About Joren Waterfall (Joren-no-taki [浄蓮の滝])
The Joren Waterfall (Joren-no-taki [浄蓮の滝]; also just called Joren Falls) was a gushing waterfall backed by some pretty pronounced basalt columns at its base. We happened to visit this waterfall on a day where it was raining pretty hard so the Kano River (狩野川) took on a more swollen, turbulent, and muddy appearance. Although the falls itself was naturesque, the developed footpath was flanked by a bit of infrastructure in the form of little cafes and farm shops both at the trailhead as well as at the bottom where the falls could be seen. Apparently, this area was known for growing fresh wasabi, which was something we really appreciated later on in our Japan trip when we mixed some of the fresh stuff into a shoyu mix as a very potent soba noodle dip. By the way, the Kano River that was responsible for this falls also happened to drain as a major river into the Surugawan (or Suruga Bay) northwest of the Izu-hanto (or Izu Peninsula) by the city of Numazu (a city where my Dad spent some time working in his younger days).
According to the signage, the Joren Waterfall was the largest waterfall on Mt Amagi (the mountain, or more accurately mountain range, responsible for the Izu Peninsula) at 25m tall with a plunge pool that was said to be a pretty deep 15m. The basalt that we noticed underneath the waterfall was said to have come from a lava flow sourced by the eruption of a “parasitic volcano” neighboring Amagi-san called Mt Hachikubo.Our visit to the falls was pretty straightforward as we descended from a well-signed and pretty spacious car park (see directions below) down some steps past some shops and a restroom facility. Even from the elevated vantage point near the top of this trail, we were able to catch a partial glimpse of the Joren Waterfall down below, which beckoned us to keep going down to get a closer look. The descent continued past one switchback before terminating just past a few more buildings where the Joren Falls could easily be seen. We wound up spending under an hour here encompassing the walking, the picture taking, and some extra preparation time to handle the fairly heavy rain during our visit. Yet even with the bad weather, we were surprised to see that the falls was still pretty popular despite it being a Monday.
While the swollen state of the waterfall kind of instilled a sense that it was forbidden to get near it, fittingly we had read a sign talking about the Legend of the Joro-gumo or Wasp Spider. To make a long story short, a farmer took a web wound around his leg (thinking the spider who wound this had mistaken it for a tree branch) and placed it on a tree stump. But soon thereafter, the stump was dragged into the basin of the waterfall and the local farmer warned the rest of the villagers about the wasp spider.
Years later, a lumberjack from a different village was felling a tree near the falls before he dropped his hatchet into the waterfall’s plunge pool. Thinking he had lost his tool, he eventually got his hatchet back only after some beautiful woman returned it to him under the condition that not a word about her existence be uttered lest he would lose his life. Sure enough, after drinking with friends and letting out word of his experience with the beautiful woman (who happened to be a shapeshifted wasp spider), he never woke up again after passing out.
Speaking of signs, according to the signage we saw here, this waterfall was said to be one of the Top 100 Waterfalls in Japan, which was a list backed by the Japanese Ministry of the Environment in 1990. Unlike most of the signage we encountered around waterfalls like this (which were almost exclusively in Japanese), the interpretive signs here were multi-lingual including not only English but Korean, Chinese, and Portugese. This led me to believe that this waterfall wasn’t as far off the beaten path as I would have expected.
When we visited the Joren Waterfall, it was right after we picked up the car rental from the town of Odawara, which was far enough from the Greater Tokyo area to not have to deal with the headaches of traffic congestion, mazes of traffic restrictions, and parking. This town was also close enough to the tourist town of Hakone to have such options of renting a car (even for a one-way drop-off like we were able to do even if the drop-off fee did cost nearly 50% of the base rental cost). If you’re renting a car, I’d highly recommend taking the public transport to collect the car outside of the city so it’s easier to get acclimated to driving on the left as well as getting used to the road rules in Japan while also being far less stressful due to the lesser volume of traffic. In any case, we’ll describe the directions to the Joren-no-taki from Odawara since that was how we did this drive.
So once we collected the car from one of a handful of rental car agencies near the JR Odawara Station, we then drove south onto the Road 73 towards its junction with the Hakone-Shindo Highway (Hwy 1). Turning right onto Hwy 1 to head west eventually merging onto the high speed expressway. We’d follow this expressway for nearly 30km towards Mishima before turning left at a traffic light onto the Izu-Chuo-do Toll Road following this expressway for the next 5.5km or so then remaining on the Route 136.
We then followed the Route 136 for the next 20km (note that the tolls on this road didn’t take credit cards on our visit), then we left the Route 136 to continue south along the Route 414 (by this time, we were off the expressway). We continued on the Route 414 for just under the next 8km to the well-signed car park for the Joren Waterfall on the right side of the road. Overall, this drive took us a little over 90 minutes.
Finally, to give you some logistical context, we took a local JR line west line to go from Tokyo Shinagawa Station to the Odawara Station. The local train was covered by the Tokyo Wide Pass (the direct 30-minute Tokaido-Sanyo Shinkansen trains were NOT covered by this pass), and it took us about 75 minutes. It was a little tough to bring luggage on this crowded commuter line, but we managed to make it work and save money in the process.
From a geographical standpoint, Odawara was 83km southwest of central Tokyo. Odawara was also less than 7km east of the tourist town of Hakone, 36km east of Mishima (about an hour’s drive or 40 minutes by Tokaido-Sanyo Shinkansen train), 32km southeast of Gotenba or Gotemba (about an hour’s drive or at least 90 minutes by a combination of train and bus), and about 70km southeast of Kawaguchiko or Fujikawaguchiko (about 90 minutes drive or 3 hours by train by a combination of bus and train).
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