Irohazaka are a pair of two winding routes in Nikko, Tochigi. Zaka (or saka) means slope in Japanese and Iroha refers to the first three letters of the old Japanese alphabet. Now why would a slope be called Iroha? Combined the two roads have 48 hairpin bends – 48 being the number of Japanese alphabets. Each turn is labeled with one of the 48 alphabets.
The roads were first built in 1954 and 1965 and have been modernized and made wider but the number of hairpin turns remains the same. The roads are important as the only connecting route from Nikko to Oku-nikko.
(Photo source: Google Maps)
The downslope (1st Irohazaka), which has 28 curves, includes a pit stop to see two waterfalls. The upslope (2nd Irohazaka), which has 20 curves, has the Akechidaira Plateau at the top which offers spectacular views of the valley.
The Akechidaira Ropeway takes about 3 min and costs about 730 yen for a return trip up to Akechidaira Observation Deck.
From here, you can see Mount Nantai, Lake Chuzenji, and Kegon Falls. This is the best spot to be dazzled by the gorgeous beauty of nature; in summer, the trees are lush green, while in winter, you see a snowy landscape. The most popular time to visit the Irohazaka is in autumn when the foliage starts changing color. Nikko, since it on a higher altitude than the surrounding areas, is colored in warm hues from mid-October to early November.
(A bird’s eye view)
Check out this amazing video of Nikko in autumn:
The Nikko and Oku-nikko area are covered in kaede (maple), nanakamado (mountain ash or checker tree), tsutsuji (azalea) among others.
Usually driving on any one of the slopes takes about 20-30 minutes but in autumn, it can even take up to 3 – 4 hours on weekends. We highly recommend visiting during the week to avoid crowds!
Access: Bus from JR Nikko Station or Tobu Nikko Station up to Akechidaira (40 min)
An easy day trip from Tokyo that is a must-visit in autumn!