A stretch of the Iwai River that features beautiful rocky cliffs, rapids, and flying dango.
In northern Japan, a two-mile ravine runs through the city of Ichinoseki. The powerful Iwai river cuts through ancient dacite tuff, laid down by the eruptions of Mount Kurikoma. This is Genbikei Gorge (literally, “severe beauty valley”).
Millions of years of erosion has sculpted the stone into a variety of interesting shapes. It has been known as a scenic spot since the Edo period, and in 1877 even earned a visit from Emperor Meiji himself.
One reason people love visiting the gorge is the opportunity to order “flying dango.” Dango is a sweet, round rice dumpling usually served on a skewer. At Genbikei, one finds a basket attached to a pulley system. Once you place your 400 yen in the basket and hit a wooden mallet, it is pulled back to the Kakko-ya restaurant on the other side of the river. Minutes later, the basket comes barrelling back over the river at alarming speeds, carrying skewers of dango in three flavors and fresh green tea.
For those who prefer their dango flightless, there are also a few scenic footbridges across the river, where you can visit Kakko-ya in person.
Know Before You Go
The most well-known and well-trafficked section of Genbikei is in the vicinity of Tengu bridge. It's a 25 minute bus ride from Ichinoseki Station on the Genbikei/Mizuyama Line.
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