Getting ‘lost’ & being ‘found’: Canyoning in Japan

SPLISH, splash, zoom and dash… the sounds and feelings of getting lost and being found in the sublime surroundings of Japans backcountry river canyons, far from the rush and push of its concrete coagulants of humanity, is something most visitors and residents sadly miss when wondering what to do for an escape from anime oblivion.  Maybe they forget, or far more likely, don’t even know that with an abundance of vertical terrain and raucous rainfall, Japan’s mountains are veined with canyon carving rivers that provide those with the desires to leave their urbane urban confines the possibility to get loose, wet and even slide on their behinds.  How? Canyoning of course!

Zip lining in Shikoku. Photo: Happy Raft

You may be wondering right now what Canyoning is and why it’s so much fun.  Basically, and the basic ends here, it’s a pursuit that, unlike the passive past time of trekking, puts you IN nature as a participant, because your are negotiating your way down steep canyons by rappelling, zip-lining, jumping off cliffs and/or waterfalls; cascading down natural chutes and waterslides; and swimming through clean, clear pools of pure mountain water.  Thanks to abundant snow melt and rain; canyoneers in Japan spend about 80% of the journey in water. Why do it? Two words: fantastically fun. Imagine zip lining from a cliff some 10 meters above a deep pool of water, letting go, free falling, and splashing safely into the welcoming water. What about jumping off a cliff into another pool, or zooming down a slide made slippery from thousands of years of water polishing it to a gossamer glassiness, then looking up to see natures’ artistry carved into granite cliffs that soar to heights hundreds of meters overhead? In this setting, far from the hurries and worries of the work a day life, you can find not only excitement, but also solace and peace as you marvel at the awe and beauty of a brilliance that few behold.

Zooming down a natural flume in Minakami. Photo: Cayons

Canyoning is not something done on the willy nilly.  Mountains, while quite beautiful and serene from afar, can be unforgiving to the unprepared, and traipsing off in search of adventure without the knowledge, equipment, and skills to apply can lead to an episode of panic and rescue for the Discovery Channel.  Best to avoid that by joining a guided tour into the canyons of Minakami, Hakuba or Shikoku with licensed tour operators. Mike Harris brought the sport to Japan in the late ’90s, setting up his operation, Canyons, in Gunma’s Minakami area, leading intrepid adventurers and training other outdoor pros like David Enright of Evergreen Outdoor Center in Hakuba and Mark Treston of Happy Raft in Shikoku.  These guys are seriously dedicated to showing you the goods, with the right amount of excitement and controlled danger to give you adrenal pumping thrills all while being swathed in safety. Tours are arranged for ages 6 to 60+, with easy going excursions for kids and grandparents, to more demanding deeds requiring physical strength and prior experience for thrillbillies out there like me .  If desired, you can opt for privately guided, multi-day backcountry excursions where you’ll get wild, in locales as far from cities as you can get in Japan, but you must be fit. Now that you know, what are you waiting for? It is time for getting lost and being found in Japan’s canyoning wonderlands.

The long drop... Hakuba Canyoning. Photo: Evergreen Outdoor