I visited a new waterfall a couple of weeks ago, and now I can’t stop going! Like the gorgeous Naena Falls, Sou Falls is also in Niigata and is on the list for the 100 most beautiful waterfalls in Japan. Unlike Naena Falls, it is dangerous to get to. More on that in a second.
After driving up the winding, twisting mountain roads, you’ll come to a parking lot. Park! There is parking a little further up, but it is only for people staying at the inns. Walk through the small hot-spring town, past the two souvenir shops across from each other, and keep going. Eventually, you’ll get to the path. There’s a sharp drop off on one side, but this part of the path is very wide so it’s ok. Enjoy the scenery!
After a bit of walking, you’ll reach a beautiful bridge. If you cross the bridge and follow the path that goes underneath it, you’ll come to a small, co-ed onsen in the middle of the forest. Yes, co-ed. They’re rare, but they do exist.
The path to the waterfall (and also Myoko) continues up a hill after the bridge. From here it’s a bit of a hike. Climb the hill until the path splits into two: the left path goes up the mountain, the right goes to the waterfall. If you’re unsure, look for a small sign in Japanese. It says something along the lines of “You can’t go past this because there are falling rocks.” Stop to take note… aaaand continue.
Here’s where it gets fun. The path to the waterfall is usually wet, which means everything is slippery, so be careful. Once you turn the first corner, you should be able to see the waterfall in the distance (assuming the clouds aren’t in the way). From here there will be two areas where water flows over the path. It’s not a lot of water, maybe a half-inch deep, but it flows straight over the path and down a cliff, so it makes me nervous. Be careful and continue.
Once you pass the water, the trail will quickly get narrower. This is the dangerous part. At its narrowest, it’s about a foot wide and there’s a cliff on one side. A cliff that, depending on where you are on the trail, would be difficult/impossible to walk away from if you fell. Again, be careful!
After you pass all that, congratulations, you’ve reached the waterfall! There’s a small sign on the cliff with the name of the waterfall and its designation as one of the most beautiful waterfalls in Japan. This is as close as I’m comfortable going; you could possibly climb some large rocks/jump over the fast-moving river to get closer, but I usually travel here alone and don’t want to take the risk. I also saw a small rock slide by the waterfall one time, so get closer at your own risk.
Alright, time for a funny story! The second time I went, I was actually interviewed by a random camera crew, and get this: I was interviewed on the trail to the waterfall, past the sign that said you shouldn’t enter, which meant that the camera crew was also on their way to the waterfall you shouldn’t go to….
Here’s how it went (in Japanese):
Crew: Oh, hello!
Me: Hello! (instantly, the crew brings up their microphones and cameras)
C: Where are you from?
M: America, but I live in Nagano Prefecture now.
C: Really?! Are you coming from the waterfall?
C: Eeeeeeeeehhhhh?! How was it? How was the path?
M: The path was a little… dangerous.
C: Eeeeeeeeehhhhh?! If a foreigner says it’s dangerous, it must be SUUUper dangerous. Why was it dangerous?
M: Well, the path is very narrow, and in some parts, water…. path… on the…… water [flows] on the path… (At this point, my Japanese was failing me, and I said ‘flows’ in English and did a gesture.
*Guy behind the crew understands what I’m saying and translates*
C: Ahh, I see. [Flow]? *Does gesture*
M: Yes, [flow]. *does gesture*
I couldn’t understand what the crew said next, but it was obvious they were making a joke. They would say something in Japanese, then look at the camera and say ‘flow.’ They did this a couple of times before looking at me…
M: Nice. *Gives thumbs up*
Everyone busted out laughing at my reaction, and then I continued on my way 🙂 I was interviewed with my friends once when I studied abroad and it had been a complete fail; this time I did it by myself and completely in Japanese (except for ‘flow’ haha)! Win for me!
I highly recommend this waterfall if you’re in the Myoko area! That being said, I strongly suggest you wear hiking shoes to get to this waterfall and be very careful on the path.
Access: Car is best. If using public transportation, take the train to Sekiyama Station on the Myoko Haneuma Line, then take a bus bound for Tsubame Onsen.
Accessible: I would guess from June to early-December, depending on snow levels.
Parking: Yes. Parking lot can accommodate around 40 cars. Note that that’s 40 to split between hikers, waterfall-seekers, and onsen bathers. It can fill up quickly, so I recommend getting there early.