Lake Chūzenji (Chūzenjiko) is a beautiful lake with forested shores in Nikko National Park, located at the foot of the sacred volcano Mount Nantai. The lake was formed by lava flows of the now extinct volcano several thousand years ago.
Access to Lake Chūzenji and the inner regions of the national park is via the “Irohazaka Winding Road.” The road ascends more than 400 meters in altitude, and there are separate roads for uphill and downhill traffic.
People started calling the slope Iroha-zaka in the early Showa era. The ancient Japanese syllabary consisted of 48 characters, beginning with i-ro-ha, and was therefore called iroha (much as our word “alphabet” is derived from “alpha” and “beta,” the first two letters of the Greek alphabet). The original road (which permitted traffic in both directions) had 48 hairpin turns, and so tourist guides started calling the slope Iroha-zaka.
When the road was improved in 1954, the number of turns was reduced to 30, but a second road (up only) was added to permit one-way traffic. This increased the number of curves to 50, but two were removed to bring the number of turns back to 48, to match the letters.
A sign at each turn has a letter of the ancient Japanese syllabary, along with a drawing of an azalea blossom (the city flower of Nikko), and you proceed up and then back down in alphabetical order.
Ryūzu Falls (Ryūzunotaki) is located near the junction of the Yukawa River and Lake Chūzenji. The flow of water is split by a large rock near the foot of the falls. The rock is said to look like a dragon’s head (ryūzu in Japanese).
A sign at the entrance to the falls has a colorful map of Irohazaka Drive, showing the location of the falls, along with the following text in English:
There are 48 waterfalls in Nikko, but the Kegon waterfall (Kegonnotaki) is the most famous of them and is considered one of the three finest waterfalls in Japan. The water falls from a height of 97 meters high amid great natural beauty. On fine days, a rainbow can be seen. The name of the falls was derived from a part of a Buddhist sutra.
People could not get close to the falls until 1900, when Gorobei Hoshino built a teahouse near the basin of the falls. It took him seven years to build. Kegon Falls achieved notoriety as a suicide spot when an 18-year-old high school student, Misao Fujimura, jumped into the falls in May 1903.
An elevator at the falls started operation in 1930.