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Quest to Shōsenkyō Gorge

Too often do we overlook the appeal of the journey before the destination – heck, the lot of us just doze off in the car on our way there. Yet, as I spontaneously traveled to Shōsenkyō Gorge (昇仙峡), I found myself drawn towards what the experience offered over the location. Do not misunderstand though, the gorge closely follows Mt. Fuji as the second most popular landscape in the prefecture of Yamanashi (DX) and is considered by many travel magazines as one of the most breathtaking places in all of Japan (Popelier). This five-kilometer hiking road is well known for its views during the autumn season, but I decided to go regardless of the spring foliage being less scenic at the time. In fact, what could have ruined the image of Shōsenkyō Gorge instead occasioned its sceneries with a fictitious atmosphere that gave me the impression of gradually entering a mythical and game-like world the deeper I entered.

It is the night prior to the excursion. The university seniors were telling me and a few other freshmen about Shōsenkyō Gorge. They described how the trees during the fall season were shrouded in orange and yellow; while, underneath, a concrete road splashed with patches of bright leaves stretched endlessly towards the horizon. I was awed just by visualizing it. Yet, just a few seconds into daydreaming, they sever my fantasy with the mention of the grueling fact that the climb can span for hours.


I never really enjoyed hiking.

Just the thought of doing so for hours was enough to daunt me, but the opposite couldn't be any truer for a recent Bulgarian friend I made. His head turned towards me from across the room, eyes sparkling brighter than a Toyota's headlights, hurrying to ask me if I could accompany him. I warned him that the gorge's foliage would be a different case if we went during the spring season at the time, yet he kept insisting that we go in spite of the fact. I finally gave in and reluctantly agreed to go.

The entire way from Tokyo to Shōsenkyō Gorge was surprisingly just a 90-minute train ride to Kofu Station, then a 40-minute bus ride to Shōsenkyō-Guchi (昇仙峡口) bus stop (Japan National Tourism Organization). As we were already situated in Kofu, we reached the bus stop before noon, and were welcomed by an old couple who provided us with a map of the entire hiking zone. As they pointed out where the foot of the five-kilometer hiking road was, the old lady subsequently warned: "Kibishii wa yo (厳しいわよ)", which translates to, "It's [climbing the gorge] tough, you know". The gesture of giving us a map and unnerving advice reminded me so much of an NPC's (non-playable character) role that it felt like we were about to take on a video game quest – without spare lives, however.

The First Stage. Arriving at the base of Shōsenkyō Gorge gave me the impression of venturing into The Lord of the Rings's Middle-earth. The coolness of the wind brushing past my cheeks, the rhythmic chirps of birds, the nostalgic scent of moss, and the faint heat of the sun all played a part in constructing this fantasy-like sensation. However, the running stream along the side of the road, serving as the solidifying base for the hills standing atop, which completed the view each time I glanced at it, was the most distinctive feature.

Figure 1: View of the Running Stream

Not to mention, the range of green hills and mountains were truly a visual spectacle. Though the general area looked dull due to the desaturated color of the trees, it felt pure, untainted. In fact, the same dullness in hue allowed the different shades of green to stand out from each other, giving the leaves a layered look that no autumn foliage can ever replicate.

Figure 2: Wooden Sign Post along the Road

As we kept exploring, wooden signs embedded with calligraphic Japanese characters started to appear, which were most likely intended to point out information about features in their respective locations. However, I saw them as checkpoints for us to save our game's progress, and an uncanny sign to prepare for the next stage.

The Second Stage. The sound of the running water slowly faded and trees started to come in fewer numbers. I looked above me as we ambled, and the rays of the sun pierced through every opening it could find within the canopy, blinding me momentarily. Then, my vision cleared to behold the sight of a cobblestone staircase as it transitioned into a dirt path, leading to a metallic bridge cocooned in vegetation.

Figure 3: Metallic Bridge above the Running Stream

After witnessing such an exhibition of beauty, we felt indebted, perhaps even necessitated, to cross it – and so we did. Whilst traversing, my eyes were pulled towards the beam of the bridge out of uneasiness; but I was instead intrigued by the same river below us. To get a better view, I hurriedly peered over the rusted railings and was awestruck by the scenery of the flowing water dancing around every boulder and obstacle it encountered. Childish as it may be, it genuinely reminded me of the scene where Shrek and Donkey were crossing the wooden bridge over the lava-filled caldera to reach Fiona's tower. Unlike the movie, however, what awaited us after crossing the bridge was no princess.

The Final Stage. We continued to venture through the gorge, but we soon realized that the familiar road that we were so used to following was nowhere to be seen, as if it was discontinued. The uninviting dirt path was the only option we could take to proceed with the hike. Understandably, bleak thoughts started to fill my head. I start to recall the words of our seniors.

"For hours... hours... hours...", it echoed.

I was losing hope.

However, just a few more minutes in, and lo and behold, a stone bridge came into sight. We exclaimed in excitement and started desperately running towards it. A cream-colored house then appeared just across the bridge... then shops, and then restaurants. It was a village on top of the gorge!

Figure 4: Souvenir Shop Past the Concrete Bridge

A line of buildings – souvenir stalls, boutiques, themed stores, and eateries – stood between each side of a road that stretched into the skyline of a mountain range. Visitors were everywhere, and among them were two dumbfounded foreigners. It was such an unexpected and drastic change of pace for us that we completely ignored the map. We just kept moving forward.

Figure 5: Staircase at the Edge of the Town

In the course of our arduous exploration, we were met by a crowd of people who were gathering around a brick staircase with wooden railings. Piqued, we followed those climbing down. It was then that I caught a glimpse of it. What we saw there was the epitome of a mythical world, and a key location in every fantasy video game – a grand waterfall.

Figure 6: View of Senga Falls

Behold our final destination, Senga Falls (仙娥滝), one of the 100 most beautiful waterfalls in Japan. Considering how a faint hint of a rainbow is floating above its plunge pool; how its overhang is seemingly so out of reach, that makes you question where the water is magically coming from; and how the colors of the water transition ever so smoothly from white to dark turquoise, it is rightfully so.

But alas, my adventure ends here. Never have I ever given this much appreciation to trees, rivers, bridges, and even waterfalls, this much in my life before my climb up Shōsenkyō Gorge. I was even hesitating to go in the first place! Then, it struck me. Your degree of appreciation for the destination will remain the same, unless you experience the journey,

Every. Step. Of the way.

Not that it'd make me go hiking again, though.

So, if you ever come by Yamanashi, I wholeheartedly recommend venturing on your own adventure in Shōsenkyō Gorge. Try visiting during the spring season like us, or fall, or even winter! as being unconventional is what makes your experiences different from others. If this is the world that I saw in my journey, what would yours look like?

Shōsenkyō Gorge Website (English):
SHOSENKYO Tourism Association (

DX. “Shōsenkyō Gorge and the Scenery Second Only to Mt. Fuji.” Vegetarian’s Japan Guide, 26 May 2022,

Japan National Tourism Organization. “Shosenkyo Gorge | Travel Japan (Japan National Tourism Organization).” Travel Japan, Accessed 12 June 2022.

Popelier, Marc. “Day Trip From Tokyo to Shōsenkyō.” Destination Japan, 27 June 2015,

Kiann Kahulugan

Published on

  • February 2, 2023


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