Tucked away in Shimogo town, Minamiaizu, stands To-no-Hetsuri – an area of magnificent and other-worldly rock formations carved away from years of natural erosion.
If the name ‘Shimogo’ rings a bell, it is because is it the same town where Ouchi-juku – the old post town popular with visitors to Fukushima Prefecture – is located.
It may seem difficult to remember the name of this area, but don’t worry, it’s difficult even for Japanese people, as ‘hetsuri’ is a colloquial word used by locals in Aizu. ‘To-no-Hetsuri’ can be translated as ‘the carved pagoda overlooking the river’, or ‘the pagoda’s slope facing the river’.
Just one look at these rocks makes it clear why this area might have been thought of as being a pagoda or tower, as the shapes of the cliffs really do look as if humans have carved them, perhaps for religious purposes. However, the cliffs began to shape a long time before humans even existed.
The cliffs are thought to have been formed by wind and rain over the past 28 million years!
Local people have given each cliff a different name, depending on its shape. The names include Hawk Tower, Sumo Arena Rock, and Eboshi Rock. An Eboshi is the name of a style of tall hat worn by aristocrats in the Heian period (794 – 1185), which gives you some idea of the age of these rocks!
I love exploring places like this. Completely unique in shape, it could be said that these rocks are not particularly ‘Japanese’ and therefore not worth visiting on a trip to Japan.
However, the careful naming of the rocks and proximity of shrines and a really cute, tiny rail station (not to mention Ouchi-juku) mean it is impossible to forget that you are in Japan.
But, on the other hand, it is also really interesting that, no matter where you are in the world, it is likely that there are mystifying naturally-formed rock formations somewhere in the country.
No matter where you go, nature is beautiful and enchanting, and that makes me feel connected to my friends and family, no matter how far away they are.
To-no-Hetsuri’s suspension bridge is very picturesque against the water of the river. It does move a bit, so be prepared for that! I was a little bit scared, I’m not going to lie! However, when in Japan, you can be sure that the infrastructure is as well-maintained as possible, which is always a good feeling to have!
There is a gift shop, and a viewing platform nearby upon leaving the main area of To-no-Hetsuri, so be sure to take a look.
I will have to come back again to see how different this area looks as the seasons change!
Deep Winter at To-no-Hetsuri
Summer at To-no-Hetsuri
Autumn at To-no-Hetsuri
- To-no-Hetsuri is a 5-10 minute walk from To-no-Hetsuri Station on the Aizu Railway Line.
- The Aizu Railway Line begins at Aizu-Wakamatsu Station, which can be reached easily from Koriyama City and Fukushima City.
- See here for information on getting to Aizu-Wakamatsu from Tokyo or from Sendai.
To find out more about To-no-Hetsuri, please check out Fukushima Prefecture Tourism Assocation’s website here!
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