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.
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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