Vegetarian's Japan Guide

Genbikei Gorge and the Fascinating Flying Dango Rice Cake

Genbikei Gorge (厳美渓) is one of the two most stunning nature spots in Iwate Prefecture. Like most of the nature spots of the mountains in Japan, it comes with picturesque fall foliage views in autumn. In winter, it is a snowy wonderland! But the most eye-catching thing about Genbikei Gorge has to be the Dango rice cake that flies between the gorge’s steep cliff!

Genbikei Gorge is also a great spot to appreciate cherry blossoms as well! And to add to the awesomeness, the trees are believed to be planted in the early-1600s by Date Masamune, the regional ruler of the area and a famous samurai.

The view of Genbikei Gorge is so beautiful that Date Masamune praised its beauty the same as one of the Three Views of Japan, Matsushima Island, which was also under his reign at the time. It has been said that he loved the gorge so much that he visited Genbikei Gorge many times during his life.

Genbikei Gorge is located in the middle part of the Iwai River (磐井川). Within its 2km length, you get to enjoy a variety of natural landscapes.

At the upstream, the rough torrent is flowing through rugged river terraces of different heights, forming several small waterfalls. But when you head downstream, the water flows so slowly that it seems to stay still!

Ⓒ 一関市観光協会

The Formation of Genbikei Gorge

The area’s miraculous landscape didn’t just form overnight. It all started 9 million years ago when the rocks on both river banks and the bedrock of riverbanks were created by the volcanic activity of Mt. Kurikoma (栗駒山). Over time, the flow of the Iwai River slowly transformed the giant rocks into the bizarrely shaped river banks that we see today.

Genbikei Gorge’s Flying Dango Rice Cake (Kakkō Dango, かっこうだんご)

Ⓒ 一関市観光協会

For many tourists, the most important reason to visit Genbikei Gorge is for the rare scene of dango rice cakes “flying” between the gorge’s steep cliffs. Obviously, people don’t just throw rice cakes in the sky. Instead, the rice cakes are delivered to you by a pulley connected to the rice cake shop, Kakkōya (郭公屋), located on the other side of the gorge.

To order, instead of shouting across the gorge, money is placed in a basket. Then the shop’s staff is notified by hitting the wooden board with the hammer placed next to the pulley. The staff will then pull the rope to receive your order and send the basket back with the rice cakes you ordered.

The rice cakes are sold at 500 yen for 3 skewers, each in a different flavor. You can also purchase the rice cakes from the shop directly. But why choose to miss out on this unique experience?

Kakkōya Dango’s Business Hours and Access Information

  • Kakkōya Dango is open from 9:30 am to 3 pm from mid-March to November
  • It is a 5-minute walk from the bus stop, Genbikei

Important: Kakkōya will close for the day if all rice cakes are sold out. So get there early to avoid disappointment!

Ways to Enjoy Genbikei Gorge

Ⓒ 一関市観光協会

To fully enjoy the beauty of the Genbikei Gorge, we recommend starting your exploration from Tengu Bridge (天工橋). The bridge is located around the middle of the gorge. The views you will get from a round trip of different sides of the bridge tracking the river are completely different (‘ω’)ノ.

Also, before venturing out, ensure you capture the amazing view from the bridge! Kids around you who have grown up watching hero-themed movies or anime are going to say, “wow, it looks like the gorge was created by the death blow of a hero ” (´▽`*).

The Downstream Course

If you are after a light walk, try the downstream round course! It will be a 30-minute free healing session provided by the murmuring sounds of the trees and rivers.

Genbikei-Gorge-Autumn
Ⓒ photo-ac.com/

Goranba Bridge (御覧場橋)

While strolling down the river, you will pass through the only suspension bridge – Goranba Bridge along the Gorge. If you face where the Tengu Bridge is, climb up the stairs, and you will find a spot with a great view.

Ⓒ 一関市観光協会

The scenery from there is so spectacular that in 1881 when the Japanese emperor traveled to the area, the locals arranged for him to appreciate Genbikei’s beauty from there!

The spot is therefore called “Goranba” (which means viewing place in Japanese), and the suspension bridge close to the spot is named Goranba Bridge.

While the bridge can be quite shaky for those crossing over, it is still safe for crossing. So if you are brave enough, make sure you start your adventure by walking towards the middle of the bridge, as we are sure you won’t be able to stop your fingers from pressing the shutter of your camera (^_-)-☆.

Teizan Zakura (貞山桜)

If you visit Goranba Bridge during spring, you will find the Teizan Zakura or Teizan Cherry Blossom, which blooms on the two sides of the river!

 However, the botanical name cherry blossom around the area isn’t actually “Teizan”. They are called Tenzai Zakura because Date Masamune was also known as Teizan. And since he planted the cherry blossoms that you see today, they were named Tenzai Zakura after him (=゚ω゚)ノ.

Ⓒ 一関市観光協会

The Upstream Course

Ⓒ photo-ac.com/

After enjoying the peacefulness of the river’s downstream, head upstream to feel the energy of the great nature!

You might think the bridge wouldn’t be as strong based on the material used. However, surprisingly even after the occurrence of big earthquakes that destroyed a lot of buildings nearby, the bridge somehow still continued to maintain its structure Σ(゚Д゚).

Chōjataki Bridge

Chōjataki Bridge isn’t just a gorgeous bridge. Back in 1939, there was a shortage of materials. Instead of the usual iron reinforcing bars, bamboo was used as a replacement!

You might think the bridge wouldn’t be as strong based on the material used, but surprisingly even after the occurrence of big earthquakes that destroyed a lot of buildings nearby, the bridge somehow still continued to maintain its structure Σ(゚Д゚).

Ⓒ 一関市観光協会

Find the Amazing Geological Treasure – Ōketsu (甌穴) When You Trek Upstream

Ⓒ photo-ac.com/

Ōketsu (pothole) is created by the gravel in the river swirling on the dacitic tuff made riverbed over millions of years. The existence of such potholes is so rare that it has been designated as a natural monument in Japan. At Genbikei, some potholes are so big that the diameter is more than 1 meter wide!

Also, if you look carefully enough, you will even find a few small stones in some of the potholes (=゚ω゚)ノ.

Cherry Blossom and Fall Foliage Season at Genbikei Gorge

If you fancy a colorful Genbikei Gorge, plan your visit based on the following dates below!

  • Cherry Blossom Season: End of April to early May
  • Fall Foliage Season: Mid-October to early November

How to Get to Genbikei

 It is a 20-minute bus ride from JR Ichinoseki Station (一ノ関駅).

 From JR Ichinoseki Station, find bus stop no.9. You can catch bus routes no. 10 or no.11 and get off at Genbikei (厳美渓). Please find below the bus timetable for your reference (buses run on a different timetable between the end of Dec to early Jan each year). If you need help reading it, please contact us HERE, and we will get back to you shortly.

The last bus departing from Genbikei is at 6:45 pm, meaning if you plan to visit Genbikei in the afternoon, arriving at Genbikei by 3 pm would be highly recommended.

Important: Note there are currently no bus services from JR Hiraizumi Station (平泉駅).

Getting to JR Ichinoseki Station by Bullet Train

  • From JR Sendai Station (仙台): 32 minutes
  • From JR Morioka Station (盛岡): 43 minutes
  • From JR Shin-Hanamaki Station (新花巻): 30 minutes
  • From JR Shin-Aomori (新青森): 1 hour and 42 minutes

Flying into Iwate Prefecture

If you are flying into Iwate prefecture, Hanamaki Airport (花巻空港) will be your destination before you jump on the bullet train from JR Shin-Hanamaki Station (refer to the required time above) to get to JR Ichinoseki Station.

  • From Nagoya: 1 hour and 15 minutes
  • From Osaka: 1 hour and 30 minutes
  • From Fukuoka: 2 hours and 10 minutes

Sahara Glass Park

While you wait for your bus back to JR Ichinose Station, you can kill some time by visiting Sahara Glass Park! You won’t miss it because as soon as you get off the bus from JR Ichinoseki Station, it is right in front of you! (´▽`*).

The park is self-proclaimed to be the glass’s base in North East Japan. The entrance looks just like a theme park before a parade.

Here, you will see glass products from all around the world. Entry is free, but of course, if you want to bring back some souvenirs for yourself or for friends and families, be ready to get your wallet out!

  • Sahara Glass Park is open from
    • 9 am to 5:30 pm from April to November
    • 9 am to 5 pm from December to March

Extend Your Visit to the Geibikei Gorge which Has the Most Scenic Traditional Boat Ride

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

Want to appreciate the picturesque 2km gorge with cliff walls of more than 100 meters high on both riverbanks, and all you need to do is relax on a boat?

Geibikei Gorge (猊鼻渓) in Iwate prefecture is the perfect place for you! Adding to this unforgettable experience is the traditional Japanese ballad that your boatman will be singing during the 90 minutes boat ride (≧▽≦).

Find out more about this awesome place with our Geibikei Gorge article!

Enjoy a Cultural and Scenery Feast in Hiraizumi Town

Hiraizumi town (平泉町), once Kyoto’s rival for its refined culture and elegant surroundings in the 12th century, still retains its charm and traces of former greatness. If you are after a cultural and scenery feast, it is the destination that you don’t want to miss!

To find out more about this town that isn’t too far away from Genbikei Gorge, refer to our article on Hiraizumi!

平泉町_達谷窟毘沙門堂
Click the photo to discover the charms of Hiraizumi!

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