Most people go to Hiraizumi in Iwate for the temples listed as World Heritage Sites. Of course these are a must see, but if you are a nature and scenery buff like me, then you can’t go to this area and miss seeing this stunning gorge (Genbikei), as well as another one called Geibikei. The names are a bit confusing as they sound very alike—but make no mistake—there are actually two different gorges. So make sure you see both!
Genbikei Gorge is located to the west of Ichinoseki, which is where you’ll get off the bullet train if you come from Tokyo. Logistics wise, I recommend going to this gorge as soon as you arrive in Ichinoseki, before making your way to Hiraizumi (which is two stops on the local train from Ichinoseki). The local bus to the gorge from Inchonseki station takes about 20 minutes.
My friend and I arrived in Ichonoseki by Bullet train just after midday and caught a bus to Genbikei. Before seeing the gorge we decided to have lunch. There are a handful of places around the gorge to eat at, but we walked about 10 minutes in the opposite direction to the ‘michi no eki’ (roadside rest area, where my friend had read we could try one of the local specialties, mochi ryori. Mochi means rice cake and ryori means cooking. Mochi ryori is soft rice cakes covered with various toppings (ginger, shrimp, tofu, red bean and many more), presented beautifully in a box, and also served with soup and some pickles. Being rice it is very filling. One box (of 8) is 850 yen. If there are two of you, I recommend ordering one mochi ryori and one different dish and sharing (they serve noodles and various other dishes), as I found that although the mochi is very filling, it is also quite sweet. So I was very full, it didn’t feel like I’d eaten a proper lunch.
After lunch we walked to the gorge. There is a path leading down either side of the gorge that gives views, as well as a few bridges crossing over the gorge that also provide spectacular views. At one section you can walk on the rocks right to the edge of the gorge. One of the things that have made this gorge famous with the Japanese is the ‘flying dango’. Dango are a sweet Japanese dish of sticky rice balls with various sauces, served on a skewer. The reason they are called ‘flying’ is that you place your order on one side of the river and send it via a rope and basket (similar to a flying fox). The restaurant on the other side of the river then prepares your order, and the dango are then ‘flown’ back to you in the basket. It’s a bit of a gimmick, but the gorge is stunning, and if you are hungry, you may as well give the dango a go. Because my friend and I had just eaten lunch we weren’t hungry, so I’m not sure what they were like, but there were many people eating them at the time of our visit, so I’m sure they’re good.
We were back at Ichinoseki station around 4:00pm—in time to catch the local train to Hiraizumi.