The Amida Waterfall (Amida-ga-taki [阿弥陀ヶ滝]; or just Amida Falls) was kind of our waterfalling excuse to take a quick detour as we were making the long drive from Takayama to Inuyama. Included as one of Japan's Top 100 Waterfalls, it was said to be 60m tall and 7m wide, which statistically would have similar dimensions to say Hirayu Great Falls, but it seemed like Amida Falls took on a more slender appearance during our early morning visit. My parents translated the name of the waterfall in kanji directly into Chinese and thought it meant the "God Bless Waterfall". Corroborating the religious association with this waterfall, we saw an alcove with shrine-like statues behind the misty base of the falls. There also appeared to be other religious infrastructure like a small shrine along the trail as well.
Dad gleaned from the signage here (none of which were in English) that the way the waterfall struck rocks at the bottom somehow resembled Buddha in prayer position. At least that was his theory about the reasoning behind the name of this falls. In a different literature, a priest named Taicho originally named the falls the Long Falls when he found it in the year 723. But since then, Buddhist monks were said to have practiced at the falls, and apparently in the 15th century, one such priest found enlightenment and thus named this the Amida Waterfall.
Perhaps this waterfall ought to be more recognizable to a wider audience because it was famously depicted by Katsushika Hokusai, who was an influential and prolific artist of the Edo Period in the early 19th century. His work "Amida Waterfall on the Kiso Road" (木曾路ノ奥阿弥陀ケ滝 or Kisoji no oku amida ga taki), which was said to have been produced around 1832, depicted the waterfall coming from a halo or "round eye" of light with a couple of onlookers enjoying the scene. That halo was said to have come from Amida, the Buddha of Boundless Light, which could be yet another reinforcement of the name of the waterfall. In fact, one of the map signs we saw along the trail even had such an image appearing on it.
We experienced the Amida Waterfall by going on a pretty straightforward 1.4km loop hike. We went in a counterclockwise direction so we ended up ascending a few steps as the trail went high enough to hug ledges and slopes fairly high above a tributary of the Maedanigawa. After passing by a little shrine as well as a lookout shelter, we then reached a small bridge where we managed to get direct looks at the falls. A slippery and wet spur path on the right led up to the plunge pool of the falls adjacent to some alcove decked out with little statues. On the other side of the bridge, we got a different angled look at the falls, but the rocks here seemed to be even more slippery and somewhat dangerous. After having our fill of this falls, we then returned to the trailhead on the opposite side of the stream where we managed to get closer to a few intermediate cascades along the way. Overall, our hike took about an hour though we had spent lots of time admiring the falls so perhaps the actual time spent hiking would be a bit less than that.
Since we visited this waterfall from Takayama and next went to Inuyama, this will be how we'll describe the directions. These are by no means the only ways to get to Amida Falls, but it should give you a pretty good idea of which exits from the expressway to take as well as how to navigate up to the car park.
From Takayama, we drove north on the Route 41 before hopping on the Takayama West Expressway. We followed this high speed toll road for about 17km to its junction with the Tokai-Hokuriku Expressway. We then followed the Tokai-Hokuriku Expressway south for about 32km before getting off at the Takasu IC exit.
We then headed northwest on the Route 45 towards the Route 156 at Takasu. Turning left onto Route 156, we then took this road for about 4km to a signposted turnoff to our right just before a bridge over the Nagara River (or Nagaragawa). Once on this turnoff, we drove another 400m more before turning right (by now Amida Falls signs were present). Then, we continued following the signs as we pursued this road for just under the next 3km before keeping left at the fork and driving the remaining 500m or so to the car park and trailhead. Overall, this drive took us about 75 minutes to cover the 63km or so.
Coming from the other direction in Inuyama, which is just north of Nagoya, we would make our way to the Tokai-Hokuriku Expressway and head north on the high speed toll road for about 68km to the Shirotori IC exit. Then, we'd make our way to the Route 156 and head north for about 8.5km before keeping left at the fork just before the 156 would cross the Nagara River (there should be signage for the Amida Waterfall at this point). After another 150m, we would then turned left at the next turnoff (again following the signs) and pursue the rest of the route as stated above for the last 3.5km. Overall, this drive would take us about 90 minutes to cover the 78km or so.
To give you some geographical context, Inuyama was about 25km north of Nagoya (Warning: there was A LOT of traffic and traffic lights on the direct route between these cities). Meanwhile, Takayama was about 85km west of Matsumoto, and Matsumoto was 220km (about 3 hours drive) northwest of Tokyo. Meanwhile, Nagoya was about 344km west of Tokyo (over 4 hours by car but under 3 hours by rail).
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