As far as Julie and I were concerned, the Kegon Waterfall (Kegon-no-taki [華厳の滝]; also Kegon Falls) was the star natural attraction of the UNESCO World Heritage-laced town and area of Nikko.
Indeed, much of the attention drawn from Tourists tended to go towards the historical attractions within the Nikko town itself such as the Toshogu Shrine, Rinnoji Temple, Taiyun Mausoleum, etc. Such structures showcased some well preserved wooden temples and treasures that have earned it UNESCO World Heritage status.
However, just out of town (reachable by the pretty convenient buses accepting the relatively reasonably-priced All Nikko Pass), we were able to make our way into the mountains near the Chuzenjiko (Lake Chuzenji), which drained as the Daiya River (大谷川 or Daiyagawa) into the towering 97m Kegon Waterfall - easily considered one of Japan's top 3 waterfalls.
This waterfall consisted of a main plunge followed by extensive cascades further downstream that seemed to have just as much cumulative height as the main drop of the waterfall itself. I think the 97m measure pertained only to the main plunge, but I'm sure if someone wanted to give this waterfall the benefit of the doubt, it could've easily been more like 200m or so if one counted those downstream cascades.
First, we were able to get nice top down views of the Kegon Waterfall from the free viewing decks, which were just a few minutes walk from the Chuzenji Onsen stop (a huge parking lot for buses and cars). However, we thought it was well worth shelling out the extra yen for an elevator ride that took us down to the lower viewing decks for a more frontal view of the falls as well as the cascades below it. When we showed up in the morning on a sunny day, we were blown away by the nice bold rainbows arcing across the base of the falls.
When we peered towards the downstream side of the viewing deck, we noticed that there was also another notable cascade, which we think was named Nehan Waterfall (涅槃の滝) according to a sign here. Actually, we're still not quite sure if that additional cascade we saw was the Nehan Waterfall or if it was even further below us on the same stream that the Kegon Waterfall was on.
Even though we only had time to get the main views of the Kegon Waterfall, we knew that there were other pretty majestic views and walkways to experience. The one in particular that I'm thinking of was based out of the Akechi-daira stop. I believe there was a cable car to the top of a hill where there was a viewing deck of both Chuzenjiko and the Kegon-no-taki as well as a 1.5km walk back down to the Chuzenji Onsen complex passing by a shrine and some fine views of Mt Nantai on clear days. The more I think about it, I wish we had made the time and do this extra option anyways. Oh well, maybe next time.
Overall, we spent about 30 minutes at the lower deck beneath the elevator ride. Given the limited ways to experience the falls from the viewing deck, that amount of time was plenty. We also spent another half-hour or so at the top before they finally opened up the elevator (because we showed up too early in the morning). In any case, our experience at the Kegon-no-taki was so impressive that we gave it a spot on our Top 10 Asia Waterfalls List.
The Chuzenji-ko bus typically ran every half-hour. On the day we did it, we caught an early 6:35am bus in Nikko and arrived at the main Chuzenji-ko bus stop at around 7:30am or so. Then, we walked from the bus stop to the Kegon Falls.
We were able to save a significant amount of bus fare money by purchasing the All Nikko Pass (a-la-carte fares tend to add up real fast!), and this route was definitely part of the coverage area.
To get to the Nikko area, we came here from Sendai (仙台) on a 9:26am train bound for Utsunomiya (宇都宮). Then, we barely caught a 10:40am train right to Nikko (日光) getting there around 11:30am. We had to walk from the JR station to the Tobu-Nikko Station where we got the local timetables and bought that important All Nikko Bus Pass.
On the way out, we caught a 6:46am train bound for Utsunomiya then connected from there at 8:10am and caught a shinkansen back to Tokyo (Shinjuku Station, I believe) getting there at around 9:45am.
For some additional geographical context, Utsunomiya was 128km north of Tokyo (東京; about 2 hours by car or 90 minutes by train) and was 250km north of Sendai (3 hours drive or 90 minutes by train). Nikko was 39km northwest of Utsunomiya (under an hour drive or an hour by train).
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