Southern Iwate Prefecture is a little oasis of Japanese history, culture and natural beauty. As well as the fascinating temples, gardens and archaeological sites of UNESCO World Heritage Hiraizumi, there are two scenic gorges nearby – ‘Geibikei’ (猊鼻渓) and ‘Genbikei’ (厳美渓) – which, despite their similar name, each boast a unique and dynamic beauty.
Geibikei is famous for its relaxing river cruise and on-board entertainment by charismatic boatmen (more info about this experience to come soon!). Genbikei, also beautiful throughout the year, is most famous for its cherry blossom in spring and for its multi-coloured banks and sapphire-blue water in Autumn.
Oh, and its flying dumplings…!
Located to the West of Ichinoseki City, Genbikei features a walkway for visitors to explore the lush greenery on one side of the gorge and jagged rocky formations on the other. Due to the stunning contrast between the crystal clear waters and surrounding rugged nature, the area has been designated a national sight of scenic beauty. Apparently, Lord of the Date Clan, Date Masamune, was also a big fan and would often frequent the area.
We visited late in the afternoon at the end of summer, and were treated to these lovely views as the sun went down.
Visit a little earlier in the day and you will be treated to a much more vibrant view of the water under the sunlight. We are hoping to head back in just a few weeks time in mid-late October when the Autumn foliage will be at its peak, creating some stunning views like this:
Photo Credit: Samurai Japon http://samurai-japan.co/detail/1515
Notice the thin line of rope extending across the gorge in the above picture? Aside from admiring the gorgeous (haha) nature, Genbikei has another feature of entertainment not to be missed – flying ‘dango’ (dumplings)!!
On the opposite bank from the main viewpoint is a quaint shop/cafe selling tea and traditional Japanese sweets (dango, or rice dumplings) called ‘Kakko Dango’. Ever since anyone can remember, the owner of the shop has been offering a unique service to potential customers on the other side of the bank, who perhaps want to sit outside and enjoy the view with their sweets and tea.
Standing to the left of the viewing pagoda, you will notice a rope extending from the second-storey window of the shop on the other side to a small wooden board and hammer at your feet. Knock on the wooden board with the hammer and the master will come to the window and send a basket whizzing down the line to where you are standing (on a flying-fox-esque rope-pulley system).
The bottom of the basket marks the price – 400 yen for a box of dumplings (three different flavours). Pop your money in the basket, give the board another knock and watch it fly back up to the shop!
For local customers, the master will return the basket containing however many boxes of dango were ordered (according to the money provided) and a pot of fresh green tea.
International customers, however, receive an added bonus!
If the master notices that you are foreign he will ask you where you are from (via basket communication). Before he sends down your dango, watch the window carefully.
Not only will he raise your country’s flag from the window but (if he happens to have a copy on hand) he will also blast your national anthem from speakers, sending it echoing down the gorge with your flying dumplings.
All of our flags together!
There are three different flavours in the box: (from left) sweet soy-sauce, black sesame (my favourite) and azuki red-bean paste. All delicious and just the right amount of sweet!
It is a hilarious experience and one of the best forms of Japanese ‘omotenashi’ hospitality that I have come across to date. We had quite a large party of people from several nationalities and the master made sure to send our dumplings down box-by-box, with each country represented at least by flag! A few of us ventured to the other side to meet him and try out the pulley-system for ourselves (it’s not as easy as he makes it look!).
Photos with the staff! They worked hard to locate anthems for all of our respective countries.
There is a TV screen inside the restaurant displaying a live-camera of what is happening down by the view point on the other side. If you wave a flag or a sign for him perhaps you will also be lucky enough to hear your anthem played!
Just a 20 minute bus-ride from Ichinoseki Station on the Tohoku Shinkansen line, it is really easy to access Genbikei. It is totally doable as a half-day trip and the perfect addition to a visit to nearby UNESCO World Heritage Sites of Hiraizumi, as well as the equally beautiful Geibikei Gorge.
Here’s a video of the flying dango in action by local YouTuber Chris Broad (Abroad in Japan).
Genbikei is accessible by bus from Ichinoseki station. Be careful not to get confused between Genbikei and Geibikei (though you’ll have a nice time at either).
Take the Tohoku Shinkansen to Ichinoseki Station (a little over 2 hours from Tokyo, and a quick 30 mins from Sendai).
From Ichinoseki Station:
Take the local bus headed for ‘Surisawa’ and get off at ‘Genbikei’.
Bus timetables and details for Ichinoseki/Hiraizumi/Geibikei/Genbikei area (Japanese): https://www.geibikei.com/html/kakusesu/kakusesu.html
Google Maps (to Geibikei Resthouse):