About Hottai Waterfall (hottai-no-taki [法体の滝])
The Hottai Waterfall (hottai-no-taki [法体の滝]; “Priest Falls?”) was kind of an out-of-the-way waterfall off the northerneastern slopes of Mt Chokai (鳥海山), which was a famous and active volcano shared between Yamagata and Akita Prefectures.
A rather unusual characteristic of this waterfall was that it actually faces Mt Chokai, which was the very mountain that supplies the Kamitamada River upon which the falls flows over.
By the way, the Kamitamada River is a tributary of the Koyoshi River (子吉川 or Koyoshigawa), which ultimately flows into the Sea of Japan by the city of Yurihonjo.
Anyways, the waterfall’s unusual flow direction could be attributed to the fact that a single sheet of molten rock coming from Mt Chokai dammed up the Kamitamada River.
This lava dam caused the falls to flow over its top at a twist in its course that happened to face the mountain as the river continued to cut into the lava and make its new course its permanent path.
Eventually, with water trying to find the lowest path through gravity, it ultimately continued to reinforce this path as the Kamitamada River (though I’ve also seen this section called the Akasawa River).
As you can see in the photo above, the trapezoidal shape of its main drop was also unusual, and the name hottai may have come from this shape resembling a monk’s robe.
Another sign at the falls told of the Kobo Daishi (a Japanese Buddhist monk) who visited this place and encountered a white-haired old man, who told him the name of this falls was “Hottai” when asked.
In any case, this is a rather big waterfall with a cumulative height of 57.4m dropping over three tiers (though the bottommost drop is the main one) over a run of about 100m.
I’ve also seen other figures saying that its width (especially that lowermost tier) can spread from 3m at its top to about 30m in width at its base.
Heck, this waterfall even caught the attention of the producers of the 2009 movie Tsurikichi Sanpei, who made Hottai Falls its filming location of the movie’s climax.
While I’m aware that Autumn is the best time to see this waterfall surrounded by koyo (or Fall foliage), we visited in the Summer in July 2023 where we contended with monsoonal rains and lots of green.
As far as our visit was concerned, we basically went to one of three large car parks (see directions below) where we could already see the Hottai Falls across a large lawn area.
The lower two car parks had direct access to picnic shelters, toilets, and the lawn area itself while the uppermost car park had a trail pretty much making a beeline right to a bridge besides the Hottai Falls.
After about 350m from the car park, we were at the bridge where we could photograph the waterfall along with the red bridge together.
We also noticed that the large plunge pool and river were flanked by some man-modifications though it wasn’t clear to me what they were for.
While it was tempting to just be content with viewing the waterfall from before the bridge, it was worth continuing another 250m past the bridge, which climbed up to a lookout.
It was at this lookout that we were able to appreciate all the tiers of the Hottai Falls while also checking out signage.
One of the signs here confirmed that the Hottai Waterfall was one of Japan’s Top 100 Waterfalls according to the Japanese Minstry of the Environment (yet another pretty solid call in my mind).
We opted to make this lookout our turnaround point though the trail kept going further towards the top of Hottai Falls and beyond (perhaps to get a closer look at the potholes that the signs were talking about).
Overall, we spent less than an hour away from the car, but according to my GPS logs, only 10-15 minutes of that time was spent moving the 600m total distance to go out and back.
The Hottai Waterfall resides near Yurihonjo City in the Akita Prefecture, Japan. It may be administered by the Yurihonjo City Government. For information or inquiries about the area as well as current conditions, you can try visiting the Akita Tourism Federation website for leads.
The Hottai Waterfall sits on the northeastern slopes of Mt Chokai (the dominant volcano shared between the Yamagata and Akita Prefectures) to the east of Yurihonjo City.
This waterfall was a bit out of the way from our itinerary (even though we had been staying in Sakata, Ginzan Onsen, and Morioka on consecutive nights) largely because we had to go on mountain roads around Mt Chokai.
While we could describe the driving directions coming from Yurihonjo, which would be a more straightforward drive to Hottai Falls, you’d still have to get to that city in the first place, which can be a bit out-of-the-way.
Therefore, I’ll just describe how we did it coming from the east (from say Ginzan Onsen or Morioka).
Driving Route from Ginzan Onsen
From Ginzan Onsen, we drove roughly 20 minutes back towards the Obanazawa IC (along the 168 and 347) to get onto the E13 expressway.
Heading north on the E13 towards Showa, we then drove about 31km towards its end at Showa.
Then, we continued on the Route 13/344 north for another 28km before turning right onto a ramp to head west on the Route 108 near Shimoinnai.
Heading west on the 108, we then took it about 13km towards the Route 70 at Shimono, where we’d then follow this local road for another 13km towards a signed turnoff for Hottai Falls at the village of Yamasaki.
Once on this narrower local road, we then followed it for the remaining 10km towards the car park for the Hottai Falls.
Overall, this drive took us about 2 hours.
Driving Route from Morioka
Note that had we come south from Morioka, we would have taken the E4 expressway, which was about 8km from the city center to the Morioka-minami IC, where we’d get on.
Then, we drove the E4 expressway towards the E46 at Kitakami for about 42km towards, where we’d then follow the E46 west for about 50km towards the Route 13 national route at Yokote.
Heading south on the Route 13, we then drove about 27km towards Ogachikomachi IC, where we’d then take the National Route 13 west towards the Route 108 junction just west of Shimoinnai.
Once on the Route 108, the rest of the driving directions were as directed earlier, where we’d follow the Route 108, the 70, and then finally arrived at the Hottai Falls.
According to GoogleMaps, this drive would have taken us nearly 3 hours.
For some geographical context, Yurihonjo was about 87km (2 hours drive) north of Sakata, 120km (over 2 hours drive) northwest of Obanazawa, 168km (about 2.5 hours drive) southwest of Morioka, 184km (nearly 3 hours drive) south of Sendai, and 530km (about 7 hours drive) north of Tokyo.
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