Shoji Waterfall (Shoji-ga-taki [精進ケ滝])

Minami Alps National Park / Hokuto / near Kofu, Yamanashi Prefecture, Japan

Rating: 3.5     Difficulty: 3
Shoji Waterfall

TABLE OF CONTENTS



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INTRODUCTION

The Shoji Waterfall (Shoji-ga-taki [精進ケ滝]; also called just Shoji Falls) was a grand waterfall that my parents and I had to endure a bit of drama to reach. That drama included going on a bit of a "joyride" as the Japanese GPS included in our car rental took us on an unsanctioned route that involved dirt roads, unsigned turns, and a turnoff to a non-existent road when we just knew that the GPS was wrong. Then, we had to go on a bit of a moderate hike once we finally found the trailhead (see directions below), but when my parents first reacted to their first sight of this impressive 121m waterfall (said to be the tallest in the Minami Alps), I knew that all the trouble it took to get here made the reward that much sweeter! We could see why this was a solid member of the government-backed Japan's Top 100 Waterfalls List, and had we been here just two weeks later when the koyo would have arrived in greater force, then this place would have been real special.

Our hike began from a fairly spacious car park with some porta potties and a wooden building nearby. We then walked back along the road towards a suspension bridge, which crossed high above the gorge spanning the Ishiutorokawa (or Ishiutoro River; a tributary to the Fujigawa or Fuji River) before reaching a series of faded interpretive signs on the opposite side of the gorge. The suspension bridge offered us views of the rocky stream bed as well as some man-made wall upstream with slits to allow the river to continue passing through.

Among the faded interpretive signs was a map board showing some of the intermediate highlights along the way to the Shoji Waterfall as well as a directional sign indicating that we still had about 40 minutes of hiking to reach the destination. The trail started off as a pretty easy-to-follow dirt path as it eventually started to follow the Ishiutoro River, and after about 15 minutes on the trail (roughly 800m beyond the end of the suspension bridge), we then encountered a trio of waterfalls on the river. The trail crossed over a bridge above the first waterfall (written as 魚止めの滝, which might be the "fish stopper waterfall") and in front of the second waterfall (written as 初見の滝, which might be the "first look waterfall") before going up a steep series of ladders and crossing another suspension bridge fronting the third waterfall (見返りの滝, which might be translated as "fall of return").

Beyond this trio of falls, the trail then pretty much skirted the Ishiutorokawa while weaving between and besides giant boulders. In some parts the trail, we crossed some bridges that made traversing some of the giant boulders and stream crossings much easier. But there were a few sections where we had to exercise care as well as a little route finding, especially in spots where there were spray-painted red arrows to help us navigate through some of the trickier spots.

The further along the trail we went, the rougher the terrain was. Plus, the trail was predominantly uphill throughout though the only steep sections involved short stints on ladders and steps. One or two of them involved some minor bouldering requiring the use of our hands as well as our feet. Finally, after a final climb, we reached a signposted overlook where a clearing in the vegetation allowed us a clean look at the impressive multi-tiered drop of the Shoji Waterfall. Even though the view of the falls seemed distant from here, signs warned us not to proceed further as that would require steep scrambling in dangerous rockfall-prone terrain. So we were content with our views while enjoying a brief picnic lunch before heading back. Overall, we spent about 2 hours on the nearly 4km trail though we probably spent a good 15 minutes with the picnic lunch and a few minutes more taking our time shooting plenty of photos while admiring the scenery. Thus, I'd say the signage suggesting that the hike was 40 minutes in each direction was pretty accurate.

Lastly, I did notice that this waterfall was also referred to as the Kitashoji Falls (北精進ケ滝) suggesting that there was a north and south waterfall sharing the name of Shoji Falls, where the falls described on this page would be the north. I'm not sure if this is true, but I thought I'd put this in here in case you're more familiar with the falls being called this way. In the same literature, I also noticed that they named the lower tier Kudan Falls (九段の滝 or Kudan-no-taki), which was said to comprise 40m of the overall 121m drop.




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PHOTO JOURNAL

Earlier in the day before visiting the Shoji Falls, we visited the Chureito Pagoda near Kawaguchiko for this classic view of Mt Fuji in gorgeous weatherEarlier in the day before visiting the Shoji Falls, we visited the Chureito Pagoda near Kawaguchiko for this classic view of Mt Fuji in gorgeous weather
Not far east of Shoji Falls just northeast of Kofu was the vertical Shosenkyo Gorge, which featured balanced rocks, tall cliffs, and the impressive Senga FallsNot far east of Shoji Falls just northeast of Kofu was the vertical Shosenkyo Gorge, which featured balanced rocks, tall cliffs, and the impressive Senga Falls
The Shoji Falls was under a couple hours drive south of Matsumoto, which is well-known for its wooden castle as shown hereThe Shoji Falls was under a couple hours drive south of Matsumoto, which is well-known for its wooden castle as shown here
Looking back at the car park for the Shoji Falls from the suspension bridgeLooking back at the car park for the Shoji Falls from the suspension bridge

Looking upstream from the first suspension bridge towards a manmade wall with a pair of slits to allow the Ishiutoro River flow pastLooking upstream from the first suspension bridge towards a manmade wall with a pair of slits to allow the Ishiutoro River flow past

Dad was reading some of the faded interpretive signs on the other side of the first suspension bridgeDad was reading some of the faded interpretive signs on the other side of the first suspension bridge

Initially, the Shoji Falls Trail was pretty straightforward to follow as the trail was well-defined and mostly flatInitially, the Shoji Falls Trail was pretty straightforward to follow as the trail was well-defined and mostly flat

Signs along the trail helped to keep us on the right track as the trail would start skirting alongside the Ishiutoro RiverSigns along the trail helped to keep us on the right track as the trail would start skirting alongside the Ishiutoro River

About 800m into the hike, we reached a trio of intermediate waterfalls where the trail bridged the river between the first and second falls shown hereAbout 800m into the hike, we reached a trio of intermediate waterfalls where the trail bridged the river between the first and second falls shown here

Mom and Dad crossing over the bridge with the second intermediate waterfall in context to our rightMom and Dad crossing over the bridge with the second intermediate waterfall in context to our right

Mom going up a steep series of steps past the bridge between the first two intermediate waterfallsMom going up a steep series of steps past the bridge between the first two intermediate waterfalls

Looking back at an angled view of the second intermediate waterfall on the Ishiutoro RiverLooking back at an angled view of the second intermediate waterfall on the Ishiutoro River

Mom and Dad traversing a suspension bridge crossing before the third intermediate waterfall on the Ishiutoro RiverMom and Dad traversing a suspension bridge crossing before the third intermediate waterfall on the Ishiutoro River

After the third intermediate waterfall, the trail became a little less defined as it started flanking and weaving between giant rocks like this oneAfter the third intermediate waterfall, the trail became a little less defined as it started flanking and weaving between giant rocks like this one

Since the trail beyond the intermediate waterfalls were less defined and a bit rougher, sometimes we had to rely on spray-painted red arrows to know where to go nextSince the trail beyond the intermediate waterfalls were less defined and a bit rougher, sometimes we had to rely on spray-painted red arrows to know where to go next

The Shoji Falls Trail continued to skirt the Ishiutoro River, which was flanked by boulders and rocks of all sorts of sizesThe Shoji Falls Trail continued to skirt the Ishiutoro River, which was flanked by boulders and rocks of all sorts of sizes

This small cascade was another intermediate 'falls' en route to the Shoji FallsThis small cascade was another intermediate 'falls' en route to the Shoji Falls

This was a spot where the trail ascended some steep inclines with stepsThis was a spot where the trail ascended some steep inclines with steps

Swinging bridges like this one helped to make river traverses much easierSwinging bridges like this one helped to make river traverses much easier

These steps led up to a pair of metal bridges that went from one giant boulder to the next to save us the trouble of having to cross the river while bouldering at the same timeThese steps led up to a pair of metal bridges that went from one giant boulder to the next to save us the trouble of having to cross the river while bouldering at the same time

On the series of bridges facilitating the traverse of both the Ishiutoro River as well as giant (and slippery) bouldersOn the series of bridges facilitating the traverse of both the Ishiutoro River as well as giant (and slippery) boulders

The somewhat rugged final ascent to the lookout for the Shoji WaterfallThe somewhat rugged final ascent to the lookout for the Shoji Waterfall

Contextual view of the impressive Shoji Falls as well as the dangerously steep and bouldery scramble that would be required to continue past this pointContextual view of the impressive Shoji Falls as well as the dangerously steep and bouldery scramble that would be required to continue past this point

Mom and Dad admiring the view of Shoji Falls from the official end of the trailMom and Dad admiring the view of Shoji Falls from the official end of the trail

Mom and Dad enjoying a well-deserved picnic lunch at the Shoji Falls overlookMom and Dad enjoying a well-deserved picnic lunch at the Shoji Falls overlook

On the return hike, we noticed this small cascade that we hadn't noticed beforeOn the return hike, we noticed this small cascade that we hadn't noticed before

Mom and Dad continuing back the way they came on the return hikeMom and Dad continuing back the way they came on the return hike

Traversing the footbridges and ladders again as we made our way down the intermediate cascadesTraversing the footbridges and ladders again as we made our way down the intermediate cascades

Going back across the suspension bridge on the way to the parking lot for Shoji FallsGoing back across the suspension bridge on the way to the parking lot for Shoji Falls


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VIDEOS OF THE FALLS


360 degree sweep of the main falls with my parents reacting to their first look at the falls


Very long video starting from the top down showing all the tiers of an intermediate waterfall well downstream of Shoji Falls.


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DRIVING DIRECTIONS

Even though we drove to this waterfall from Kawaguchiko, I'll simplify the driving directions by picking up the description from the Sudama (or Sutama) IC exit from the Chuo Expressway not far north of Kofu. This exit was about 82km north of Kawaguchiko (taking us under 90 minutes). I'll spare you the joyride that the Japanese GPS took us on and instead just describe the way we should have driven in the first place.

So from the Sutama IC exit off the Chuo Expressway, we would then drive north on the Route 141 for about 1.8km before turning left to go west on the route 611. We'd follow the Route 611 which then merged with the route 612 and followed this for about the next 6km before turning left onto a local road where a sign for Shoji Falls (in kanji) told us to turn. From there, we'd follow the local road for the next 7.5km before another sign would indicate that we turn right to go on the final 800m spur leading to the car park for the Shoji Falls.

For geographical context in addition to Kofu being about some 75km north of Kawaguchiko, Kofu was also about 104km or 90 minutes drive southeast of Matsumoto. For further context, Kofu was about 126km or 3 hours drive northwest of Tokyo. The distance between the Kofushowa IC exit (in western Kofu) and the Sutama IC exit was about 18km along the Chuo Expressway.




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ITINERARIES

For more information about our itineraries involving this waterfall, check out the following links.




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MAP OF THE FALLS



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TRIP REPORTS

For more information about our experiences with this waterfall, check out the following travel stories.




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TRIP PLANNING RESOURCES




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NEARBY WATERFALLS




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