We began hearing tales about Sandankyo Gorge soon after moving to Hiroshima, toward the end of the 20th century. The more we heard, the more it assumed an almost mystical aura. For a start, the ravine had remained virtually unknown, tucked away in the mountains like Arthur Conan Doyle's "The Lost World," until 1910, when photographer Nanpo Kuma discovered it and began spreading the word.

Popularity ensued, but despite this, the natural wonderland of sheer cliffs, dense forests and crashing waterfalls was still largely unspoiled, friends assured us. It is now part of the Nishi-Chugoku Sanchi Quasi-National Park and one of just six Japanese ravines and gorges to be classified as a national Special Place of Scenic Beauty.

Moreover, Sandankyo is home to the fabled Japanese giant salamander. This autochthonous amphibian — the second-largest salamander in the world — grows up to 1½-meters in length. If, like us, you love all creatures that creep, crawl and slither, you'll understand the excitement we felt when we learned this. Yet in our subsequent visits, we've never caught a glimpse of one in the wild.