Geibikei Gorge is a stunning natural wonder located in the Iwate prefecture of Japan. The Gonokawa River flows through the gorge and the rugged terrain of the Kitakami Mountains. The area is renowned for its picturesque beauty and is a popular destination for tourists and outdoor enthusiasts alike. You may have seen images from autumn, which is a popular time to go as the leaves are turning colours.
Geibikei Gorge is approximately 2.5 kilometres long. Visitors can take a boat ride through the gorge to fully appreciate its splendour. The boats (“donko-bune”) are traditional boats propelled by long poles, allowing visitors to enjoy the serene surroundings. They are similar to gondolas in Venice (although much wider) and have very little impact on the environment.
As you glide through the gorge, you’ll be surrounded by towering cliffs that reach up to 100 meters high, covered in lush greenery. The water is crystal clear and reflects the surrounding cliffs, making for a truly mesmerizing experience. The fish and ducks also follow the boat as they often receive food, making the spectacle that more magical. There are also Japanese macaque monkeys, also known as the “snow monkey.” While these monkeys are known for their playful nature and can often be seen frolicking in the river and on the cliffs, I did not get the opportunity. There are also many kinds of birds. The most common ones are the Japanese bush warbler and the Japanese wood pigeon.
In addition to the natural beauty of the gorge, the area is also rich in history and culture. The Geibikei Gorge has been used as a transportation route for centuries; you can still see the remains of old stone bridges and pathways used in the past. The area is also home to several temples and shrines that have been standing for hundreds of years. Visitors can take a stroll through the charming town of Geibikei and learn about the local history and culture.
After doing a lot in Morioka, including the Sansa Odori, I was ready for a bit of a break. I thought sitting on a boat and taking in the natural beauty of the area would be best. It certainly did not disappoint!
Before the tour
I went in August at the height of the summer. Even then, the Tohoku region rarely gets very warm. In fact, some of the trees were already beginning to change their leaves from green to red and orange. Also, there were also some nights when I had to wear long sleeves. Especially coming from Fukuoka, which is nearly unbearably hot and humid in the summer, Tohoku was nearly too cold in comparison. It was a shock to my system.
As I speak a bit of Japanese, I had no difficulties getting a ticket for the gorge. I did not test the English knowledge of the ticket sellers, so I cannot say for certain if they know any English. However, there is information available in English, so pointing at the gorge and indicating the number of people will probably get you very far.
Tours leave about every 20 minutes (at least at the time of writing), so you won’t need to wait very long for the next one. There are a couple of shops nearby that you can spend time in if you do find yourself in this situation. Your ticket is not for a specific time, so you can use it whenever you want on that day.
The tour starts and finishes at the same place. You board the boat and sit on crash pad-like mats facing the inside of the boat. You have to have the right footwear (e.g. no high heels, etc) and you need to understand that you may get wet. The boatmen don’t do anything to make this happen but you are on the water, so it is possible.
The tour then lasts for about an hour. You head up the gorge away from the small water gates near the town, ending at a sheltered cave. Along the way, the boatman explains (in Japanese) various features of the waterway and its history.
At the cave, you have about 15 minutes to walk around the area, which has a couple of bridges. You can also buy some rocks to throw. There is an opening in the cliff face. Local legend is that if you can throw the rock through the hole, you will have one year’s good luck.
The boat tour then continues back to the starting point. The boatmen also sing a traditional song at this point. I was unable to record it but it was very powerful and moving. I have to admit I did not understand a word but it was still moving in its own way.
Overall, I highly recommend this experience. It is not something you should miss if you are in the area.
Getting to Geibikei
It is relatively simple to get to Geibikei although transport is infrequent. To get from there, the most likely route you will be using is the train from Ichinoseki station. There is one approximately every 1.25 hours or so, depending on the time of day. The journey takes about 30 minutes. Afterwards, the walk to the river and the boats takes less than 5 minutes along a paved road.
One of the things that may cause some inconvenience for getting there (or more likely getting back to your destination) is the timings of the train and the boat tours. They often leave at the same time and it is about a 10-minute walk from one to another, so it is likely that you will get off of one and then have to wait a while for the other.
This area suffered greatly from the Fukushima Disaster and the resulting tsunami. As a result, the area is still rebuilding. As an incentive to draw tourists to the area, the Pikachu train runs on Saturdays on this line. If you are a Pokémon fan, this is definitely the experience for you.
At the time of writing, the boat tour of the Geibikei Gorge costs ￥1,800 for an adult and ￥900 for a child’s ticket. You buy the tickets at the ticket office, which is located next to the boat embarkation area here (Google Maps).
The most popular time to go is in the autumn due to the changing colour of the leaves. The overhanging trees and forests resemble dancing flames in the light wind. It is one of the most beautiful areas in Japan during this time.
Here is one of my examples of the leaves beginning to change colours:
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