The Ghosts of Kanmangafuchi

Adventure, Japan

We wander along the eerie pathways of the Kanmangafuchi Abyss in the idyllic heritage town of Nikko, in search of ghosts.

Nikko, about 150 km to the north of Tokyo, makes for an interesting day trip (or even an weekend) from Tokyo. The picturesque town of Nikko has waterfalls, world heritage sites, lovely lakes and an atmosphere that takes you back to ancient Japan. During my recent trip to Tokyo, I had planned to visit Nikko for a day, just to quickly sample the sights and sounds of Tokyo.

I had read quite a bit about the eerie Kanmangafuchi Abyss earlier and decided to include it in my short trip to Nikko. The Kanmangafuchi Abyss was formed by an eruption of nearby Mount Nantai, leading to the formation of a gorge. 1 A lovely walking trail allows visitors to enjoy the sight of the river flowing through the abyss. But the Kanmangafuchi is possibly a little more famous for about 70 Jizo statues that line the walking trail.

Now Jizo, is a Bodhisattva who is the protector of women, children, and travelers. The statues at Kanmangafuchi used to amount to over 100 during the 1920’s before a flood washed them away. They were originally erected by followers of the Bishop Tenkai. Today, no one is sure as to how many statues exist actually and that is part of the legend of the valley.The Jizo statues here are nicknamed as “Bake Jizo”, meaning “Ghost Jizo”. It is said that each time you try and count them, you never get an exact count. Maybe the statues silently move when you aren’t looking, like the weeping angels from the TV series, Doctor Who. Spooky huh ?

Kanmangafuchi is a bit away from the maddening crowds that throng the UNESCO heritage sites that a less than a kilometer away from it. To get to Kanmangafuchi, I crossed the road near the Rinno-ji Shrine, to enter what looked like a residential area. Moving towards, where I thought the abyss would be, I soon crossed the Daiyo river and found the trail to Kanmangafuchi. Luckily for me, the signage towards the trail was quite clear and there was little chance of getting lost.

Since it was the beginning of autumn, a lot of the trees were already showing lovely autumn reds. The trail passed some trees adorned with fiery red leaves and then moved along the abyss. The Daiyo river could be seen in the abyss below, meandering on in small pools and little waterfalls.

The Kanmangafuchi Abyss
The Kanmangafuchi Abyss

It was getting dark, as the sun was already setting. The thick cover of foliage overhead added to the eerie atmosphere. The path took a turn and right there I saw my first “ghost” Jizo.

A "ghost" Jizo at Kanmangafuchi
A “ghost” Jizo at Kanmangafuchi

Looking ahead I saw Jizos lining the path as far as the eye could see. The Jizos were small statues, old and covered in moss, weathered for their age with those little red caps and red cloth around their necks adding a dash of color. Their presence added the right amount of enigma and mystery to the lovely scenic environs of Kanmangafuchi.

A seemingly endless row of guardians line the path at Kanmangafuchi
A seemingly endless row of guardians line the path at Kanmangafuchi

Exploring further, I found an even bigger line of statues lining the path like little guardians. Some of the statues were a little worse for the wear, missing an head at times. This only served to further reinforce the eerie nature of the place.

This "ghost" Jizo is eerily missing its head
This “ghost” Jizo is eerily missing its head
Another "ghost" jizo stands guard
Another “ghost” jizo stands guard

Overall it was a nice quick walk to the see the scenic beauty of Nikko, that was further enhanced by the atmosphere of mystery that surrounded the statues of Kanmangafuchi.

After clicking a bunch of photographs and enjoying the lovely sight of abyss, I decided to head back lest I discovered that the ghosts stories were indeed true.


More Information

Getting There

Nikko is connected to Tokyo by both the JR and Tobu. While the JR passes for Kanto and the 7-day or 14-day passed do cover the region, you may need to pay extra for parts of the train journey that are on lines run by another railway and for traveling on buses within Nikko.

A better alternative is to buy the 4-day Tobu All Nikko pass. This pass costs Y 4520 and is only available to foreigners. The pass allows for one return journey between Tobu’s station in Asakusa and Nikko, and unlimited access to buses in Nikko during the 4 days the pass is valid. If you plan to travel to Nikko for more than one day, getting this pass is highly recommended.

What to do

Nikko has something for everyone. You can visit the famous temples of Toshogu and Rinno-ji. There are other wonders like Shinkyo bridge and the Kanmangafuchi Abyss. Traveling further from the main town you can also see the waterfalls of Kegon, Ryuzu and the popular scenic Lake Chuzenji. If you fancy a traditional onsen to relax in, you can visit Yumoto.

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  1. Kanmangafuchi Abyss. In Japan Travel Guide.