There are plenty of good reasons to visit Shikoku, but if you're a lover of things wet and wild, you really have come to the right place. In the heart of the island, the mighty Yoshino River has carved its way through the mountains, leaving a beautiful gorge and some of Japan's best whitewater in its wake.
The most spectacular stretch of the Yoshino lies across the border between Kochi and Tokushima prefectures. The canyons here are called Oboke and Koboke, "big steps" and "little steps", and from end to end the raftable section of the river is 22 kilometres of crystal clear water tumbling over dozens of rapids, all in the midst of some of Japan's last remaining pristine wilderness.
Of course, wherever there is great whitewater, there are people who want to paddle down it, and the Yoshino is no exception. At the height of summer there are as many as twenty different companies offering tours on the river, not to mention kayakers making their own kind of whitewater pilgrimage.
Several of the well established companies have English-speaking guides. One in particular, Happy Raft, has an excellent reputation amongst Japan's ex-pat community, but you can check out all your options via the internet.
Your basic options on the river:
- Half-day “Oboke” rafting course – up to Class 3 rapids
- Full-day “Koboke” rafting course – up to Class 4 rapids
A day on the river starts at the company base, where you'll get changed into your river gear (all provided) and do the basic safety review.
No sooner have you been issued with paddle and helmet and put on the bus than you’re jumping in a boat with your crew and taking your first paddle strokes on the river.
There's no shortage of thrills and spills as you bounce down the rapids, but some companies offer more in their tour than just getting you down the river. Swimming through pools, jumping off rock formations, playing raft games with your crew - it should all be part of making sure you have a great time on the water.
Full-day tours should also include a decent lunch. So make sure you find out exactly what sort of tour is on offer before you sign up.
All in all, a full-day tour down the Yoshino is the best rafting experience in Japan, at any time of the season, bar none. Make sure it's part of your Shikoku itinerary.
At the end of the day, rather than driving for hours back to the city, why not stay near the river? There's a range of cheap, welcoming accommodation options locally around the rafting bases, including guest houses run by some of the guides and their families.
If you want to try something a little different to the standard river rafting experience, a canyoning tour could be just the thing. Rock hopping, natural slides and rope-assisted waterfall descents are all part of the action. It's a beautiful mix of excitement and serenity. Happy Raft is the only company in the area that offers a full canyoning experience.
And of course, once you're finished with the river, there are a range of things you can do to round out your Shikoku experience. The Iya Valley is close by - vine bridges, soba noodles and a relaxing onsen spring bath await. Your guide crew can certainly recommend some good local places to eat.
And if you’re there in the summer, you might be able to catch a festival, such as Kochi City’s Yosakoi or some Awa Odori in Ikeda. Rafting on the Yoshino runs from late March through to November, with a high season from July to September. See you on the river!