River Rafting on the Yoshino: Fun Thrills in Shikoku

River Rafting on the Yoshino: Fun Thrills in Shikoku

Ian Box

Japan is not just a country of ubiquitous centuries-old temples, shrines, and tall tales of samurai wonder, it is also a country of adventure. People who enjoy adventure coupled with great fun, I wholeheartedly recommend, during the long hot days of summer, experiencing the thrill of riding the white rapids on the Yoshino River. Throughout the season, Kenmi Rafting gives hundreds of excitement-seekers river rafting experiences of a lifetime. Located on the Yoshino River in Shikoku, Kenmi is committed to making sure customers have a fantastic fun-filled trip down the river. Let’s now look at a typical day at Kenmi Rafting. First and probably most importantly, there is no regular day at Kenmi; each rafting excursion is different depending on the number and age of customers, the condition of the river, and who, among the group members, wants extra fun.

Preparation


The day, for a group of wannabe rafters, begins at around 8:00 or 8:30 in the morning at Kenmi’s riverside location. There, group members change into swimwear (wet-suits are available and included in the overall rafting fee) then receive a short orientation. Kenmi’s experienced guides explain the safety procedures and other dos and don'ts one must keep in mind. All rafters, for example, must have short fingernails. Those with long nails are asked to cut them. It seems that having nails that are too long is dangerous when rafting – who knew? With the orientation and finger-nail cutting completed, rafters must sign a contract – a wavier in the case of an accident. This kind of document is a standard request from all rafting companies in Japan. “Water-shoes” must also be worn to protect feet from the rocky river bed. Water-shoes are available for hire at 200 yen a day. Rafters may bring shoes for the water. With all preparations complete, everyone then boards a bus for a thirty to thirty-five-minute trip further up the river to where the raft or rafts await. There’s no need to bring a camera or smart-phone, Kenmi has a photographer following whose job it is to take photos of the day's activities.

Group of rafters paddling in river rapids

The Guides


Once the bus arrives at the starting point, Kenmi’s experienced and friendly guides sort everyone into teams or groups. The guides also decide which course the rafts will follow – safety is of the utmost importance. The rafting course is based on river conditions as well as clientele. The word “Koboke” explains the faster and more exciting course, while “Oboke” describes the best rapids. Once the course is decided, the guides once again go over the safety instructions, making sure everyone understands. Kenmi Rafting employs not only Japanese but also Nepalese guides. While safety is essential, the Nepali guides seem to believe fun is equally crucial. The Japanese guides, however, tend to put more emphasis on safety first – fun is secondary. So, if it is a fun-filled but safe trip down the river that you're looking for, this writer recommends requesting a Nepali guide. Two of the most popular Nepali guides are Babu (no, not the Seinfeld character) and Manish. These two easygoing guys are guaranteed to give you a fun-filled day. Customers are also able to request guides by name at the time of making a reservation.

The Adventure Begins


With teams decided and safety instructions understood, it is time to set off down the river. Everyone, including guides, wears a life-jacket and helmet. Each person has a paddle and sits both sides of the rubber raft equally, while the guide plants him or herself in the rear center. The guide or team leader controls the craft's direction. The passengers or “crew” and river are the craft's engine. As the guide kicks off from the rocky river bank, the crew all begin paddling. The laughter and shrieks of delight echo off the surrounding cliffs as initial confusion arises from everyone paddling out of synchronicity. The "captain" calls for everyone to paddle in unison. The laughter increases. At first, the raft moves slowly, but as it floats toward the center of the river, it gathers speed and is soon racing. The banter from the “crew” is raucous with everyone in high spirits. After a few more minutes, the guide points ahead and announces the first set of rapids.

The excitement in the raft increases as everyone (except the guide) feels the raft's speed suddenly increase. The wild whitewater sucks at the craft, trying to drag it further down as it plunges deep into the river. The guide swings on his paddle, keeping the raft controlled. He fights with the river – the safety of his “crew” foremost in his mind – forcing the raft left and right as they zip passed giant boulders and around smaller rocks that force the water in all directions.

The raft is soon filled with water but remains afloat. The crew has stopped paddling, and each person is holding on, trying to stay in the boat. Water pours over their heads. Down another and another dip; the roar of the river muffling the mixed screams of excitement and fear. Again the raft plunges down another dip and arcs left and right, skirting more huge rocks. The guide still has control. Over the din of roaring water, he yells for everyone to hang on as the raft, for the umpteenth time, surges down yet another river nook – each drop different from the one before. Giant towering, jagged rocks seem to stare down at the rubber craft as it careens down the river. The boat veers left and right and at times is side-on to the roaring white water. The guide, however, still has command even though it appears control is lost. The “crew” clings on, grabbing at each other or the ropes attached to the raft itself. Another drop and the raft plunges down yet another crevice, and more water soaks everyone.

Soon, the first set of rapids of the day are behind them. The boat, half-full of water, drifts into a smoother part of the river. Everyone lies back, breathing deeply; the fear they may have had is now exhilaration. It was, each person thinks, a thrilling experience. After a short rest and emptying the raft of water, the guide readies the boat again, and the “crew” climbs back on board for the next part of the adventure. A few minutes later, the raft is once again plummeting down more river nooks and crannies; the crew, however, now know what to expect and are in much better control. As the craft speeds past more huge rocks, twisting and thumping its way through the whitewater, the experience no longer brings a sense of fear, but rather joy.

At around midday, on the riverbank, the crew has lunch. Kenmi includes this meal in its rafting fees. Pictures are taken by the official Kenmi photographer while everyone relaxes and reflects on the adventure so far. With a few minutes to spare following lunch, members can climb to the top, or a lower part of a rock wall and dive or jump into the river. Don’t worry; the river is deep enough. When everyone is ready, it is back into the raft for the last river challenges of the day. More rapids are negotiated, and the thrills continue. Toward the end of the trip, the guide directs the raft to a spot in the river nicknamed "Otake Surfing". In this part of the river, the raft rocks and spins in circles as if it were in a washing machine. This point in the river, according to many, is the best part of the day. More often than not crew are tossed out of the raft and into the river. Don’t worry, it's perfectly safe – your life-jacket and helmet protect you. It is also important to note that entering the “Otake Surf” is entirely optional; those that don’t want to shake, rattle and roll, can opt out.

Capsized raft

The End of The Day


It is late afternoon when the raft with a tired but happy crew drifts to its final berth. The weary rafters make their way up the riverbank to the hotel. Everyone finds a seat and relaxes for a few minutes. With cold drinks in their hands, the crew relives the day's fun. The guide is thanked and given a round of applause. Slowly, the rafters make their way to the hotel’s free onsen (hot springs) for a well earned hot tub; it’s time to soak away the aches and pains of the day.

For extra costs, the hotel offers overnight accommodation and a bring-your-own-booze BBQ for those who long for a nice meal and a good night’s sleep.

For an exciting day of whitewater rafting on Japan’s Yoshino River, contact Kenmi Whitewater Rafting through their website.

Rafting – the ideal summer experience.