longer than usual rainy season this year, I managed to squeeze in a short hike on a cloudy day without rain at the beginning of July. I started from Hossawa Falls (払沢の滝 hossawa no taki) located at the edge of the Chichibu-Tama-Kai National Park and included in the list of hundred famous waterfalls in Japan (日本の滝百選 nihon no taki hyakusen). There are thirteen waterfalls in the area, but this one is by far the most spectacular.

Surrounded by nature on all sides

At only 400m, the falls are at a relatively low altitude. However, after getting off the bus (hossawa no taki iriguchi 払沢の滝入口) and walking up the narrow road on the left, I felt that the temperature and humidity were definitely lower than in Shinjuku. Although conditions remained comfortable throughout the day, this hike is best attempted during the cooler seasons of spring and autumn.

I had last been to Hossawa Falls a few years ago in November, and I was able to see some beautiful autumn leaves along the path to the waterfall. This time, the surrounding trees were lush with green leaves, and hydrangea (“ajisai” アジサイ) were still in full bloom. The waterfall was also much bigger, due to all the rain that had fallen recently. If you want to see the falls at their best, then the rainy season is probably the time to visit.

I could feel the wind blowing from the force of the falling water

Since I was taking many photos of the river and flowers, it took me nearly half an hour to reach Hossawa waterfall, along an easy-to-walk, mostly level path following a rushing stream below. There is a wooden sloping section that can get slippery when wet – someone took a tumble just as I was approaching! You can get close to the pool at the base by climbing some steps hewn into the rock, but the best shots can be obtained further away, just beyond the wooden bridge.

The return was much faster, and it only took me 15 minutes to get back on the main road. Since it was a Friday, there were few people and the coffee shop at the start of the trail was closed, but I expect there would be a lot more people visiting on the weekends.

Watch out for this interesting chap on the way back

Hinohara Tofu Chitoseya: Try a Tofu Doughnut

To the right of the road to Hossawa Falls is a small house with a sloping roof: this is Chitoseya (ちとせ屋) also known as Hinohara Tofu. According to their website, they make hand made traditional high-quality tofu, using local water and soy beans from Hokkaido. Various tofu products are on sale from the counter at the front of the building.

Don’t miss it: Hinohara Tofu

I highly recommend their tofu doughnuts. If you have never had a tofu doughnut before, then you must absolutely try this typical Japanese snack, the healthy variant of the flour doughnut. They cost 100 yen a piece and are on sale from 10h30 to 5pm (closed on Tuesdays). Why not buy a box of five to bring back as a gift?

Not sweet but tastes really good!

Genan Hinohara: Taste Hand-Made Soba

Less than two kilometers away, following the Hinohara Kaido Avenue back towards the train station, you’ll find Genan Hinohara (玄庵 檜原) on the right side of the road, a small soba shop that makes its own buckwheat noodles every day. I don’t eat soba on a regular basis but if I get peckish when exploring the countryside, there is nothing better than a dish of locally made soba. If you haven’t had soba in the Japanese countryside yet, then make sure to stop here for a late lunch!

The outside of the restaurant looks promising

The restaurant, open 11am to 3pm (except Wednesdays), is accessed via a short flight of stone steps behind a big wooden sign – it’s surrounded by trees, and can be hard to spot from the road! Make sure to check out the traditional Japanese straw raincoat (“mino”) at the entrance. Once seated at one of the thick wooden tables, look up and admire how high the ceiling is!

A heavy table for a light lunch

I got the “sansai soba” (山菜そば 1000 yen) or soba with “mountain vegetables”, one of my favourite soba dishes. This is a hot dish (“atatakai soba”) with wild vegetables placed on top of the soba broth. However, if you prefer something cold, they also do cold soba (“tsumetai soba”) such as “zaru soba” (ざるそば 800 yen): the noodles are served on a flat bamboo strainer and then you dip them in a cold soup served separately. At the end of the meal, you’ll be served hot water which you can use to thin the remaining soup before drinking it.

A healthy and tasty dish!

Seoto No Yu: Soak in a Hot Spring

Once outside the restaurant, pop into the “Yama no Ten” souvenir shop (山の店) on the other side of the road. They sell local vegetables, and perhaps more importantly, they have a wide selection of local sake. If you are at a loss at what to buy, go for a bottle of Kishou 喜正 – their brewery is along the way back to the station (unfortunately visits are not allowed).

Local products on sale here

From the souvenir shop, it’s possible to catch a bus back to Musashi-Itsukaichi station – there is a bus stop opposite. Or, you can walk back – it should take a couple of hours. Using Google Maps, it’s possible to find smaller and quieter roads on the other side of the river. The parts on the left bank make for a pleasant ramble through pretty countryside with occasional glimpses of the river through the forest.

Just before you reach Jurigi intersection (十里木), you should notice a path heading down on the left marked by a sign. This will take you to a suspended bridge over the river, beyond which is Seoto no Yu Hot Spring (瀬音の湯 10am – 10pm, 900 yen), a great place to have a soak at the end the day. The outdoor bath (“rotenburo”) is not very big, so it can get a bit packed on weekends. There is a direct bus to the station from outside the hot spring, where there is a foot bath (“ashiyu”), in case you have to wait a bit for the bus!

The various bridges offered nice views of the river

Check out the Hossawa Falls in this short video

For smartphone users, please click the link below to go to the Tadaima Japan website which includes additional location details:

Akigawa Valley: Waterfalls, Local Food & Hot Springs in Tokyo’s Countryside

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Writer / Translator

I’ve been in Japan for over 10 years although it feels shorter because I am constantly discovering new things and new places. Sometimes it can be hard to get the full Japanese experience because of cultural differences and linguistic barriers. For that reason, I want to share what I have learned in order to enhance your experience in Japan. Having said that, figuring out stuff on your own can also be fun. In any case, I hope you can find here whatever you need in order to make your stay a success.