Hiking trails along the crystal blue Niyodo River

The Niyodo River is often ranked as Japan’s most beautiful river, both for the purity of the water and its almost surreal cobalt blue color, nicknamed “Niyodo Blue.” Come explore hiking trails through gorges with spectacular views of the river, then relax in hot springs or sip some locally-grown tea at an idyllic café.

About the Niyodo River

The Niyodo River runs for 124km, from deep in the mountains of Shikoku and out into the Pacific Ocean. It consistently ranks as the purest river in the country, and so is often referred to as “Japan’s most beautiful river.” Springing out from beneath the ground from around 1500m above sea level, the river’s water purity barely changes from its source to the downstream area. This flowing ribbon is a dazzling cobalt blue, which has given rise to the nickname “Niyodo Blue.”

While the Niyodo Blue color can be seen year round, it is at its most vibrant between November and March. One of the best spots to take in the glowing blue is at Nikobuchi, a plunge pool at the base of one of the many waterfalls. Put on your hiking boots and make your way down by a handrail, and you’ll be rewarded with this natural gem. Depending on the position of the sun, the water color changes from blue to green, and will definitely have you reaching for your camera!

In the wider, downstream section of the river visitors are likely to come across unusual chinkabashi bridges. These low, stocky bridges don’t have balustrades or side rails, designed to withstand rising water levels and floods.

Hiking at Yasui Gorge

A hike through one of the gorges along the river is the best way to enjoy Niyodo Blue. There are various places to hike, but the Yasui Gorge on the Yasui River (a tributary of the Niyodo) is one of the most popular trails. The area is surrounded by a vast unspoiled primeval forest, and hikers can spot rare plants growing along the crystalline river.

Taking the trail that runs alongside the gorge, you'll eventually come across Suishobuchi, a basin known to have the most transparent waters in the entire Niyodo River system. The stones on the riverbed, the water depth, the position of the sun, and even the green of the trees all have an impact on the color of the water, which can vary from emerald green to cobalt blue. The contrast between the white waterfall and the blue of the basin below is remarkable. The small dam further back helps to keep the water pure and clear.

Hiryu-no-Taki waterfall, a 25m two-tiered waterfall that resembles a twisting dragon, and Mikaeri-no-Taki waterfall, a waterfall that plunges over a sheer cliff, are two other major sights in the area.

Don’t want to hike alone? Book a guided tour in English!

●Guided Tours
E-mail: kanko@niyodoblue.jp (Niyodo Blue Tourism Council)
Cost: The basic fee is 9,000 yen (for two persons). Additional one person will cost 3,000 yen.
* The fee will be paid in cash on the day.
Time required: 1 to 2 hours

Hiking at Nakatsu Gorge

Another great place for a light hike is Nakatsu Gorge, located along the upstream area of the Niyodo River. The rock formations in the gorge were created by years of erosion from rain and the flow of the Niyodo River. The bedrock is over 17,000 years old and iron deposits give some of the rocks a reddish tinge.

The trail snakes alongside the river for about 2km. Keep an eye out for the stone statues of the shichifukujin (Seven Gods of Fortune) placed along the trail, that seem to peak out from the mossy boulders. The best view can be found at the Uryu-no-Taki waterfall, that plunges down for 20m, crashing onto fantastically shaped rocks. There is a small viewing platform that gives a close view of the power of the water.

Nakatsu Gorge is a popular place to take in the autumn colors, as the contrast between the blue of the Niyodo River and the reds of the autumn foliage looks particularly magical surrounded by the weathered stone. Book a guided tour in English to learn more about the region.

●Guided Tours
E-mail: kanko@niyodoblue.jp (Niyodo Blue Tourism Council)
Cost: The basic fee is 9,000 yen (for two persons). Additional one person will cost 3,000 yen.
* The fee will be paid in cash on the day.
Time required: 1 to 2 hours

Adventures Along the Niyodo River

Looking for something a little more exciting? Why not try some river activities! The flow of the Niyodo River is relatively calm, making it a fantastic place to try something a little different while relaxing on the river. Adrenaline junkies can book canyoning or packrafting tours starting near Nakatsu Gorge. For something a little less intense, canoeing and SUP (stand up paddleboarding) are popular activities to take in the beauty of the Niyodo River. Feel as one with the sparkling crystal blue river, gaze at the colorful stones on the riverbed and take in the lush landscape of the Niyodo area.

Relax and Refuel Around Niyodo

After a hike, there is nothing like sinking into a soothing hot spring or enjoying a tasty snack at a café with river views.

Hot spring waters well up out of the ground at Yunomori, a hot spring hotel at the entrance to Nakatsu Gorge. Day trippers are welcome to use the hot springs for a small fee. Their outdoor bath, surrounded by a tranquil forest, is particularly relaxing.

The Niyodo River is also a tea growing region, and there are several cafés run by tea plantations. Stop by one of the cafés to take in the great views and try meals, desserts and drinks that feature locally grown tea.

Address: 258-1 Nanokawa, Niyodogawa Town
TEL: 0889-36-0680
Hours: Bath hours for those not staying overnight: 11:00 to 21:00 (Last entry at 20:00)
Closed on Tuesdays (or the following day if Tuesday is a public holiday), two Wednesdays per month, and on New Year’s Day
Cost: 13yrs and up: ¥700, 3yrs to 12yrs: ¥350, 2yrs and under: Free
https://www.yunomori.jp/ (only in Japanese)

●Cha Cafe Asunaro
Address: 224-6 Washinosu, Niyodogawa Town
TEL: 0889-36-0188
Hours: 10:00 to 15:30 (From 11:00 in winter)
Closed on Thursdays (on Thursdays and Fridays during winter)
http://www.asunaro-cafe.com/ (only in Japanese)

A History of Paper-Making

The town of Ino, located by the downstream basin of the Niyodo River, is known for producing Tosa washi, a type of traditional Japanese paper made using the pure water of the river. This handmade paper has a history dating back over 1000 years, and its name still includes Tosa, the name of the domain that once ruled Kochi Prefecture.

You can try making Tosa washi yourself at both the Ino-Cho Paper Museum and the Michi-no-Eki (rest area) in Ino.

●Ino-cho Paper Museum
Address: 110-1 Saiwai-cho, Ino Town, Agawa-Gun
TEL: 088-893-0886
Hours: 9:00 to 17:00
Closed on Mondays (Closed the following day if Monday is a public holiday), and between December 27 to January 4
Cost: Adults: ¥500, Students (17 years and under): ¥100, handmade paper-making: ¥400 (color paper x2 or postcards x8)

●Tosa Washi Craft Village
Address: 1226 Kashiki, Ino Town, Agawa-Gun
TEL: 088-892-1001
Hours: Washi Experience Workshop: 9:00am to 5:00pm
Closed on Wednesdays
8 postcards or 2 message boards: No pattern: ¥400 (approx. 40mins), with flowers: ¥600 (approx. 1hr)
Uchiwa fan: ¥800 (approx. 40mins)
Orizome paper dyeing/tie-dyeing: Small: ¥400 (approx. 40mins), Medium: ¥600 (approx. 40mins)