Tucked away in Shimogo Town, Minamiaizu, stand the To-no-hetsuri Crags – an area of magnificent and other-worldly rock formations carved away from years of natural erosion. Shimogo is the same town where Ouchi-juku – the old post town popular with visitors to Fukushima Prefecture – is located.
It may seem difficult to remember the name of this area, but don’t worry, it’s difficult even for Japanese people, as ‘hetsuri’ is a colloquial word used by locals in Aizu. ‘To-no-Hetsuri’ can be translated as ‘the carved pagoda overlooking the river’, or ‘the pagoda’s slope facing the river’.
Just one look at these rocks and it becomes clear why this area might have been thought of as being a pagoda or tower, as the shapes of the cliffs really do look as if humans have carved them, perhaps for religious purposes. However, the cliffs began to shape a long time before humans even existed. The cliffs are thought to have been formed by wind and rain over the past 28 million years!
Local people have given each cliff a different name, depending on its shape. The names include Hawk Tower, Sumo Arena Rock, and Eboshi Rock. An Eboshi is the name of a style of tall hat worn by aristocrats in the Heian period (794 – 1185), which gives you some idea of how long people have been visiting these rocks!
It could be said that these rocks are not particularly ‘Japanese’ and therefore not worth visiting on a trip to Japan. However, the careful naming of the rocks and proximity of shrines and a really cute, tiny rail station (not to mention Ouchi-juku) means it is impossible to forget that you are in Japan.
Tips for visiting:
- The suspension bridge leading up to the crags is very picturesque against the water of the river. The bridge does wobble a bit, so be prepared for that!
- There is a gift shop, and a viewing platform nearby upon leaving the main area of To-no-Hetsuri, so be sure to take a look.