WATER SPORTS IN MINAKAMI
There may be over 120 million people living in the country of Japan but, in actuality, mountains occupy about 3/4 of the land. An abundance of beautiful nature spreads wide across this small country but is often passed over for touring around the history-laden Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples to shopping in the super-modern cities. Outside of the usual fun things, have you ever thought of spending a day off “giving yourself over to nature”? Well, the att.Japan staff decided to try just this and headed over to nearby Minakami, Gunma Prefecture (conveniently accessed from Tokyo) for a water sporting experience.
Canyoning (or canyoneering)… It sounds like a word we’ve heard somewhere before… Anyway, it was with this casual passing acquaintance with the whole notion that we set out to give it a try. At first, things seemed quite serious once we were all wrapped up in a few layers of wetsuits, but that anxiety would later slip away when we plunged into the waterfall basin.
First we suited up in layers of wetsuits and shirts and donned the appropriate shoes, gloves, and helmets. Next came the yellow lifejackets that our lives would be entrusted to. These were a bit tight on the chest and the pressure gave me an idea of what it might feel like to be a robot. After we were all geared up, there were shrieks from the participants as the guide duly noted, “The water might be a bit cold today.”
The boat rocked as we headed out to our start point. The water was crystal clear with a gentle current but with all of the trees grown in thickly, you couldn’t see where the water flow started. The guide briefed us on some points of caution as we entered the water up to about our knees. We proceeded into the trees in a single-file line of 6 people while paying attention to the rocky ground at our feet.
Right about the time we were deep in the surrounding trees the guide instructed, “Float your body on the water,” and so we did. With our backs in the water and heads up to the sky, we could see the clouds gently rolling by. Slowly swaying in the water gave the very comfortable sensation of your body being carried away just like the clouds above. Now, there was a moment of slight panic when I felt some water come into my suit, but it is a WETsuit after all, and I quickly became accustomed to this new feeling as well. I went on floating and floating until I noticed that I had stopped as my body had run aground on a rock. It was very relaxing.
We did things like burying our faces in the curtain of water formed by the water flowing over a drop and just enjoyed the time. We formed a circle by holding hands and, being carried by the current, finally arrived at the source of the reverberating roaring sound of the 20m-high (65ft) waterfall. I thought, “No way, we’re not going down this, are we?” but my hunch was right on the money. Up at the top, a rope was connected to me and I was lowered down the waterfall until about halfway down. I could feel the roar of the waterfall and sheets of spray at my back. I prepared myself for what was to come and waited. The tautness of the rope went slack and for a moment my whole body felt liberated. My feet came upon the water in no time and before I knew it I was already underwater! Drained of all my energy I floated to the surface. After gazing around the waterfall basin, I turned my body up to the sky and took a deep breath. Ah, what a great feeling!
We continued the course, crossing through the rock jump and yielding our bodies to the washing machine-like whirlpool. Pressing forward we experienced the early summer fresh greenness, occasionally popping our heads up to the beautiful sky, and the sounds and smells of clear babbling brooks. We arrived at the second large waterfall of the day and, to my surprise, this time the instruction was, “Please slide down head-first.” So, while looking up to the sky, my body was suddenly sucked in by the water and down into the waterfall I went.
The whole adventure lasted 3 hours but was packed with thrills and though we only traversed about 300 meters (about 1/5 mile), I was unbelievably overflowing with satisfaction. I still can’t forget the feeling of challenging the water and frolicking in the water sprays. It looks like I’ll always have at least one plan for subsequent future summer vacations ready to look forward to.
The next day we went whitewater rafting. Our 8-person group piled in the raft and we went down the raging rapids of the Tone River. This is nothing less than nature’s version of a roller coaster. You get a great sense of teamwork and belonging by joining forces with your fellow raft group members and paddling with all of your might. All of the water splashing around feels nice on a hot day and even though I totally fell into (or was maybe pushed into??) the mighty river, it still made for great memories.
This trip was with Canyons, a company offering world-class adventures in Minakami and Kusatsu (Gunma), Hakuba (Nagano), and the Shikoku area. Their main outdoor sports are canyoning and whitewater rafting in the summer but you can enjoy the backcountry and other snow sports in the winter. The well-experienced guides have some really great anecdotes as well. Superb. All equipment used is provided so if you are in good health, nothing more is required. See below for contact information.
Nearby Sightseeing Spots
The world class large capacity open spa (mixed bathing) located upstream of Tone River. Enjoy the sound of stream, and diversified view in beautiful Okutone.
From Tokyo: 75 mins by Joetsu Shinkansen bullet train to Jomo-Kogen Station in Minakami-machi.