Beautiful Winter at Geibikei Gorge, Tohoku

After our maiden hike at Yamadera (you may refer to our previous post here), we ventured into another first time: a winter boat ride down the Satetsu River to view Geibikei Gorge in Iwate Prefecture. The 2 kilometer Geibikei Gorge is a designated “National Place of Scenic Beauty”, as well as one of the “100 Landscapes in Japan”. We had a tranquil experience and were in awe with the beauty of mother nature once again.

To travel to Geibikei Gorge, you can take a JR train to JRGeibikei Station on the Ofunato line. It is easily accessible from Sendai via Ichinoseki. The whole train ride is covered by JR pass, and we highly recommend to reserve the tickets from JR ticket office in advance. If you are a Pokemon fan or are travelling with children, you may want to reserve seats on the exclusive “POKEMON With YOU” train. You can read about the joyful train ride here.

Once you have reached JRGeibikei station, there are clear directions for an approximate 5 minutes walk to the gorge.

The narrow road that leads to the ticket office building is very welcoming: winter breeze, flowing of the stream, occasional sunshine, and fallen snow on the cliffs. Simply picturesque!

The statue of Sato Ikuo who developed Geibikei Gorge into a famous sightseeing spot in Japan.

Stipulated timings for the boat rides are as follows: 9:30am, 10am, 11am, 12pm, 13:00pm, 14:00pm and 15:00pm.

Prices are as follows: 1,800 yen for adults, 1,600 yen for high-school and junior students, 860yen for elementary students and 200 yen for children 3 years and above. Free for children below 3 years old.

Way too early for your boat ride? Well, there are plenty activities for you to while your time!

  • Have fun trying out your fortune for the year or making a wish?

  • Visit the interesting shop that specialises in selling Washi – traditional Japanese papers?

  • Indulge in sumptuous specialties of Iwate Prefecture?

Of course, I went for my all-time favourite Ayu no Shioyaki (salt-grilled sweetfish).

  • Simply just hang out in the waiting area and enjoy an ice cream.

While boarding, there is a photographer who will take your picture. You have the option to purchase the photo at the end of your boat ride.

The boat is fully enclosed with sliding windows and a kotatsu  (Japanese long table with a heater and blanket underneath – to keep warm under winter) in the center, creating 2 aisles of  zabuton (Japanese cushion) seats with floating throw cushions on each side. Shoes have to be removed and placed on the shoe rack at the boat front. Afterwhich, you have to literally bend your upper body to move to the furthest available seat on either side of the boat. Sorry, no seat selection allowed!

You can buy food and drinks sold on a basket that is placed on the table. There is also package feeding food you can purchase to feed the species on water. If you would like a special experience of dining on the boat, they do also cater warm meals such as hot pot but prior reservations have to be made with the ticket office.

Once seated down (you can only sit cross-legged or stretched your feet underneath the table), it is actually quite comfortable. If you feel concerned with the enclosed space (because of claustrophobia), opening the sliding window will help to ease the discomfort.

There are two boatmen on each ride. One will row the boat and another will be the commentator, introducing famous sights throughout the ride. Our boat was rowed by a (strong and amazing) lady – Chiba Miyuki-san and our commentator was Akira Sugawara-san. Can you find them from the group photo? Unfortunately, the commentary was solely in Japanese, which we do not understand. Nevertheless, he was a very humorous commentator as he kept the atmosphere light and jovial, with many moments of laughter from the group.

My initial worry of such a lengthy (and possibly bored) ride was dismissed once we started the slow leisure cruise. The beauty of Geibikei Gorge was simply spectacular that you will be busy snapping pictures of the cliffs, rocks, cave and ducks swimming on the stream! The team of ducks appeared (out of nowhere) as soon as our boat set sail. I soon found out they are actually waiting for us to feed them!

The boat ride will bring you through 18 scenic spots, mostly limestone rocks that resembles certain images. Maybe it’s the snow, but somehow I find it difficult to decipher them. Perhaps it is easier to differentiate the various scenic points during other seasons. Also, depending on which side of the boat you are siting on, you will have direct access to different views through the ride.

The official brochure indicating all the sightseeing spots. You may refer to the online version for easy viewing:

At mid point, the boat will dock and all riders will alight for a short 30 minutes exploration on mainland. The boatman will lead you to the famous scenic point (point 18 on the map): Shishi ga hana limestone formation (also known as The Lion’s Snout). An interesting fact regarding Geibikei Gorge: The name “Geibi” means “lion’s nose” and is derived from Shishi ga hana.

A fun game exist at this point too! You can purchase 5 undama (wooden balls of luck) at 100 yen (a selection of different forms of luck: 福 Fortune, 縁 Relationship, 寿 Longevity, 愛 Love, 願 Wish, 運 Luck, 恋 Romance,  絆 Ties, 禄 Blessing and  財 Prosperity.  There lies a belief that you will be blessed with the particular group of luck you have selected if you managed to throw the balls into the lion’s snout.


Did you see the “lion’s snort”?

Of course, more breathtaking views on mainland.

The 1.5 hours passed by swiftly. Toward the returning leg of the boat ride, the boatman even belted out a few verses of traditional Japanese folk songs that earned huge applause from everyone. What do you think of his singing?

At the end of the ride, I wholeheartedly felt the 90 minutes was well-invested. We had fond memories of the invigorating and interesting boat cruise, the charming and scenic sights at the gorge, and the hospitable company. If you are in Iwate Prefecture, do not miss the opportunity of visiting Geibikei Gorge where tranquil, peaceful and spectacular mother nature awaits.


JR Vacation says:

  • As the ride will last for 90 minutes, we recommend you to visit the toilet before boarding.
  • Wear comfortable clothes for sitting on the boat. Bottoms which allow you to cross-leg easily.
  • You may also want to wear shoes that are easy to remove.