Exploring the Rivers of Kochi Prefecture Water sports and adventure on the Shimanto and Niyodo rivers

While exploring the Shimanto and Niyodo rivers through activities and water sports we discovered the beauty of Kochi’s nature up close. On the Shimanto River we enjoyed swimming and searching for shrimp in the clear waters and ate sweetfish as we rode along the river in a sightseeing houseboat. On the Niyodo River we experienced canoe and rafting activities with training and guides to help us along the way.

The remote and beautiful Shimanto River

Kochi Prefecture is the largest, yet least populated prefecture in Shikoku. Most of the prefecture is mountainous which makes it perfect for outdoor activities, especially those that take advantage of its numerous rivers. Even better, the rivers can be accessed within an hour or so of Kochi City. Two famous rivers in Shikoku both lie in Kochi and these are the focus of our experiences and adventures.

Our first day to experience Kochi’s outdoors started on the Shimanto River, around two hours from Kochi City. This river is Shikoku’s longest at nearly 200 kilometers and is famous for being completely natural with clear, free-flowing waters.

As we arrived at the river, we first met a guide from the Shimanto Canoe and Camp-no-sato “Kawarakko”. Our guide took us down to the river bed and taught us how to fish for river shrimp, a popular activity for groups and families. After a brief training session, our group set out to catch the freshwater shrimp with nets and small hand harpoons. The activity is quite fun and is done by getting in the water with masks and nets and moving the rocks around to uncover and catch the river shrimp. The water is clear and beautiful and we were able to enjoy swimming together and having fun in the slow moving waters. We even caught a few shrimp and fish which was great as we got to fry and eat our catch right next to the river! The shrimp are absolutely delicious and can be eaten fried (Tempura) or boiled with salt. Grouping up with a few friends to catch and eat your own lunch along the river is truly a memorable and unique experience.

After our swim, we moved on to explore more of the Shimanto River, this time choosing to go by boat. With the company Shimanto-no-AO, we embarked on a traditional sighting houseboat to relax and enjoy the sights along the river. The houseboat itself is quite unique and comes with tatami flooring, windows and a roof to protect the passengers from weather. Inside the boat, there is a table where you can relax and taste some of the local catch, a char-grilled sweetfish. As we cruised along the river we occasionally opened the windows or even sat outside on the deck so we could fully appreciate the beauty of the area. Aside from the stunning green water and the surrounding hills and forests, one interesting thing to look out for are the distinct water crossings called Chinkabashi, low water crossings with no rails or parapets so they are not washed away by floods, that are used by both people and cars to cross the river. I highly recommend the houseboat sightseeing tour as a way to spend a few peaceful hours along the river.

A Unique Accommodation Experience

Though there are many types of accommodation throughout Kochi including hotels, ryokans and camping grounds, one place stuck out as a particularly interesting option. The Shimantogakusya was our accommodation choice for its unique appeal and convenient location right along the Shimanto River. This building was once a Japanese elementary school that was recommissioned into a hotel. Now visitors can stay in rooms such as academic classrooms (1st grade to 6th grade available), the nurse’s office and the principal’s room without worrying about any homework. In place of the desks are bunk beds with futons and blankets where up to six can share a room. There are also facilities such as the bathhouse, cafeteria, library and music room which can all be used freely. River gear such as canoes and kayaks can be rented as well for those looking to spend some time outdoors. For dinner, the school grounds are converted into a large barbecue area where groups cook their own trays of food piled high with meats, fish, rice and vegetables. The staff are friendly, the surroundings are beautiful and this is certainly an interesting way to get an inside look at the Japanese school system.

Adventure on the Niyodo River

The next day we decided to head back towards Kochi City stopping along the Niyodo River at the Tosawashi Kogeimura QRAUD. Here we were ready to get a bit more active and tried a dual course of morning canoe school and afternoon soft rafting. Both courses are run from the same facility and include training, gear and experienced, multilingual guides (English and Chinese speaking staff available by special request) who grew up in the river areas.

We started out with canoe school where we donned life jackets and helmets and were given a quick lesson on the basics of canoeing. Our course was for beginners so we stayed primarily in a wide area of the river where we were given freedom to explore. Canoeing is quite flexible as you can explore solo or stick with your friends and get as much or as little exercise as you like as you paddle around the river. After some time to get the basics down, the guides took our group upriver a bit where we disembarked on a beach for a few minutes to look for rocks in the shallows. The Niyodo River is famous for having a wide variety of rocks with interesting colors and patterns so this can be a great chance to find a few souvenirs. We went a bit further upriver and found a rapid flowing area where we could paddle our canoes into the stream for a bit more excitement and speed. In total the course was just over two hours.

After getting back and having lunch at the adjoining restaurant, we set off on our soft rafting tour. This tour includes the same gear and training session as the previous one and is also fine for all ages. Each boat can hold about 6 people so this is a great experience for those who prefer to stick together and chat as you go down the river. Armed with paddles we took turns rowing in unison and drifting along the river while performing several activities suggested to us by our guide. The rafting course offers more opportunity for adventure than the canoeing. Some of the activities we tried included standing and balancing on the boat through a light rapids area, trying to stay on the front of the boat while the others paddle in circle formation to try and knock you off, and doing a jump from a large rock on the side of the river. There are also times for leisure and the highlight of the tour for me was when we were instructed to all lie down across the boat on our backs with our heads relaxed over the side of the boat, looking across the water upside down. Seeing the water, sky, and hills from this perspective while drifting along and listening to the sounds of the river was an experience I won’t forget. At the end of the tour we also had a chance to walk through a few small streams and collect more of the interesting rocks. The streams were shallow here and if you go underwater and open your eyes or take a picture the water is an extremely bright blue, which locals affectionately call the Niyodo Blue.

Exploring nature in Kochi Prefecture is an unforgettable experience. Taking advantage of the flowing rivers to take in as many sights as possible is highly recommended as you will not find many places in Japan or around the world as remote and beautiful as the areas we discovered through our journeys.

(Visited in August 2015)