Irohazaka Winding Road: One Of Japan’s Most Scenic Drives

The History Of Irohazaka’s Winding Road 

The area where the winding road was built is said to be a sacred one. People come to the area where Irohazaka Road is now in hopes of having a religious experience.

You can find Irogazaka’s Winding Road in Nikko, a city in Tochigi Prefecture. 

The construction of this expansive road began in the early 1900s during the Taisho era of Japan. Many improvements were made to the road before it was finally opened to drivers in 1982. 

Technically speaking, the Irohazaka road is two roads that are connected together. They were both completed in different years during the mid-1900s, and drivers used to have to pay a small toll fee to drive on them.

However, this is no longer the case, making the road a perfect excursion for a clear sunny day. 

About Nikko

Nikko is an underrated city for tourists to add to their itinerary, but it’s absolutely worth traveling to for its unmatched beauty.

There is so much within the city to take in, from naturally occurring sights to historical temples and so much more. 

Nikko City Skyline

The Winding Road’s Path

This road can take drivers from Nikko City to Okunikko. The entire road features two parking lots, as well as 48 slopes. As such, the road needs to be traversed slowly and carefully.

The road starts in central Nikko, going higher and higher in elevation as you travel along the road to Okunikko, considered a mountainous area. 

Being that there are two roads, one road can only be driven upwards along the path, and the other is for downward traffic. You do have to drive pretty carefully along the road, but there is signage that will help you navigate the twists and turns. 

What’s In The Name?

The name Irohazaka was chosen carefully for this winding road. Iroha roughly translates to Japanese characters, with 48 characters making up the Japanese alphabet.

That’s why there are 48 slopes along the road, each with a designated letter. Zaka translates to slope, which is also fitting. 

Akechidaira Plateau 

This plateau offers an incredibly breathtaking view of the winding road. It’s located towards the top of Irohazaka and is where you can find the Akechira Panorama Rest House and an area to take in the scenery below.

You can also catch a ride on the Akechira Ropeway to get even higher up the mountainous area.

When you’ve made your way to the Akechidaira Plateau and are inkling to get even higher up, you can hop on the Akechira Ropeway to be brought to an even higher elevation level.

The end of the ropeway’s path is another area designed for safe observation of Irohazaka and the surrounding nature. 

Two natural features you’ll want to get a good view of are the Kegon Waterfall and Lake Chuzenjiko. 

Visit Nikko Official Website

Lake Chuzenjiko

Lake Chuzenjiko can be seen from Akechidaira Plateau as it sits right below Mount Nantai. This mountain is actually one of Japan’s active volcanoes, and it’s said that the beautiful crystal blue lake was actually created as a result of a volcanic explosion centuries ago. 

At the east of this lake, you’ll stumble upon Chuzenjiko Onsen, an intimate and quaint hot spring town where you can enjoy a hot spring bath or stay in the area for a night.

This is perhaps one of the most beautiful backdrops you’ll ever encounter when relaxing in a hot spring bath or public bath or seto

Chuzenjiko Onsen 

If you want to take your time making your way up and down Irohazaka and taking in all the scenery, you can stay in Chuzenjiko Onsen. There are some small ryokan inns, as well as shops and more attractions within the town that are worth a stop. 

The Chuzenji Temple has one of the most interesting statues of Kannon, the goddess of mercy; the Buddha goddess was carved into a tree that still has roots established in the ground.

There are also many other artistic displays within the temple. 

The Futarasan Shrine is also within this small hot spring resort town and has been erected to honor the sacred surrounding mountains.

The shrine has been in place since the 700s; the Buddhist monk Shodo Shonin created it when he brought the religion to the town of Nikko. 

Onsen And Points Of Interest In Tochigi

Mount Hangetsuyama 

If you’re staying at Chuzejiko Onsen, even just for a day, you can take a hiking trail from the lake up to Mount Hangetsuyama. This is another good spot to get a spectacular view of the lake and surrounding trees. 

If you’re just there to drive the Irohazaka Road, you can also drive up the road to a parking lot or take a bus there. This parking lot allows you to shorten your hike a bit, but it’ll still take about half an hour to hike to the summit. 

Mount Hangetsuyama Observation Deck Via Tripadvisor

Comfortable and durable shoes are highly recommended. The summit offers an observation deck to see the area from a stunning viewpoint as well. 

Kegon Waterfall

This gorgeous waterfall stands almost 100 meters tall and is said to be one of the most beautiful waterfalls you’ll see in Japan.

As mentioned, you get a great view of the waterfall from the Akechidaira Plateau, but there’s also a platform closer to the waterfall that allows you to look up at its magnificence. 

Explore Kegon Falls

For a small fee, there’s an elevator you can take to the viewing point at the base of the falls. The breathtaking sight is surrounded by lush trees. The water cascades down from Lake Chuzenjiko and falls down rocky terrain. 

Senjogahara Marshland 

This marshland can be found around the plateau of Lake Chuzejiko. It’s another great area to visit if you’re an avid hiker.

While it’s picturesque any time of the year, if you’re in Nikko in the fall, you’ll be surrounded by golden and red grass and trees. 

Senjogarhara Marshland Via Nikko Official Guide

It’s a very long trail to hike, but there are various rest stops along the way so you can sit and take a break. You can also hike the trails in the snow during winter, as there’s a rest house to rent snowshoes. 

When To Traverse Irohazaka 

While it can get pretty busy in the fall, the views that you’ll be able to take in along Irhazaka’s winding road are stunning in the autumn season.

The leaves are all beginning to change colors, leaving behind brilliant shades of red, orange, and green as you drive by. 

If you’re in Japan in the fall and want to drive along the road, you should avoid it on the weekends. Even if you want to drive the path outside of fall, weekends and holidays can be extremely busy for the area. 

Getting To The Irohazaka Winding Road

If you’re wanting to rent a car while you’re in Nikko, you will be able to drive the entire winding road at your own leisure.

You can also take the Tobu bus from the Tobu Nikko Station and get off at the Akechidaira bus stop. 

Tobu Nikko Station Via Tripadvisor

Some buses run up and down the road, but it’s highly recommended you rent a car if you can so you can go at your own pace and stop to take photos of all of the beauty surrounding you.

Virtual Drive On Irohazaka Widing Road In 4K

My fascination with Japan began several years back at a roadside bonsai stand while on vacation. I became more interested in the where and why's more than the trees themselves. My love of Bonsai led me to further research my interest in the gardens where they originated from and the places and people that surrounded those little trees. My curiosity was well rewarded upon visiting Saitama where the National Bonsai Museum was located and Omiya Village the bonsai mecca for lovers of this ancient art form. Exploring many towns and villages and even making my way to Japan's furthest southern prefecture of Okinawa. I hope to share my love of this wonderful and exotic place with all those who want to know more about Japan.