About the Author:
I grew up near the Canadian Rocky Mountains and spending time in the outdoors was a big part of my youth. When I moved to Japan, I was looking forward to hiking in the mountains and seeing this country’s many natural wonders. Every time I venture into the wilderness here, I see something new.
The idea of hiking a mountain trail to visit a waterfall in total darkness may sound like a challenge best avoided, but when I found out about this unique way to see Fudo-daki, I was all in. I had done a day hike to the powerful falls in the past and it was a great little trek in the daytime. With a rushing stream to traverse, boulders strewn everywhere and ancient trees guarding the path, I knew I had to go back at night.
Caption:Ayako Noda guided me on the unique night hike.
My night hiking partner was Ayako Noda, a local outdoor guide with years of experience in the Odai Town area showing visitors the best spots to visit in the best ways possible. I met Noda-san at the Okuise Forestpia, a beautiful hotel and glamping destination nestled deep in the mountains.
Caption:The lobby of the Okuise Forestpia is warm and welcoming.
She greeted me at the hotel with a big smile and helped me get sorted in the restaurant for my pre-hike meal. The restaurant is called “Anjou” and they specialize in French cuisine made with local ingredients from Odai Town and the Miya River. It is rare for me to eat French dishes in Japan, so it was a real treat. The food was amazing and I was ready to hit the trails after my meal.
I met Noda-san back in the lobby of the hotel and we immediately left to start our hike. It was already dark outside and black sky over the trees was full of stars. It was a little intimidating to walk away from the hotel into the night, but my guide made me feel at ease and she kept a light on the pathway as needed to help me see where to walk. As we hiked up the mountain, I could feel the tall trees on both sides of the path. They created a nice sense of protection as we navigated the dark route ahead of us.
Caption: Noda-san and I felt protected by the large trees along the pathway.
The hike up to the Fudo-daki trailhead wasn’t difficult, but doing it in the dark made it a whole different experience. I felt slightly disoriented and stayed closer to Noda-san than I would normally do on a day hike. We chatted a little, but mostly we just walked and allowed the sounds and smells of the night forest to envelop us as we walked deeper into the wilderness.
At the trailhead, there is a simple brown torii gate and a sign in Japanese to greet visitors. Of course, we were the only people there at night and the air was chilly as only mountain air can be. Standing in the darkness, I asked Noda-san to take a photo of me before we entered the darkness of the trail to Fudo-daki. Thankfully, my camera has a decent flash and she was able to get the shot.
Caption:The start of the trail was shrouded in darkness.
Caption: Itwas an eerie feeling being deep in the mountains at night.
The only noise other than our occasional small conversation was the powerful sound of the rushing mountain stream coming from Fudo-daki. In the dark night with nothing to distract my eyes, the sound of the water was much louder than it had seemed when I visited the same spot during the daytime. It was amazing how heightened my senses had become since leaving the hotel.
As soon as we passed through the gate, we came to the first footbridge on the trail. This concrete bridge has a handrail that made it seem much safer to cross in what was zero visibility if we didn’t use the flashlights on our smartphones.
Caption:Just inside the gate was a footbridge over the mountain stream.
Caption:Looking over the edge of the bridge at the rushing water.
Caption:Noda-san stopped and waited for me at the second torii gate.
Caption:The large trees were a comfort on the dark trail.