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This spring, I went on an amazing paddling trip to Japan. Prior to leaving for the trip, I had countless people question why I was going to Japan to kayak. ‘Is there good whitewater in Japan? Why are you going all the way to Japan when there’s kayaking in California?’ – were just a sample of the questions I was asked. To be honest, until recently, Japan was never a place I imagined traveling to for a kayaking trip either.
It all started over a year ago when my friend Darin McQuoid went on a kayaking trip in Japan. He came back with amazing photos, great stories of a fascinating and welcoming culture, and new friends. Darin immediately told us that he would love to go back but we never imagined it would be so soon.
Earlier this spring, Darin and Daniel Brasuell were putting together an international trip and ultimately settled on Japan as the location. Not wanting to be left behind, I rearranged my school schedule and booked my flight to join them. Also traveling with us from the US were our friends Laura Farrell, David Maurier, Rok Stribar, and Shannamar Dewey. Local paddler, Yoshihiro Takahashi, who Darin had met on his trip last year, excitedly agreed to join us for the two-week paddle adventure and graciously allowed us the use of his van.

From the beginning, the trip was an adventure. International travel with a kayak and all your gear is no easy task, but we all successfully arrived at the Narita airport in Japan with our luggage and loaded it into the van that would be our home for the next two weeks.
After a good night sleep at a hostel near the airport, we got some beta on river flows and headed north. The first river we went to was the Agatsuma Gawa. It was mostly a class III run but was in a gorgeous tight walled gorge. The beauty of this run set the stage for the entire trip. I couldn’t believe that we were actually in Japan and that it was so incredible.
For the next twelve days we drove around in Yoshi’s van and kayaked. Some of the rivers we had planned on going to in advance and others we just happened to see on the way and stopped to check out. We camped near the rivers we ran and cooked noodles and miso soup for meals when we weren’t in town.
The lifestyle was amazing. Japan is full of hotsprings, in Japanese called onsens. Onsens aren’t quite like the hotsprings we’re used to in the US. They’re made into pretty pools and all have showers as well. Nearly every area we went to had an onsen and we quickly became addicted to them. After paddling every afternoon we went to find an onsen before heading to camp. It was perfect to soak in the hot water after a long day of paddling and priceless to be able to take a shower nearly every day while camping and driving around in the van.

One of my favorite rivers we ran was the Kiyotsu Gawa. It was a great combination of a remote canyon, high walled gorgeous gorges, mandatory rapids, and a long portage to add to the adventure. The most unique feature of this run was snow bridges. When we arrived at the first snow bridge, we tried to scout it and decided we couldn’t see enough of what was inside to run it safely. We portaged by walking over the river on the bridge and did a throw and go off the snowdrift into the river below. We were all a little disappointed that we didn’t actually get to paddle under the snow bridge but knew we had made the safe decision. After running a few more rapids we excitedly saw that there was another snow bridge directly down stream. It was very short and also low enough that I had to duck as I paddled under it but still a new experience of paddling under snow. Much to my surprise there were even more snow bridges yet to come. Five in total. The first one we walked over and the other four we paddled under. The last three were decently long with one of them being long enough that it was completely dark inside. I caught an eddy to savor the moment and could barely see a glimmer of light in front of me where the end of the tunnel was. I stayed in the eddy for a few moments until the loud dripping noise coming from the melting snow above me worried me enough to move on. The only word I can think of to describe this river is magical.
The entire trip we were surrounded by beautiful scenery, great whitewater, friendly people and delicious food. I couldn’t help but think of all the people who questioned us coming to Japan to go kayaking. They have no idea what they’re missing. It was a fantastic trip and I hope to go back and explore some of the river drainages further north. Japan is a hidden gem for whitewater kayaking and I highly recommend it to anyone with a taste for adventure. ~ Diane Gaydos