links to APDL and KCC link to KCC homepage link to APDL homepage

Roads of Oku: Home

Inspiration ...

Matsuo Basho's Narrow Road to the Deep North, Translated by Nobuyuki Yuasa / Google Map: Bashō's Oku no Hosomichi ("Narrow Road to the Deep North")

Journeys ...

Spring 2004: On the Road in Kansai / Google Map
Summer 2005: Roads of Oku / Google Map
Fall 2006: Where Gods Alight / Google Map
Summer 2007: Hōkūle‘a in Yokohama / Map
Winter 2008: Snow Country / Google Map
Spring 2008: Full Bloom & Festivals / Google Map
Summer 2009: Fireflies & Sweet Fish / Google Map
Fall 2009: North Country Colors / Google Map
Summer 2010: Legends of the Land / Google Map
Spring 2011: On the Far Side of Disaster / Google Map
Summer 2012: Travels in the Fifth Moon / Google Map
Summer 2013: Far Roads: Finishing Touches / Google Map
Summer 2015: Saké-Tasting in the Kingdom of Local Brew

Memorable ...

Roads / Seacoasts & Coastal Roads / Bridges / Ferries / Walks & Hikes / Mountains / Ropeways / Rivers / Waterfalls / Lakes / Trees / Rocks / Caves / Hot Springs / Sakura / Fall Colors / Archaeology and History / Castles / Shrines / Temples / Gardens / Festivals / Food / Drinks
Photography: Dennis Kawaharada and Karen Ono

Note ...

On Driving in Japan

Roads of Oku: Journeys in the Heartland

A collection of essays on Japanese culture, history and literature. Available at (Far Roads Press, 2015).


On Rivers of Japan: Abundant rainfall and snow melt in the central mountains flow down numerous waterfalls, steams, and rivers to the coasts, then out to sea. The waterfalls and rivers are worshipped as water gods, sometimes depicted as dragons, with their mouths at the river source and their bodies extending down to the sea.

Kamogawa, Kyotō. Spring 2008

The Kamo River flows south from the mountains north of the ancient capital of Kyotō joining the Katsura River, then the Yodo river, before entering the Ōsaka Bay.

Katsura River below Arashiyama, late afternoon

One source of the Kamo is on the grounds of Iwayasan Shrine:

Hozu River, Kyotō. Spring 2014

Boat ride downstream, from Kameoka to Arayshiyama:

Isuzu River, Ise, Mie. Spring 2004

The Isuzu River passes along Ise Shrine before entering Ise Bay. At the river’s side is Mitarashi, a place to perform ablutions before entering the shrine:


At the shrine entrance, the Uji bridge crosses it:

Doro Gorge, Kumano River, Mie. Spring 2004.

Jet boats take visitors up the scenic gorge.

Doro GorgeVisitors

Sumidagawa, Tōkyō. Spring 2013

The Sumida River branches off from Arakawa River and flows through central Tōkyō; it's known for its boat cruises, sakura in spring, and a firework display in summer. Originally, it was the downstream portion of a river called the Irumagawa.

Mogamigawa, Yamagata. Fall 2009

The Mogami River was made famous by the traveling poet Basho, who boarded a riverboat near Oishida (photo below) and rode downstream to Kiyohara on his pilgrimage to Dewa Sanzan, the Three Holy Mountains of Dewa.

Bashō composed a haiku about the river after his downstream journey:

gathering may rains, flowing fast: mogamigawa

Boat rides on the Mogami are a tourist attraction today:

Near the mouth of the Mogami, in Sakata, on the Sea of Japan is a park where swans come to nest in spring. Young swans wait along shore while their parents leave to look for food in the rice fields.

Inozawagawa, (Shimoda City, Izu Peninsula, Shizuoka). Spring 2008

The Inozawa River flows out to sea at Shimoda, on the southern end of the Izu Peninsula.

Shinanogawa (Nagano, Gunma, Niigata).

The longest, largest river system in Japan (228 miles), the Shinano River flows north from the mountains of Nagano (where the river is called the Chikuma-gawa) and enters the Sea of Japan in Niigata city:

Kurobegawa, Toyama. Summer 2015

Kurobegawa flows north from the Hida mountains, carving out the famous Kurobe Gorge, before entering the Sea of Japan. A train takes visitors into the gorge, from Unazaki up to Keyakidaira.

Flowing past Keyakidaira in Kurobe Gorge

The Kurobe forms an alluvial fan near the coast, before entering the Sea of Japan

Jōganjigawa, Toyama. Summer 2010

The Jōganji River flows down from the Tate mountains into Toyama Bay.

WaterfallJoganji river

On the way up to Tateyama, a sacred mountain in the mountains of Toyama, the Tateyama Ōhashi arcs across the Jōganji River.

Kuzuryūgawa (Gifu, Fukui). Summer 2010.

The Kuzuryū River has its source in the lake formed by Kuzuryū Dam near the city to Ōno, Fukui, and empties into the Sea of Japan near the city of Sakai.

Kuzuryūgawa Dam

Kuzuryū Dream Suspension Bridge over the lake formed behind the Kuzuryūgawa Dam

Tenryūgawa (Nagano, Aichi, Shizuoka), Summer 2012

The Tenryū River flows from Lake Suwa and the Kiso mountains, down the long Ina Valley, emptying into the Enshu-nada Sea just east of Hamamatsu.

Lake Suwa

We drove north from Hamamatsu up the Tenryū River to visit Akiha Hongū, a spectacular mountain shrine to the fire kami Hi-no-kagutsuchi-no-Ōkami.

Nagara River (Gifu, Aichi, Mie). Spring 2008

The Nagara flows from the Gifu mountains south past Gujo-Hachiman, where its joined by the Yoshida River.

Yoshida River, Gujo-Hachiman, Gifu

Downstream from Gujo-Hachiman, the Nagara River divides Gifu City before turning south and emptying into Ise Bay. Gifu Castle, on Mt. Kinka, offers panoramic views of the river wending its way through the city:

The Nagara, entering Gifu from the east

The Nagara, flowing west through Gifu across the Nōbi Plain toward Ise Bay

Kiso River (Nagano, Gifu, Aichi, Mie). Spring 2008, Spring 2014

The Kiso River flows southwest from Kiso Mountains down the Kiso Valley Valley past Inuyama before turning south and entering Ise Bay.

In the Kiso Valley, along the historic route of the Nakasendo ("Central Mountain Road"), near the town of Agematsu, are the rocks known as Nezame-no-toko:

Farther downstream, Inuyama Castle overlooks the river:

Hii River (Shimane). Summer 2009

The Hii river flows north from the Chugoku Mountains and empties into the west end of Lake Matsue, at Izumo. The iron rich sand, tinged red, was smelted into pig iron and fashioned into steel swords.

The Hii River is featured in Kojiki, the oldest written mythical history of Japan. Along the river, the kami Susano-o slew an eight-headed, eight-tailed dragon to a rice-field princess. Finding a sword in the dragon's tail, he sent it to his sister, the sun goddess Amaterasu, in the High Plain of Heaven. The rice-field princess became Susano-o's wife, and Susano-o ruled Izumo. The sword eventually became one of the three sacred treasures of the Imperial Family.

We hiked to Oni no Shitaburui ("Trembling Tongue of the Ogre") along O-maki stream, one of the tributaries of the Hii River. This narrow gorge in Oku Izumo is full of large boulders that have fallen from the grantie cliffs along the river.

Fallen rocksGreenery

Origin of Oni no Shitaburui, according to Izumo-Fudoki (local history of Izumo): a beautiful princess, Tamahime-no-mikoto, lived in this valley. A crocodile which lived in the Sea of Japan fell in love with her and went up the river every evening to visit the princess. However, the princess disliked the crocodile and placed a big rock in the river to block his visits. It is said that these rocks of Oni no Shitaburui are the remnants of that rock.

The wide, shallow, sandy Hii river near Lake Matsue

Motoyasu River, Hiroshima. Fall 2006

Motoyasugawa is one of the six branches in the delta of the Ota River, which flows down to Hiroshima from the Chugoku mountains. The river goes past the Peace Park and the Industrial Hall ruins. The T-shaped Aioi Bridge, which crosses the Motoyasu where it forks from the Ota, was used as the target of the first atomic bomb used in warfare in August 1945.

Motoyasu riverAioi bridge

Gō River, Akitakata, Hiroshima. Spring 2011

The Gō River (Gōnokawa), 120 miles long (194 km), is the longest river in the Chugoku region (western Honshu). In 1970, we visited Gōnomura, the hometown of my mother's parents, on the Gōnokawa, but on subsequent trips, I couldn't find the town or river, having only a vague memory of what it looked like and no idea where it was. In Spring 2011, with the aid of Google maps, I identified the town's location and made a second visit there.

go rivergo river

From its headwaters in the Chugoku Mountains, the Gōnokawa flows north, then west, entering the Sea of Japan at Gōtsu, in Shimane.

Nishiki River, Iwakuni, Yamaguchi. Summer 2009

The Nishiki runs through Iwakuni. Kintai Bridge makes this one of the most picturesque rivers in Japan. In summer, ukai (cormorant fishing for sweetfish) takes place upstream from the bridge.

Nishiki river

Cormorant fishing

Yoshinogawa (Kochi, Tokushima). Fall 2006

The Yoshino River flows from Mt. Kamegamori in Kochi, and flows into the Kii Channel at Tokushima. Before leaving the central route on its eastward journey, the river cut a channel known as Ōboke-Koboke, a popular water recreation spot.

Shimanto River, Ehime, Shikoku. Fall 2006

“The last undammed major river in Japan.” Along the banks is a recreation area. We drove along the river on the way from Cape Ashizuri to Uwajima.

Shimanto RiverRiver bed

Gokase River, Takachiho, Miyazaki, Kyushu. Fall 2006

The Gokasegawa flows down from the slopes of Aso crater, southeast into the Sea of Hyuga at Nobeoka. It has carved out a deep gorge near the town of Takachiho. We rented a boat and rowed into the gorge.

Gokasegawa riverRowing into the gorge