Yoro Park is an enchantingly beautiful and expansive place shrouded in legend. There are many different attractions concentrated in the surrounding area making the 40-minute trip from Gifu City (1-hour from Nagoya) well worth it.
The story of Yoro began around 1300 years ago when a desperately poor but filial son was in the area around Mt. Yoro collecting firewood. The son and his old father lived in poverty, and the son was always struggling to put food on the table. The only regret that the son had was not being able to provide any alcohol for his father, who was very fond of it.
One day when the son was out collecting firewood he came across a great waterfall and thought to himself: “wouldn’t it great if that water was alcohol?” While thinking this, he accidently slipped on a moss-covered rock and fell down. While on the ground he caught the whiff of what smelled like alcohol and began looking around for the source. Soon thereafter, he spotted some golden liquid flowing from a spring located nearby in between some rocks. After investigating this mysterious liquid, he came to the realization that it was indeed alcohol. So he filled up his hyōtan, or “gourd” in English, with as much alcohol as it would hold and brought it to his old father. Only after a few mouthfuls of the “spring water,” his old father was laughing merrily as if he had been turned young again.
Word quickly spread about this “fountain of youth,” and even gained the interest of the ruler at the time: Empress Genshō. In the year 717, Empress Genshō decided to visit Yoro, and after bathing in its waters, claimed that it had magical rejuvenating powers. She was so impressed with the water that she changed her era’s name from Reiki to Yoro in its honor (in Japan the time periods change with each emperor or empress). This event left a strong impression on the locals and they decided to name their town Yoro. 1300 years has passed since those events, and Yoro is celebrating by holding a year-long “Yoro Era: 1,300th Year Anniversary Festival” celebration (please note that this article was written in 2017).
The first thing you might notice when you step off the train in Yoro are the gourds that are hanging from the ceiling of the station. These gourds, or “hyōtan” in Japanese, have become Yoro’s signature souvenir because of its correlation to the legend explained above. While these hyōtan were originally used to store liquids such as water and alcohol in the past, today they are mainly used for interior decoration (though it would be funny to see someone using one as a water bottle in the train). There are many shops where you can purchase these hyōtan, ranging from small keychain-sized trinkets to ones the size of backpacks, at shops and galleries located in the park and around the station.
Yoro Park itself is a brisk 10-minute walk from Yoro Station, and at the entrance of the park you will find Yoro World (a small amusement park) and Children’s Country (a rather impressive playground for the little ones).
Site of Reversible Destiny
Proceed a little further and on the left you will find the Site of Reversible Destiny: a place that is both a park and conceptual art exhibit. The terrain was designed to challenge your sense direction, and in all honesty I have never seen a place like it before. It is very easy to get lost as you wander around through the park’s many different structures and areas. I remember going a through a cramped trench-like passage that took you above the park for a nice view, only to come to a dead end and have to go back the way I came in order to exit. If you have an adventurous mind and aren’t strapped on time I would highly recommend a visit while you are at the park.
Continuing on past the Site of Reversible Destiny and up through the park towards Yoro Waterfall and you will pass by many bridges and trees that make the park a very scenic place in the spring and fall. Go on the weekends and you will see hordes of people having picnics and enjoying the blooming cherry blossoms (or changing autumn colors depending on which season you go). I recently went to check out the 3,000 blooming cherry-blossom trees located in the park and was pleasantly surprised because even though the park was quite expansive, no matter where I looked I could almost always spot some blooming flowers.
Pass by some shops and a few bridges and you will begin to notice a slight incline. Please note that as you get closer to Yoro Waterfall the path will continue to get steeper and steeper, making the overall trek to the waterfall a bit challenging. Those who endure the steps, however, will be rewarded with the stunning view of the 30-meter-tall Yoro Waterfall.
Designated as one of “Japan’s Top 100 Waterfalls,” Yoro Waterfall is sure to impress you no matter what season it is. When I went last November, the surrounding plants and flora were a beautiful orange and yellow. During the summer months you can expect bright green vegetation. But even during the early spring, when there are no leaves on the surrounding trees, the exposed cliff walls and moss make for an ancient, mysterious atmosphere. If you go during the weekend there will most likely be a small crowd of people at the top, but nothing comparable to the likes of Kyoto or Nikko. On your way back down, located on the left side, is Yoro Shrine and Kisui Spring. Kisui Spring is supposedly where Empress Genshō bathed during her visit to Yoro.
With all of the lore surrounding Yoro Park (and the beauty located within it), I would highly recommend a visit if you haven’t made it out there yet. Apart from the park, there are also hiking trails on the surrounding Yoro mountain range. I have been to the top once, but wouldn’t recommend it for those who don’t know Japanese or have children because the trail is steep and the trail signs are in Japanese. If there is enough interest in it, however, I can write a post about it (there is a great view from the top, see pictures below). With the “Yoro Era: 1,300th Year Anniversary Festival” celebration this year, you can time your visit with one of the festivals or events they will be holding.
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Yoro Park Information: http://travel.kankou-gifu.jp/en/see-and-do/19/
Site of Reversible Destiny: http://travel.kankou-gifu.jp/en/see-and-do/99/
【Directions】At JR Ogaki Station take the southern exit, and go to the right to Yoro Railway. At Yoro Railway take the train going towards Yoro, and get off at Yoro Station (about 20min and 410 yen). Walk 10-15 minutes from the station heading uphill towards Yoro Mountain and you will reach the entrance to the Yoro Park.