Japan has an abundance of natural scenic beauty. It’s also a place where nature tends towards the unpretentious. You may not be awed by the grandest rivers, the tallest mountains, nor the most spectacular waterfalls. You will, however, be caught off guard by unsuspecting wonders. One such place is Nachi Waterfall in Wakayama Prefecture. Nachi, Japan’s tallest free fall waterfall, adds distinction to a sublimely crafted landscape. Take a trip to Nachi and explore Japan’s ancient spiritual roots and some iconic scenery.
Nachi Waterfall—Japan’s most iconic waterfall
The uninterrupted drop of Nachi Waterfall is 133 meters with one ton of water tumbling down every second. Its droplets and spray are said to hold blessings of longevity and good cheer. Near the base of the waterfall is the Hirou Shrine. The gods of Kumano were said to originally reside in the waterfall. Now the shrine worships the god Okuninushi (大己貴神), a principle god of nation building and medicine.
Nachi Waterfall is part of a World Heritage protected landscape that stretches from Yoshino in southern Nara Prefecture, through Koyasan, and down to the Kii Peninsula. It includes six pilgrimage trails of around 307km known as the Kumano Kodo dating back to at least the Heian Era.
What a day at Nachi Waterfall can entail
The fun starts with getting to Nachi. Traveling from Osaka, there’s some inspiring coastline along the way. From Nagoya, you can ride the Wide View Nanki Express. Its customary large windows open up the scenery through Mie and Wakayama prefectures.
The thrills of Nachi Waterfall include visiting the Nachi Grand Shrine and Seigantoji Temple. Apart from ample souvenir shopping and tasty treats, you can amble up cobbled pathways with serene mountain views. For those who seek the narrow path, there is a 2.1km hike along part of the ancient Kumano Kodo. It starts from the base of the mountain to the lofty heights of the Nachi Grand Shrine before tapering down to the waterfall itself.
Is Nachi Waterfall worth a day trip?
If you love train journeys, and especially the comfort and excellence of Japanese trains, a day trip is well worth it. From either direction, namely Osaka or Nagoya, it’s about a three and a half to four hour journey each way. This means you need to wake up early to enjoy the best part of the afternoon exploring the sites.
What about staying overnight?
It’s a much better deal, however, if you can stay the night at a select location for other sightseeing and head up to Nachi Waterfall after breakfast the following morning.
From Shirahama it’s less than 2 hours by train to Nachi Kii-Katsuura. In Shirahama, you can enjoy traditional Japanese onsen, the beach, the nearby Sandandeki cliff caves, Senjojiki flat rocks, and the famous ‘Eye of Engetsu’.
In Kiikatsuura town there are a number of onsen hotels. There are boat trips you can take offshore to view the coastline and islets, or visit the Kumano Grand Shrine. Early morning, you can view the tuna fish market before breakfast and heading off to Nachi Waterfall.
If you stay in Shingu city, you could use half a day to visit the Kumano Grand Shrine and other spots. Shingu city is also famous for Hatayama Taisha and other Shinto shrines of key importance in the Kumano faith. You can also enjoy leisurely cruising along the Kumano River. For log rafting or viewing the Dorokyo Gorge, you would have to go to Nachi Waterfall the day you arrive, and the gorge the following morning.
How to get to Nachi Waterfall
There are two directional ways to Nachi Waterfall and destinations on the Kii Peninsula. One is from the Osaka-Kansai region and the other from Nagoya. The station you have to go to for the bus to Nachi Waterfall is Kii-Katsuura.
To Nachi from the Osaka and Kansai Region
Traveling from Shinosaka, you catch the Kuroshio Limited Express bound for Shingu from Platform 11. It costs ¥7,020 and takes 4 hrs 8 min to Kii-Katsuura. To Shingu it’s ¥7,350 and 4 hrs 26 min. The Japan Rail Pass as well as the Kansai Wide Pass are valid for this route. You can also catch this train from downtown Osaka’s Tennoji Station (Platform 15).
The first train leaves at 07:33 and gets to Kii-Katsuura at 11:40. The last train back from Kii-Katsuura to Shinosaka is 18:04. From JR Kyoto Station, there is one Kuroshio Express in the morning departing at 07:06.
To Nachi from the Nagoya Region
From Nagoya Station, you take the Limited Express Nanki for Shingu and Kii-Katsuuura from Platform 12. You can use a Japan Rail Pass with a ¥830 surcharge for the Ise Railway. The earliest train departs Nagoya at 08:05 and the last train back from Kii-Katsuura is 17:11
The total cost, excluding price variations on reserved seats, is ¥6,870 and 3 hrs 28 min to Shingu. To Kii-Katsuura, it’s ¥7,200 and 3hrs 51 min.
The bus to Nachi Waterfall
The way to Nachi Waterfall starts from Kii-Katsuura station. The bus to Nachi Waterfall is the No. 31 and the bus runs every 45 minutes. The cost one way is ¥630 or ¥430 to the start of the Daimonzaka hiking trail.
If you plan to stay in Shingu, you have to take a bus to Nachi Station. From there, alight and catch the No. 31 bus bound for Nachi Yama (那智山). Alternatively, from Shingu, the train is the local JR Kinokuni Line (¥240). You can get off at Nachi Station (22 min) or Kii-Katsuura station (27 min) — where the bus to Nachi starts.
If you’re doing a day trip, make sure to check the bus schedule, and manage your time carefully.
The different ways to take in Nachi Waterfall
There are four stops on the bus line. The first stop after Kii-Katsuura is just Nachi Station (那智駅). To tread one of the ancient pilgrim paths of the Kumano Kodo, you get off at Daimonzaka (大門坂).
The Daimonzaka trail is considered a beginner’s route on the Kumano Kodo trails. It’s part of the Nakahechi route that starts from Tanabe city. The trail is about 1.2km or 2.2km including to Nachi Shrine and takes up to three and a half hours to walk.
It’s feasible to do this trail on a one day trip from Osaka provided you catch the earliest train. If the train gets into Kii-Katsuura in time at 11:40, you have 5 minutes to catch the 11:45 bus to Daimonzaka.
Make sure to catch the 17:00 bus back to Kii-Katsuura station for the last train. If your return trip is to Nagoya, you have a lot less time on hand so you should leave Nachi Waterfall by 16:25.
This ancient cobbled stone path through towering cedar, camphor, and bamboo groves will forge a memory to ancient Japan not lightly forgotten. Make sure to have proper hiking clothing, walking shoes, enough liquids, and gloves in the winter time.
The third stop is Nachi-no-Take Mae (那智の竹前) which is the closest to the waterfall. It’s best not to get off here unless you’re really short on time and first want to see Nachi Waterfall. Generally, it’s recommended to alight at the fourth stop or Nachisan (那智山) if you are not doing the Daimonzaka trail.
If you get off at the upper Nachisan stop, you will first visit Nachi Grand Shrine and the Seigantoji Temple. This way, you gradually draw closer and closer to Nachi Waterfall from above.
After getting off the bus, walk a little up the road and you will see a cobbled stairway which lies above the top of the Daimonzaka trail. It takes you to Nachi Grand Shrine with numerous shops and scenic viewpoints along the way.
Kumano Nachi Grand Shrine
Nachi Grand Shrine is one of the Kumano Sanzan or ‘three mountain tops’. These Shrines were the backdrop for the formation of Shugendo. This unique faith is a fusion of Mahayana Buddhism, Shinto, and the reverence of nature, physical discipline, and aestheticism.
There are fantastic views of the Kii Mountains just as you pass through the top scared Torii Gate. There’s a giant worshipable camphor tree, and keep an eye out for the three-legged black crow or yatagarasu.
This mythical bird is not only the messenger of the Sun God, but also the symbol of the Japanese national football team. There is no charge to enter, but the Treasure House is ¥300.
Kumano Nachi Taisha
The main hall of Seigantoji, which you see as you pass through the gateway from Nachi Shrine, dates back to 1587. However, the original temple was first estblished around the middle of the first century. There is no entrance fee here.
It’s from up here that you will get the first clear glimpses of Nachi Waterfall.
This temple also attracts many Buddhist pilgrims since it is the first of the 33 temples in the Kansai wide Saikoku pilgrimage route which is over 1,300 years old. These temples are dedicated to the Goddess of Mercy, otherwise known as Kannon.
The iconic Nachi Pagoda
The Nachi Pagoda is annexed to Seigantoji Temple. It’s pretty much the most picture perfect three-story pagado you could find in Japan. The pagoda was rebuilt in 1972. It’s ¥300 to go inside to view the wall murals or to climb up to the first tier balcony. There are always people coming and going, but hang around a bit and you’ll get that perfect picture.
Nachi Waterfall and Hirou Shrine
From the pagoda, it’s a short walk down to the forest gateway to the base of Nachi Waterfall. It takes about 15 to 20 minutes along the winding path. At the bottom, you can pay ¥300 to go onto an elevated viewing platform. The platform get’s a lot of spray, but is good for some nice shots.