Watercolor painting of a beautiful Japanese river and waterfall

Watercolor painting of a Japanese Torii in a river with a dramatic evening sky
“Japanese Torii in a Misty River”

Finally, I went to Ogata to paint tulips. 

When I arrived, though, I discovered that most of the tulips had gone. That said, I quite liked the scattering of tulips I saw rather than the almost overpowering bright lines of tulips that look so unnatural.

And all was not lost as there were other interesting things to paint in this place. So I left the tulip fields and went to the river where there is a suspended footbridge.

Watercolor painting of a suspended footbridge
“A View from Above”

The bridge is very elegant. In Japan, most bridges are not. They look like they are built for tanks to cross. They are probably made so sturdily because of earthquakes.

What was really exciting about this bridge in my painting was how the walkway, which looked like a white line across a dark background, acted as a directional line leading the viewer’s eye to the focal point which in this case was the people at the far end of the bridge.

And what a background. A dramatic gorge with beautiful spring foliage and rocks.

In this painting, the figures are a little too big and in a future attempt I will make them a little smaller or the bridge a little bigger depending on which works best.

Next, I went down the gorge to see the waterfall. I’ve done a few paintings from this spot in the past and I couldn’t resist doing another painting from this spot on this occasion. It is such a beautiful scene.

Watercolor painting of Harajiri waterfall from the bottom
“Waterfall Mist”

I read that the waterfall is about 20 meters high and forms a perfect crescent shape. 

Despite being a beautiful scene I spent quite a long time hopping over countless stones in order to find a good composition.

But I don’t mind because the composition is critical and the first thing to think about before doing a painting. I believe that even a beautiful scene will not necessarily become a beautiful painting if the composition is not good.

One of the magical things about this scene is the mist that wafts across the bottom of the waterfall. It was also nice when the mist wafted over me because it was a very hot day. Although at first I thought, in a sudden panic, that it was raining.

It was a very sunny day with a warm breeze. Ideal conditions for drying clothes and watercolor paintings. In fact, my paint was drying out so quickly that I had to keep spraying it with water. 

I folded the cover of my watercolor pad above the paper so it acted as a little “parasol” over the paper blocking out the sunshine over half the paper.

Despite the “parasol” the paint still dried really quickly. Truth be told I am a little disappointed with the waterfall part of the painting but I will have another attempt at home. 

I ate my lunch while my first wash was drying out completely. Then I did my second wash.

However, I started to feel bad. Especially my head. It felt like a baked potato. I had been out in the sunshine too long.

And it was a great relief to finish the painting and go to a restroom where it was shaded and cool.

Next to the restroom, there was a shop. And I wandered around this shop just to enjoy the cool shade. 

But I had spent too long in the sunshine and even in the cool shade of the store I felt dizzy.

After recovering sufficiently, I painted the final picture. This scene is of the river just before the waterfall. When I painted this picture the waterfall was behind me.

Watercolor painting of a Japanese Torii in a river with a dramatic evening sky
“Japanese Torii in a Misty River”

Sadly there is a road across the very top of the waterfall. And there is also an artificial channel in the river. I find that the Japanese have a tendency to do an excessive amount of construction. I wish they could have left the waterfall and the river in its natural state.

Perhaps there is a good reason for such construction.

And despite such construction the river is still beautiful. 

I think one of the reasons this river is so beautiful is because of the little grassy islands in it.

Another reason is the gate, or torii as they say in Japanese, which is in the middle of the river. 

The whole scene was really inspiring especially as the river was set against a very dramatic sky that imparted a wonderful mood. I literally live for this.

A group of Japanese people even came by and showered me with smiles and compliments before they continued on with their sightseeing. I don’t know about you, but I very much enjoy compliments.

I’m not happy with the painting I did of the Japanese Torii on that day. So the painting that I’m showing here is another version I did. I’m not sure if I did it in the same year but it is inspired by the same scene.

After finishing the painting, I returned to the shop and bought some Japanese sweets called manju for my family. These are basically buns with a very heavy doughy texture and an adzuki bean paste filling. They are very tasty.

I bought these as a kind of peace offering to my wife as she had looked after our toddler all day while I had been out painting.

It was wonderful to return home and to hear my toddler’s excited feet coming to the door. Young children don’t walk, they skip. 

She’s only one year and eight months old but she gave me a bow as I entered the house – adorable. Her sparkling eyes, wide smile and rich chuckle of a laugh touched my heart.

By the way, torii means bird abode, perhaps this is because birds perch on it, but that’s just my guess.


I originally wrote this story in April of 2014. I’m editing it in April of 2021. 

At some point, I threw away the painting of the bridge. I probably wasn’t very happy with it. What I am using here is an image of the painting that I had on my computer. Sadly it was a small image and I had to blow up the image a little and then sharpen it using a photo editing app. I think the final result is pretty okay but it is obviously not ideal. 

Since this story was written, I’ve visited Ogata several times and I now have a small series of paintings of this place. However, I never did another painting of the bridge with smaller figures. Maybe one day.