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Most of us can relate to the fun we had canoeing at summer camp when we were young. But that was nothing compared to the experience of whitewater kayaking that came next for me. I have always loved canoeing, though it always seemed difficult to participate. It has only been in the last decade that the development of inflatable canoes has made a big difference. You can more easily access rivers, you can store a canoe in your car, you can even take them on a plane. They are very light, very cheap, with little loss of functionality. Perfect for weekends away or campervan holidays. Social networking was the other big change. You can now use Facebook, etc to join canoeing adventures in your local region or abroad.

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Saturday, February 18, 2006

River Canoeing / Kayaking in Japan

Anyone up for some adventure in Japan? Japan is not exactly recognised for its wild rivers or challenging rapids, in fact the country is better known for its industry and rather tame rivers. But this is truly deceptive because the country hosts some incredibly beautiful mountain forests, wild scenic rivers and great canoeing - contrary to western perceptions. A few facts:

  1. Japanese rivers are mostly regulated by reservoirs, so they offer very consistent discharge during Spring to Summer. The opposite of course is true in winter. Unregulated rivers differ, though who wants to canoe in snowmelt - not me. But there is is alot of water in this country as rainfall is very reliable. Waterworks are intended more for flood prevention and water supplies.
  2. Alot of rivers have alot of waterworks, eg. concrete walls, weirs and levee banks, but there are still alot of rivers which are essentially untouched, and close to Tokyo and Nagano international airports as well. Some of these waterworks make the rivers more dangerous to canoeists. eg. There are dangerous weirs that provide no warning of danger, there are cement works that have been poorly rendered, leaving steel wire sticking out. Apart from puncturing an inflatable canoe, it might just rip your bowels out.
  3. Japanese rivers originate in tight mountain valleys, with little human impact, so with regular discharge, the rivers are very clean. They are mostly surrounded by forest, sometimes farmland. They are visually most appealing in early April (Cherry Blossum season 1-2weeks) and Autumn fall (Oct).
  4. Like other developed countries, Japan offers water discharge statistics on river authority databases, so its easy to get an idea of water level.
  5. Japan has the best rail transport system in the world, so its likely that you can get to the top of some river by train. Anyway, at least close, and you are sure to have a bus service to take you up the river and to pick you up.

My advice is to join one of the adventure companies based out of Nagatoro (Saitama Prefecture) or Outdoor Adventures (Murakami, Gumna Prefecture), or bring with you an inflatable canoe. I used to lug around a fixed kayak before I discovered the benefits of inflatables. Most of the rivers are shallow braided gravel races, grading 1-2, but the water is really clean in the upper reaches, with good flow, very consistent grades, and beautiful countryside. Access is easy with a Japan Rail Pass. The places to canoe include:

  1. Tamagawa River - Okutama Dam to Ome township, west of Tokyo. Use JR Chuo rail line
  2. Murakami River around Murakami, Gumna Prefecture, NNW of Tokyo - it has adventure companies running rafting. See Outdoor Adventures (??)
  3. There is a river east of Morioka in Iwate Prefecture, Northern Honshu for canoeing. If you need equipment, I'm not sure whats available.
  4. Rafting on a river between Nagano & Matsumoto in Nagano Prefecture, West of Tokyo. Its a great hiking area as well.

English-speaking staff at the shinkansen (very fast train) station tourist offices in Nagano and Morioka can give any tourist & canoeing information, so they can direct you how to book, get to the river, etc when you arrive.