SPRINGTIME FUN IN JAPAN ON A TIGHT BUDGET: WHITE WATER RAFTING IN SHIKOKU
In one of my previous blog entries, I wrote about how pretty the autumn sky looks on a clear and sunny day in Tokyo. Well, it is around the middle of March that spring begins in Japan, and as though to tease the famous springtime saying “April showers bring May flowers,” I got to enjoy many sunny days in Tokyo as the new season slowly arrived. In fact, the number of consecutive sunny days grew so great that I eventually found myself inspired to take a trip down south to Shikoku, one of Japan’s four major islands.
The end of March was approaching, along with the final day of the 2-month interim break. Fearing that the good weather would soon leave me as well, my friend Chieko (a fellow CIEE student) and I decided we wanted to do something that would make the most of the remainder of our holiday – but it couldn’t be just anything. It had to be an outdoor activity, something fun and exciting, preferably in a location close to nature, away from the hustle and bustle of the city, and most importantly: something that could be enjoyed particularly in Japan; a few minutes of internet research revealed that white water rafting in Shikoku was to be our next adventure. We packed our bags, booked budget airline tickets, emailed our study abroad program coordinators, and were on our way down south faster than you could say “rapid.”
Shikoku is divided into four main prefectures: Kagawa, Ehime, Tokushima, and Kochi. We arrived at Matsuyama airport in Ehime prefecture, probably the furthest prefecture from our destination (a rafting company called “Happy Raft” in Kochi) early on a partly-cloudy morning. Grumbling at the fact that our budget airline didn’t service a closer airport, we hopped onto a limited express train down to Oboke Station, our only solace being the opportunity to stock up on sleep on the 4-hour ride. The excitement at the prospect of riding down the rapids of the Yoshino River however, kept us awake.
When we arrived at Happy Raft Headquarters (a little hut built by the bank of the river), we were warmly greeted by our guide for the day, a Japanese rafter named Toru. He gave us a safety briefing, lent us wetsuits, and drove us to the starting point of our journey along the river.
Happy Raft really gave us a full experience. Strapped in our rafting gear – a helmet, three layers of wetsuits, a life jacket, and even special rafting sneakers – we fully inflated the raft on our own, placed it upon the surface of the water, and embarked upon the rapids of the Yoshino River with Toru. My recollection of the next part of this adventure is comprised of mainly auditory elements: splashing water, wooshing white rapids, laughter, and excited screams. Toru told us that we had been blessed with a perfect water level that day, as he steered us into the river’s fast currents. We were followed by another employee of Happy Raft, Mark (a rafter from Australia), who was equipped with a waterproof camera to capture the moments. Our boat capsized once as we were traversing the fastest rapid on the course, and according to Toru, we’d been his first capsized group of the season. Fun fact: it’s a tradition amongst the rafting companies in the area that if a guide capsizes the tour boat, then he or she must buy the entire company beers at the end of the day.
At the end of the tour, we were sent off with warm lemon drinks, and even warmer sentiments.
This adventure in Shikoku was probably one of my favorite moments of my experience in Japan. For those looking to travel around Japan on a tight budget, I strongly recommend this island as a destination. Not only was the travel fare cheap, the people we met were extremely kind and helpful; after the tour, Toru personally delivered us to the train station, and even helped us figure out cheap routes to the few tourist destinations we had decided to stop by before our flight home. I will definitely be returning to Shikoku before the end of the CIEE program. Also, I think Happy Raft gives you a free shirt on your third visit, which is nice.