Bandokoro Waterfall (Bandokoro Otaki [番所大滝])

Norikura Highlands / Matsumoto / Takayama, Nagano, Japan

About Bandokoro Waterfall (Bandokoro Otaki [番所大滝])


Hiking Distance: 600m round trip
Suggested Time: 30-45 minutes

Date first visited: 2009-05-29
Date last visited: 2016-10-20

Waterfall Latitude: 36.12775
Waterfall Longitude: 137.65773

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The Bandokoro Waterfall (Bandokoro Otaki [番所大滝]; Bandokoro Great Falls or just Bandokoro Falls) was one of three notable waterfalls in the Norikura Kogen (Norikura Highlands) of the Japan Alps between Matsumoto and Takayama.

I’d even argue that it was probably the most powerful and impressive of the three waterfalls in that mountains region west of Matsumoto.

Norikura_034_05282009 - The Bandokoro Waterfall seen in high flow during our first visit, which happened during Spring
The Bandokoro Waterfall seen in high flow during our first visit, which happened during Spring

I happened to make a couple of visits to the Bandokoro Great Falls – one by a very adventurous public transportation attempt and another by self-driving.

These logistical aspects of our visit to the falls are explained in greater detail in the directions below.

But to make a long story short, a combination of the language barrier, infrequent bus options, and costliness of the local lines turned an expected day of visiting the many waterfalls in the Norikura Highlands into a half-day of visiting just this one waterfall.

Seven years later when I re-visited this area with my parents, I learned my lesson and self-drove this part of Japan.

Bandokoro_Falls_033_10192016 - Direct look at the Bandokoro Waterfall on an Autumn visit over seven years later
Direct look at the Bandokoro Waterfall on an Autumn visit over seven years later

Sometimes trying to make something work by the much-touted mass transit system just doesn’t work very well due to extra costs and extra time spent waiting as well as logistical confusion (exacerbated by the language barrier).

And it was certainly the case with the Bandokoro Waterfall (as well as the rest of the Norikura Highlands).

About the Bandokoro Waterfall

The Bandokoro Waterfall fell some 40m in height and 11m in width with a bit of a trapezoidal shape both times I’ve seen it.

During our first visit in May 2009, the Koonogawa River (小大野川) was in high flow so the waterfall threw up a lot of mist right up at the lookout platform (as pictured above).

Norikura_005_05282009 - Rock and landslides around the Bandokoro Waterfall warn of the steepness of the cliffs surrounding this waterfall
Rock and landslides around the Bandokoro Waterfall warn of the steepness of the cliffs surrounding this waterfall

When we came back in October of 2016, the river was in less flow but the waterfall itself still retained its pleasing shape.

There was even some hints of koyo (Autumn colors) as the typically cool weather of the Norikura Highlands was more conducive to the changing of the leaves before the rest of the country at the lower elevations.

In our October 2016 visit, we were probably 2-3 weeks early for the lower elevations (i.e. the rest of the country) to experience the koyo.

Hiking to the Bandokoro Waterfall

The hike to the Bandokoro Waterfall was pretty straightforward from the parking area (there was a restroom as well as bus stop by the main road near this car park).

Norikura_058_05282009 - Julie on the side trail following the Koonogawa River upstream of the Bandokoro Waterfall taking in both the Bandokoro Little Falls and the Chiyomi Falls
Julie on the side trail following the Koonogawa River upstream of the Bandokoro Waterfall taking in both the Bandokoro Little Falls and the Chiyomi Falls

On the far side of the parking area, we followed a fence that gently sloped to our right (past a trail that steeply descended steps to our left) then led down a more gentler series of steps and switchbacks.

On our latest visit, that stair-stepped path on our left went further upstream of the Bandokoro Falls, but it was closed due to rock falls and landslides.

I recalled when Julie and I last did that other trail to the left, it followed the Koonogawa in a pleasant riverside trail passing by a pair of other small but fairly picturesque waterfalls – Bandokoro Little Falls (番所小滝) and Chiyomi Falls (千間淵滝).

It would eventually bring us back to the main road (Road 84) further to the west of the Bandokoro Falls car park.

Bandokoro_Falls_015_10192016 - The steep trail leading down to the lookout for the Bandokoro Waterfall
The steep trail leading down to the lookout for the Bandokoro Waterfall

Anyways, continuing to the right on the main waterfall trail, it descend several steps and switchbacks with railings to hold onto for balance.

After roughly 5-10 minutes of engaging in this descent (knowing full well that we had to get all this elevation loss back to return to the car park), we eventually reached another trail junction right before the lookout shelter for the Bandokoro Falls.

Given the steep terrain of this gorge, this lookout was the only place to properly experience the falls.

And as mentioned earlier, when the Koonogawa was in high flow, it would be hard to get a clean look at the falls given the spray that would blast the side facing the waterfall itself.

Bandokoro_Falls_039_10192016 - Trail closures were prevalent on our return trip to the Bandokoro Waterfall in October 2016
Trail closures were prevalent on our return trip to the Bandokoro Waterfall in October 2016

Despite the closures of the other trails in the immediate area during our latest visit, it seemed like Autumn was a more pleasant experience here.

In addition to the koyo, we were even able to notice some hints of basalt formations providing us clues to the Bandokoro Waterfall’s geologic past.

It helped us to better understand why the falls existed here in the first place as the hard rock layer was surely supplied by the lava that once flowed through here.

Speaking of trail closures, the continuation of the trail at the junction by the lookout shelter led further downstream towards a dam facility.

Norikura_024_05282009 - Some kind of dam facility further downstream of the Bandokoro Waterfall seen on our first visit to the falls back in May 2009
Some kind of dam facility further downstream of the Bandokoro Waterfall seen on our first visit to the falls back in May 2009

When Julie and I last did that trail prior to its closure, we didn’t go past the small dam so we can’t say anything more about where else that trail went.

Anyways, when all was said and done, our out-and-back excursion to the lookout of the Bandokoro Falls from the car park only took us 35 minutes.

That included the time spent taking pictures and just enjoying the scenery at the waterfall.

Authorities

The Bandokoro Waterfall resides in the Norikura Highlands near Matsumoto of the Nagano Prefecture, Japan. It is administered by the Ministry of the Environment. For information or inquiries about the area as well as current conditions, you can try visiting their website.

Bandokoro_Falls_009_10192016 - Mom and Dad going to the far end of the car park and onto the trail leading down to the Bandokoro Falls
Bandokoro_Falls_013_10192016 - Mom and Dad keeping right at the first junction and following the gentler path towards the lookout for the Bandokoro Waterfall
Bandokoro_Falls_019_10192016 - The familiar lookout for the Bandokoro Otaki as seen during our October 2016 visit. Notice how much more overgrown it is compared to our first visit in May 2009 later on in this photo gallery
Norikura_034_05282009 - For reference, here was how this lookout appeared 7 years earlier in the Spring. Note how much more water was in the Koonogawa as well as how much less overgrowth there was
Bandokoro_Falls_027_10192016 - On my second visit, it appeared that the trail suffered some damage by the Bandokoro Great Falls Overlook due to rock slides and landslides
Bandokoro_Falls_043_10192016 - Last look back at the Bandokoro Falls lookout during our 2016 visit before heading back up
Bandokoro_Falls_044_10192016 - What goes down must come up.  Now we had to get all that elevation loss back on the climb up to the Bandokoro Falls car park
Bandokoro_Falls_045_10192016 - The seemingly lengthy climb (in reality, it wasn't that long) gave us the opportunity to check out the geology giving rise to the steepness of the gorge as well as the Bandokoro Waterfall itself
Bandokoro_Falls_047_10192016 - The climb back up to the Bandokoro Waterfall parking lot seemed like it kept going on
Bandokoro_Falls_048_10192016 - I believe this was the last switchback before finally making it back to the Bandokoro Waterfall car park
Bandokoro_Falls_049_10192016 - Finally back at the Bandokoro Falls car park in the early morning
Norikura_001_05282009 - Signage by the trailhead for the Bandokoro Falls during our adventurous May 2009 visit
Norikura_004_05282009 - Context of the cliffs surrounding the Koonagawa River near the Bandokoro Waterfall
Norikura_008_05282009 - Direct view of the Bandokoro-Otaki in full flow (from our first visit).  I had to quickly take this photo before too much spray got onto the camera
Norikura_011_05282009 - Direct look at the Bandokoro Waterfall with some hint at its precipitous context during our May 2009 visit
Norikura_028_05282009 - Looking upstream from the small hydro scheme as the Koonagawa River was channeling towards it
Norikura_030_05282009 - Julie on the lush walk skirting the Koonagawa River and the gorge as she was returning to the main waterfall lookout from the dam
Norikura_035_05282009 - Julie continues to walk further upstream from the Bandokoro Waterfall as we then embarked on the pleasant riverside walk towards the Little Bandokoro Falls and the Chiyomi Falls
Norikura_040_05282009 - Looking towards some intermediate cascades further upstream of the Bandokoro Waterfall along the walk skirting the Koonagawa River
Norikura_048_05282009 - This was the 8m Little Bandokoro Waterfall, which was one of the attractive cascades just upstream from Bandokoro-Otaki
Norikura_050_05282009 - More contextual view of the Little Bandokoro Waterfall during our May 2009 visit
Norikura_056_05282009 - I guessed the name of the 8m Little Bandokoro Waterfall based on trying to translate the kanji on this sign
Norikura_063_05282009 - Another of the smaller cascades upstream from Bandokoro-Otaki, which I believe was called Chiyomi Falls
Norikura_067_05282009 - Another look at the small but attractive Chiyomi Waterfall on the Koonagawa River upstream of the Bandokoro Waterfall during our May 2009 visit

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Since we managed to visit the Bandokoro Waterfall both by self-driving as well as by public transport, we’ll desribe both methods in this section.

However, we’ll start with the self-driving option since I strongly believe that this was the way to go given our public transport misadventures in this area back on our first visit here.

Self Driving to the Bandokoro Waterfall

From Matsumoto, we drove west on the Route 158 from the JR Station at the city center for around 32km.

Bandokoro_Falls_005_10192016 - The Bandokoro Waterfall car park
The Bandokoro Waterfall car park

As we were deep into the scenic mountains skirting the Azusako (Lake Azusa), the 158 passed through a series of tunnels, but in one of the openings between tunnels was the turnoff going to our left onto the Road 84 into the Norikura Highlands (or Norikura-kogen or 乗鞍高原).

We then followed the Road 84 for a little over 6km (going up a pair of switchbacks en route) to the signposted turnoff for the Bandokoro Waterfall parking area on our right.

Overall, this drive took us about an hour.

For geographical context, Matsumoto was around 3.5 hours by train from Tokyo. Naoetsu was As for the context by self-driving, the direct route passing through Kofu en route was said to be 221km or about 2.5-3 hours. Going in the opposite direction, Matsumoto would be 85km or under 2 hours drive east of the charming city of Takayama.

Taking Public Transportation to the Bandokoro Waterfall

Bandokoro_Falls_003_10192016 - The main road 84 where the signed car park was on the right and the nearest bus stop was up ahead on the left
The main road 84 where the signed car park was on the right and the nearest bus stop was up ahead on the left

As for the public transportation option from Matsumoto, we took an early train (I don’t think it was part of the JR line) to the Shin-Shimashima Station.

From there, we caught a bus that went from Shin-Shimashima Station to the Bandokoro-dake Stop.

I guess typically the route we took would continue to the National Vacation Village and ultimately to the Shirahone Onsen Spa area, neither of which we reached as we were content to see the Bandokoro-daki.

It turned out that after visiting the Bandokoro Waterfall, I think we had to either catch a different connecting bus at the National Vacation Village to get to the Norikura dake passing by the two other waterfalls we wanted to go to, or we had to do some serious walking given the inconvenient bus schedules.

Norikura_071_05282009 - At the other side of the shuttle hike that started near the Bandokoro Great Falls and ended up further upstream back at the main road for the Norikura Highlands
At the other side of the shuttle hike that started near the Bandokoro Great Falls and ended up further upstream back at the main road for the Norikura Highlands

In any case, our itinerary turned out to be the following:

  1. Caught 6:00 train (not on JR network) from Matsumoto to Shin-Shimashima Station
  2. Caught 7:00 bus (I think) from Shin-Shimashima Station to Bandokoro-daki stop
  3. Arrived at Bandokoro-daki stop at 8:00 and started walking
  4. Caught 10:18 bus back to Shin-Shimashima Station
  5. Around 11:20, waited for train back to Matsumoto and arrived there at 12:00

The Drama of our Public Transportation Attempt to access the Bandokoro Waterfall

As for the drama regarding our bus situation and language barrier, the misunderstanding was that we got a discounted fare that included both the train ride from Matsumoto as well as the bus ride that went up to the Shirahone Onsen Spa.

But along the way, we thought we could get off the bus at the Bandokoro Stop, then either walk or catch other buses continuing uphill towards the other two waterfalls in the Norikura Highlands.

Unfortunately, the discount bus tickets we got only worked for one or two buses in each direction and their schedules were such that it was impossible to visit all the waterfalls while still being able to return to Matsumoto on the same day.

The moment we caught buses outside of the sanctioned timetable given on our discount tickets to Shirahone Onsen Spa, they confiscated our ticket, tried to return some money (which was far less than what we paid) and we were supposed to pay the remaining fares as we went on the buses from here on out (the a la carte bus fare costed us 1150円 per person).

We thought we were getting ripped off, but in hindsight, they were making us pay an a la carte rate plus a penalty change fee for switching out of the discount ticket.

Sound confusing? Well, imagine trying to figure this out with the language barrier.

The workers didn’t speak English and all we had was a phrase book that only got us so far.

Further complicating the issue was that the visitor center (where there would more likely be an English speaker) was away another 2.9km walk further uphill from the Bandokoro car park and bus stop.

Examining the gorge downstream of the falls as seen from a shelter and viewing spot

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Tagged with: nagano, norikura, highlands, matsumoto, japan, waterfall, matsumoto-jo, matsumoto castle, shirahone onsen, kogen, japan alps, zengorou, sanbon



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Johnny Cheng is the founder of the World of Waterfalls and author of A Guide to New Zealand Waterfalls. Over the last 2 decades, he has visited thousands of waterfalls in over 40 countries around the world and nearly 40 states in the USA.
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