The town of Takachiho in Miyazaki prefecture is often called the Land of Deities and Myths. Steeped in folktale and legend, Takachiho is said to be where one of the Shinto deities descended to govern the world, and also where another was said to have gone into hiding, bringing darkness upon the earth until she was enticed to come out of hiding, to everyone's relief. Sacred dance rituals, unrivaled scenic beauty and delicious local cuisine are part of the magic of this small town in the northernmost part of Miyazaki.
Formed by lava that flowed along the Gokase River, the gorge, formed 100,000 years ago, features dramatic, steep, sculpted sides which slope down to magnificent turquoise colored water into which numerous sparkling waterfalls empty. This craggy, wild landscape was designated a National Scenic and Natural Monument in 1934. The wonderfully carved cliffs beg for a closer look, but the only way to approach them is by boat, going upriver to the Manai Falls, which is not difficult since the current is gentle and easy to navigate. Boat rentals are available, and there are also hiking paths along the edge of the gorge.
Rising 513 meters above sea level, Kunimigaoka is a mountain worth climbing. During clear and windless mornings from late autumn to early winter, a mass of clouds appears just below the summit at sunrise, and you will be able to witness what looks like a drifting, endless sea of opalescence that conceals all below, with mountain peaks majestically rising above it. After the clouds lift, or when there are no clouds, the panoramic view from the summit is spectacular, as it overlooks the entire Takachiho basin. The view, accompanied by the sunrise, simply adds to the spiritual aura that pervades this beautiful town. This viewpoint at the peak of Kunimigaoka has been given a one-star rating in the Michelin Green Guide to Japan. There is a tour available to take you from any hotel or inn within Takachiho to Kunimigaoka.
This Shinto festival is probably the most famous of the solstice festivals held throughout Japan, and also of the many which are held in Takachiho. Yogakura ("kagura" means dance ritual, and "yo" means night) is an annual event comprised of 33 dances held nightly from sunset to dawn during mid-November through February when the nights are the longest. Outside of the official season for the festival, an hour-long performance of four dances is performed nightly at the Kaguraden performance hall at the Takachiho Shrine. There are many kagura performances/rituals in Takachiho, but if you are visiting during November through February, and can will yourself to stay up all night, you will certainly not regret attending this overnight performance. The shorter version is extremely enjoyable, as well. The dances have been designated as an Important National Intangible Folk Culture Asset.
The performance, which is held in a different location each year (and to have one's house selected as the stage for yogakura is quite an honor), is based on Japan's rich mythology.
So, you got up at the crack of dawn to see the magnificent Kunimigaoka view, and now you are starving! But you don't have to lose sleep or go mountain climbing to enjoy one of the most delicious local treats Japan has to offer, namely Takachiho beef. This meat is known for its superlative tenderness, rich, mellow flavor and exquisite marbling that differentiates Takachiho beef from all the others. Cattle are fed mineral-rich mountain grass and raised with tender loving care. Takachiho beef was awarded the Prime Minister Award at the 9th National Wagyu Expo, the most prestigious annual wagyu competition.
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