| John Asano
Autumn Colors at Ena Gorge
Every November the brilliant yellow, orange, and red colors of fall light up the scenic area of Ena Gorge in Ena City, Gifu Prefecture. Everyone in Japan at this time of the year is obsessed with momiji gari (autumn-leaves hunting) and finding that perfect spot to enjoy the fiery maple leaves. One of the best spots in central Japan for this is Ena Gorge, which is easily accessible from the Nagoya Metropolitan area.
Ena Gorge or Ena-kyo as it is called in Japanese is a scenic river valley where the cliffs come ablaze with color every fall. The centerpiece is the man-made lake which was originally formed by the blocking of the Kiso River to form the Oi Dam in 1924.
The Oi Dam and hydropower plant at Ena Gorge was Japan’s first power station to utilize a dam. It was built by Momosuke Fukuzawa (1868-1938), who was called “The King of Electrical Power” for being the first Japanese to introduce hydroelectric power to the country. He built seven power stations along the Kiso River.
The Ena Valley was historically important due to its position on the Nakasendo Road between Kyoto and Edo (Tokyo) during the Edo period (1603-1868).
There are numerous places of interest around the area that allow you to touch the history of the Ena Valley and its seasonal nature including Sazanami Park, Bentenjima Island, Kasa Rock, and a bronze statue of Momosuke Fukuzawa.
The Mysterious Cliffs
The mysteriously shaped rocks and boulders of Ena Gorge create a fascinating contrast with the colors of the autumn leaves painting a stunning panoramic picture in fall.
One of the most famous rocks here is Kasa Rock, which is a National Natural Monument. The strangely shaped rock gets its name from its umbrella-shaped top and narrow bottom.
A short climb from Kasa Rock is Senjojiki Rock, a giant platter-like monolith of granite. The top of the rock is wide and flat and hence its name “Senjojiki” which literally means “one thousand tatami mats”.
The rock is very impressive and from the top, you get a magnificent full view of the Ena Valley.
Take a Ride on the Sightseeing Boat
The best way to both see and enjoy the autumn colors and mysterious cliffs is via a short cruise on one of the sightseeing boats. The cruise boats zip you around the lake in about 30 minutes providing you with some breathtaking natural scenery. A ride on the sightseeing boat costs ¥1,500 for adults and ¥750 yen for children (1-12 years old).
Take a Hike
Another way to explore the stunning scenery of Ena Gorge is to walk the circular hiking trail that crosses the Oi Dam and returns via the Enakyo Ohashi Bridge.
Before the construction of the Oi Dam, Bentenjima Island was said to have been a small mountain heading to the center of the Kiso River. Benzaiten (a Japanese Buddhist Goddess) is said to have worshiped on this mountain around the middle of the Edo period (1603-1868).
After the development of the Oi Dam, it became a small island, which you can visit by crossing a picturesque bridge. Benzaiten is the goddess in charge of river flood control, music, wisdom, long life, disaster prevention, and victory. Wow! She sure does have a lot of responsibilities!!
Located on the north shore of the lake is Enakyo Wonderland, an amusement park surrounded by beautiful nature. This family-friendly theme park has around 30 attractions in all ranging from a rare bi-level merry-go-round to a 50-meter Ferris wheel with stunning views of Ena Gorge. You will also find your typical roller coasters here as well as Jurassic Land, an adventure world in the land of dinosaurs.
Small Park Along the Shores of the Lake
There is a small park along the shores of the lake which is the best spot for taking in the fiery maple leaves of the area. This place is the perfect photo opportunity to capture the autumn colors with the surrounding scenery.
Try Some Local Food
Near the lake shore and the cruise boat boarding area, there are several souvenir shops and restaurants. It is the perfect place to try some of the local food including fresh fish caught from the lake. One of my favorite local delicacies is goheimochi, a specialty of the mountainous area of the Chubu region of central Japan. It is composed of mochi (rice cakes) which are served on skewers and coated in a delicious, sweet miso and walnut sauce.
Ena is also famous for its chestnuts and is home to one of Gifu’s most well-known traditional treats, kurikinton. This delicious Japanese sweet is simply made by mashing fresh chestnuts and boiling them with sugar. It is very popular throughout fall and the New Year season.
If you are looking for a great autumn spot, consider hitting up Ena Gorge in Gifu Prefecture. It is a true hidden gem of a nature spot that is at its prime during fall and makes a fantastic day trip from Nagoya.
How to Get There?
From Nagoya Station, take the Chuo Line Rapid towards Nakatsugawa and get off at Ena Station. It should take around 60 minutes and cost ¥1,170 (one way). From Ena Station take the Tohtetsu Bus on the Ena-kyo Line and get off at the Ena-kyo Bus Stop.