Vegetarian's Japan Guide

Dorogawa Onsen – The Entrance of the Sacred Mt. Ōmine

Dorogawa Onsen Town (洞川温泉郷), in Tenkawa Village of Yoshino District (吉野郡天川村), is situated at an altitude of 820 meters. It has long been the first stop for the Shugendō (修験道) pilgrims on their way to the sacred mountain – Mt. Ōmine (大峯山). In hot summer, the mountain village situated in the highlands still gets to enjoy chiller weather which got its nickname – Kansai’s Karuizawa.

The Dorogawa Shinzen Kenkyū Road (洞川自然研究路) is a mountain trail with a connection to Shugendō. It is a loop trekking course that connects the scenic and historical spots around Dorogawa Onsen. HERE is the Japanese map of the route. The attractions included below follow the direction marked on the map.

Shugendō (修験道) originates from Japan and is derived from animistic beliefs. It embraces Shintoism, Taoism, and Buddhism. It aims to cultivate spiritual power through ascetics in holy mountains.

Dorogawa Shinzen Kenkyū Road (洞川自然研究路)

Other Attractions in Dorogawa Onsen

Tip: Atarashiya Ryokan is a nice place to spend a night at Dorogawa Onsen.

Menfudō Limestone Cave (面不動鍾乳洞)

According to research conducted after discovering the Menfudō Limestone Cave in 1933, scientists determined that Dorogawa Onsen’s current location was a huge limestone cave in ancient times. But most of it collapsed long ago, and Menfudō Limestone Cave is what was left standing.

It is Kansai region‘s biggest limestone cave, with a depth of 280 meters. Situated at an altitude of 878 meters, compared to many other limestone caves in Japan, Menfudō Limestone Cave maintains a lower temperature of around 8 degrees throughout the year.

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Instead of hiking your way up to the limestone cave, you can also take the Mefudō Limestone Cave Monorail (面不動モノレール「ドロッコ」)! The whimsical train will take you to the cave entrance in 5 minutes.

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  • The return fare is 500 yen for adults and 300 yen for children.
  • The one-way fare is 300 yen for adults and 200 yen for children.

Also, we should probably mention that the train will run backward on the return trip as there is no space to reverse (´▽`*).

During the autumn foliage season, we strongly recommend you take the 10-minute walk to enjoy the seasonal color (=゚ω゚)ノ.

At the entrance of the cave, you will get a full view of the township!

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Menfudō Limestone Cave’s Opening Hours, Admission Fees, and Access Information

  • The cave is open from 8 am to 6 pm but will close at 5 pm in winter.
    • The last admission is 30 minutes before closing time.
    • The cave is closed from the 31st of December to the 6th of January.
  • The admission fee is
    • 500 yen for adults
    • 200 yen for children
  • From the bus stop – Dorogawa Onsen (洞川温泉), it is around a 20-minute walk.

Click HERE for a list of attractions in Dorogawa Onsen.

Ryūsenji Temple (龍泉寺)

Ryūsenji is the main temple of Shingon Sect (真言宗), founded by En no Gyōja (役行者) when he discovered a mountain spring, which he named dragon’s mouth, or Ryūnokuchi (龍の口) in Japanese.

To the trainees and worshipers of Shugendō (修験道), the temple is their first training ground on their way to Mt. Ōmine. Before they proceed further on their pilgrimage trip, they must first purify themselves with water from Ryūnokuchi.

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Mt. Ōmine Water Training Site No. 1 (大峯山第一水行場)

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The pilgrims’ purification ceremony isn’t as simple as how we purify our hands and mouths at a shrine’s water fountain.

They change into traditional white training clothes and immerse themselves in the large pond in the temple that sources water from Ryūnokuchi.

After the ceremony, they pray to the Eight Great Dragon King (八大龍王) enshrined in the temple for a safe trip to the summit of Mt. Ōmine.

From June to early July, if you stay overnight at Dorogawa Onsen, don’t forget to drop by the temple to see whether fireflies are dancing around the pond!

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Nade Stone (なで石)

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Besides the beautiful scenery of Ryūsenji Temple, another point of interest is this Nade Stone in front of the main worship hall.

The stone is called “nade (撫で)”, meaning stroke. It is named “nade” because if you stroke it softly, like how you would pet a dog or cat, it will become lighter when you try to lift it up. On the other hand, if you hit it, it would try to resist when you try to lift it because it doesn’t like you (´▽`*). And just making it clear, the stroking we mentioned isn’t a metaphor, but actual actions are required!

It seems like the mysterious stone has feelings just like all living creatures!

Ryūō no Taki Falls (龍王の瀧)

To the temple’s right, there is another training ground. This time, it is the sort of waterfall that you probably have seen in Japanese anime and/or drama.

Beyond the training ground is Nara Prefecture’s Designated Natural Monument Ryūsenji’s Natural Forest (龍泉寺の自然林). The forest is valuable because it has a mixture of coniferous and broadleaf plants.

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Please speak to the temple’s staff if you are interested in training under the waterfall. You can also rent out the traditional white training clothes for 500 yen.

Important: The temple won’t be responsible for any accident during this training.

Going further into the natural forest, the trail will eventually merge with the Dorogawa Shinzen Kenkyū Road (洞川自然研究路) near Karigane Bridge (かりがね橋).

How to Get to Ryūsenji Temple

From the bus stop at Dorogawa Onsen (洞川温泉), it is a 10-minute walk.

Click HERE to return to a list of attractions in Dorogawa Onsen.

Karigane Bridge (かりがね橋)

Karigane Bridge, with a length of 120 meters, is the longest suspension bridge in Tenkawa Village. It connects the back of Ryūsenji Temple with Mt. Ōhara on the other bank.

Hiking on the steep slopes from Menfudō Limestone Cave can make you short of breath. But the magnificent view of the surrounding mountain ranges from the bridge awaits!

The bridge has a height of 50 meters which can be quite scary for those who dislike heights, especially when it starts swinging due to the breeze in the valley!

It will be a thrilling and exciting experience, though!

Mt. Ōhara Observatory (大原山展望台)

A 10-minute walk from Karigane Bridge, there is a place on the bank of the river. It is where everyone can enjoy the natural scenery at Mt. Ōhara Observatory.

From late April to early May, the wild cherry trees blooming on Mt. Ōhara are another reason for tourists to visit Dorogawa Onsen.

Click HERE for a list of attractions in Dorogawa Onsen.

Mantis’s Cavern (蟷螂の岩屋) and Bat Cave (コウモリ窟)

According to a local legend, two monster serpents lived inside the Mantis’s Cavern. They had regularly bothered the villagers. When a Shugendō master arrived at Dorogawa Onsen on his way to Mt. Ōmine, he got rid of one and drove the other into the deep mountain.

Continuing on the Dorogawa Shinzen Kenkyū Road, the trail splits with one featuring stairs down to the caves. Continue along the stairs and cross the bridge to find a small hut acting as the reception for Mantis’s Cavern and Bat Cave.

The cost is 300 yen, and in exchange, you can borrow a flashlight from the reception, which you will definitely need when you enter the Mantis’s Cavern as it will be completely dark inside.

Before entering the cave, wait for the staff to finish chanting for you because the cavern is one of the training spots on Mt. Ōmine Pilgrimage Route. When one enters the cave, he needs to be slightly bent like a mantis, which is why it was named Mantis’s Cavern or Tōrō no Iwaya in Japanese. Inside the cave, you can see the scaly rock surface that is said to be the remnant of the serpents.

So what does the cave have to do with training? It is where people can learn to be humble and respect others instead of showing off skills to beat less skilled people.

The entrance and exit of Mantis’s Cavern are close to one other. This means you will follow the road you came from on your return trip. So, if you don’t want to proceed further at any point in time, it is okay to just head back. People behind you won’t get annoyed.

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The Bat Cave next door is another cave for exploration. The cave actually didn’t get its name from being the home of bats, but because the pronunciation of “shut oneself up (Komori (籠もり) in Japanese)” sounds like a bat (pronounced as Kōmori).

The cave is a place for trainees of Shugendō to practice zen in isolation for mental peacefulness.

Exploring both of the caves will take around 30 minutes. Remember to return the flashlight to the reception when you are done.

Tip: When you visit the cave, make sure you wear something that you won’t mind getting dirty. Also, the walls and ground are most likely wet, so walk carefully.

Mantis’s Cavern and Bat Cave’s Opening Hours and Access Information

Click HERE for a list of attractions in Dorogawa Onsen.

Kajika no Taki Fall (河鹿の滝)

The next spot on the Dorogawa Shinzen Kenkyū Road is the only place along the Kawagami River (山上川) where you can get close to the mountain stream and waterfall. In summer, it is a great place for relaxation. Just be cautious of the slippery rock surface.

The small waterfall was named after the small Kajika frog or Buerger’s frog living there. The tiny frogs have a beautiful crying sound that you might get to hear.

The area is also the borderline between the limestone and igneous rock layers. If you look carefully, there should be rocks of reddish color sticking out of the river’s surface, which is iron ore.

Hahako-dō Hall (母公堂) and Women’s Barrier Gate (女人結界門)

Hahako-dō and the Women’s Barrier Gate, near Kajika no Taki Fall, have a connection to En no Gyōja (役行者), the monk who founded Ryūsenji Temple (龍泉寺).

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1,300 years ago, when En no Gyōja was training in Mt. Ōmine, his mother was worried about him and traveled to where the hall is now. However, she was unable to proceed further as a big snake blocked her.

When En no Gyōja heard about the news from his disciple, he visited his mother and got the villagers to help him build the hall for her. This is why the hall was named Hahako-dō.

En no Gyōja’s mother was enshrined there after she passed away, and she is currently a god looking after women’s delivery.

What En no Gyōja also built is this simple gate in the photo. It is a gate to let his mother know not to go after him because the mountain is full of danger. The gate is known as the origin of the mountain that is closed to women. Instead of discrimination against women, it is considered a kind thought towards his mother.

Since 2004, the route beyond the gate has been part of the World Heritage Site, the Sacred Sites and Pilgrimage Routes in the Kii Mountain Range (紀伊山地の霊場と参詣道), which are known for their historical, natural, and cultural value.

The Women’s Barrier Gate near Seijō Ōhashi Bride (清浄大橋) is a 20-minute walk away from Hahako-dō Hall.

Click HERE for a list of attractions in Dorogawa Onsen.

Gorogoro-mizu Water (ごろごろ水)

If you have read our article on Mitarai Valley, remember the Gorogoro-mizu water you can purchase from the farmers’ market Koji no Eki Ten (小路の駅「てん」 ) near the Tenkawa Village Tourist Information Center (天川村総合案内所)? This delicious water is flowing out from the Goyomatsu Limestone Cave in Dorogawa Onsen!

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Gorogoro-mizu is natural water flowing from the Ōmine mountain range. Around Dorogawa Onsen, the rich forest on top of the limestone cave stores the rainwater and water melted from snow.

The water, rich in minerals and calcium, is further filtered as it flows through the limestone cave, giving it a PH value of 8.2.

The water is so famous that people living in the Kansai region would drive to Dorogawa Onsen to bring back bottles or even tanks of water Σ(゚Д゚).

Initially, water was flowing out of the spot in the photo. But a sourcing site was built to make it easier for visitors to fetch water. Pipes that connect to the water source are placed around the large car park. Behind each parking lot, there is a faucet for you to get the Gorogoro-mizu.

If you drive, you only have to pay the parking fee, which is currently 500 yen! Of course, if you didn’t drive there, you can still get the Gorogoro-mizu, which is FREE!

While you are there, check out a cafe called Gorogoro Chaya (ごろごろ茶屋). They use Gorogoro-mizu to make beverages.

Gorogoro-mizu’s Water Sourcing Time and Access Information

  • The facility is open from 9 am to 6 pm from April to November and closes early at 5:30 from December to March.
    • It is closed from the 31st of December to the 6th of January.
  • From the bus stop at Dorogawa Onsen (洞川温泉), it is around a 25-minute walk.

Click HERE for a list of attractions in Dorogawa Onsen.

Goyomatsu Limestone Cave (五代松鍾乳洞)

Goyomatsu Limestone Cave, on the other side of Dorogawa Onsen, was explored and maintained by Akai Goyomatsu (赤井五代松). Because he discovered the cave in 1933, there is a statue of him to the left of the monorail.

The monorail that many choose to ride can be more fun than the actual limestone cave (´▽`*). Initially built for forest work, no renovation was done to the simple monorail giving you the maximum exposure to the surrounding nature and an exquisite view of the forest!

The monorail station is just in front of the Gorogoro Water Sourcing Site (ごろごろ水採水場). The monorail, with a maximum capacity of 6 people, will run through a slope of 34.5 degrees. Traveling 204 meters, you will be at the small entrance of the limestone cave in 5 minutes.

For those who prefer to hike, it will take around 10 minutes.

  • The monorail’s fare for the way up is
    • 400 yen for junior high school and above
    • 200 yen for children
  • The monorail’s fare for the way down is
    • 200 yen for junior high school and above
    • 100 yen for children
  • Free for children less than 4 years old

Unlike the Menfudō Limestone Cave, which can be accessed anytime during opening hours, you will have to follow a guide to enter the Goyomatsu Limestone Cave. This means you will probably have to wait outside the cave for the monorail to transport other visitors before the tour’s commencement.

Although Goyomatsu Limestone Cave and Menfudō Limestone Cave are in the same area, they have completely different atmospheres. The stalactites in the Menfudō cave are more delicate and artistic, while the Goyomatsu cave has many gigantic stalactites and bestows the feeling of another world!

Goyomatsu Limestone Cave’s Opening Hours, Admission Fees, and Access Information

  • The cave is open from 9:30 am to 3:50 pm but will break for lunch from 11:30 am to 1:30 pm (break time may change).
    • The cave is closed on Wednesdays, during winter, and when the weather isn’t ideal.
  • The admission fee is
    • 450 yen for adults
    • 200 yen for children
  • From the bus stop at Dorogawa Onsen (洞川温泉), it is around a 20-minute walk

Click HERE for a list of attractions in Dorogawa Onsen.

Meisui Tofu Yamaguchi-ya (名水とうふ山口屋)

The most famous specialty of Dorogawa Onsen isn’t manmade but a blessing of mother nature.

The Gorogoro-mizu Water flowing out of one of the limestone caves is so delicious that the town created a large car park so those who come for the water can easily bring a few tanks of water back (´▽`*).

As tourists, while we won’t want to carry a water tank around during our time in Japan, what you want to try out is the soybean products from Meisui Tofu Yamaguchi-ya!

The tofu and the deep-fried bean curd here are so delicious that if you don’t reserve it in advance, they will most likely be sold out if you visit the shop on weekends and public holidays.

And the secret of the popularity?

It is the Gorogoro-mizu Water combined with the number of soybeans that were used during the manufacturing process. The resulting products have a rich and natural taste that can hardly be found in the tofu you get from supermarkets!

The shop has a small space where customers can sit and eat. Ginger soy sauce is also available (=゚ω゚)ノ.

Important: The dine-in option is currently open to those who ordered tofu and soy milk only.

Meisui Tofu Yamaguchi-ya’s Opening Hours and Acces Information

  • Meisui Tofu Yamaguchi-ya is open from 8 am to 4 pm daily except Wednesdays.
  • From the bus stop at Dorogawa Onsen (洞川温泉), it is around a 5 to 10-minute walk.
  • To make a reservation, please give them a call at +81-747-64-0509.

Click HERE for a list of attractions in Dorogawa Onsen.

Dorogawa Hachimangū Shrine (洞川八幡宮)

Near the Menfudō Limestone Cave, there is a shrine situated in the forest called Dorogawa Hachimangū. It also originated from En no Gyōja’s pilgrimage to Mt. Ōmine in 667.

The shrine emits a sacred and solemn atmosphere. It was where he performed a ritual to inform and pray to the gods in Dorogawa for a safe, successful pilgrimage. Since then, a shrine was built to enshrine the local gods for the villagers to pray.

The current worship hall was rebuilt in 1866. Although it isn’t exhibited to the public, the Amaterasu Ōmikami statue carved from a piece of cypress wood is a national important prefectural cultural property.

Many of the cedar trees are more than 1,000 years old. They add an ambiance of peace and sacredness to the place.

Following the path to the shrine’s right will lead you to the Menfudō Limestone Cave.

Mitarai Valley (みたらい渓谷)

In addition to the Dorogawa Shinzen Kenkyū Road, we recommend you hike in the Mitarai Valley.

It is one of the most stunning valleys in the Kansai area, located where the Yamagami River (山上川) flows from Mt. Ōmine (大峯山) meets the Amano River (天ノ川).

Mitarai Valley is a masterpiece of nature where large and small waterfalls flow down the large rock wall to the foot of the mountain.

Click the photo to find out more about this stunning valley!

From Dorogawa Onsen, you can take a local bus to Tenkawa Village Tourist Information Center (天川村総合案内所), which is the starting point of the 3-hour hiking course.

For more information, please refer to our article on Mitarai Valley!

Click HERE for a list of attractions in Dorogawa Onsen.

Niukawakami Shrine (丹生川上神社)

Ⓒ 東吉野村役場

When you visit a Japanese shrine, you must have seen those wooden plates with people’s wishes written on the back, hung on one side of the precinct. If you ever wonder where those wooden plates originated from, then you must visit Niukawakami Shrine (丹生川上神社). On top of that, you get to be like a Shintosim’s priest, swinging the stick with paper strips attached to purify yourself!

For more information, please read our article on Niukawakami Shrine (=゚ω゚)ノ.

Discover Other Amazing Places to Visit in the Wider Yoshino District

Do you yearn for more natural beauty in this part of Nara Prefecture? Discover more astonishing places in the wider Yoshino District where Dorogawa Onsen resides with our Yoshino District article!

Click the photo to find out more about this stunning spot!

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