Crossing over mountains and seas, deep into the heart of Shikoku. Shimanto River: A secret place where Japan's unspoilt natural beauty has been preserved. Here are some of the best ways to enjoy this region!
Shimanto River - the lifeline of the people
The Shimanto River is known as the last crystal clear river in Japan. A single crystal clear river flows down from deep in the mountains, twisting and turning, and combining with tributary rivers before becoming a much larger river and flowing out into the Pacific Ocean. 196km in length, this magnificent river is not only beautiful, but also the lifeblood of the region, being a part of the livelihood and culture of the people living here. The old cultural practice of turning myths into a play like form, called Kagura still remains in the area around the source of the river, while further down river in the mid-stream region, are tea fields shrouded in river mists.
One of the most intriguing things you find in along the river are chinkabashi bridges. Chinkabashi are submersible bridges, designed without balustrades so that debris like fallen trees being carried down a flooded Shimanto River simply flow over the bridge. As the bridges don't inhibit the flow of the river, the river is less likely to burst its banks, and the bridge is also less like to be washed away. In a way, this bridge represents the lifestyle of the people who live together in harmony with the natural environment, and acts as a vital connection between the villages that still exist here. Local children also love these bridges as a source of fun, jumping into the river from the chinkabashi. There are 22 chinkabashi that cross the main river, and 26 more spanning the tributaries, adding a further charm and allure to the Shimanto area.
You can still find traditional fishing methods that are rare in other parts of Japan being used by local fishermen here. Hiburi fishing is a method using fire torches to scare sweetfish into fishermen's nets, and shibazuke fishing uses leaves (like bamboo leaves) tied into bunches and submerged in the river to catch eels and river prawns. Witnessing these traditional methods is a great way to get a sense of the everyday life of those living together with the Shimanto River.
Each season has its own unique attractiveness here, but the best season is during the spring and summer when the forest greenery is at its most dazzling! From mid-April to mid-May, vibrant carp streamers are hung across the river, while in early summer you can take a river boat tour to watch thousands of fireflies dancing in the air.
The beauty and charm of old Japan has been kept alive in Shimanto, and after visiting this special place, you'll want to keep it a secret for yourself.
The Shimanto River is a treasure trove of delicious river fish! Living in the clear, pure waters of the river, the taste and quality is highly reputed.
●Tsugani (Japanese Mitten Crab) - season: September to November
The look and taste is similar to the Chinese Mitten Crab. Thanks to good water quality and plenty of prey, the taste is phenomenal and pairs especially well with a rich miso.
●Ayu (Sweetfish) - season: June to October
This river fish is called the Queen of the Crystal River! These fish feed on the high quality freshwater seaweed of the Shimanto River, giving them an even more pleasant taste.
●Freshwater prawns - season: May to October
Shimanto River freshwater prawns are packed full of flavour. Try them boiled in salted water with the skin on, or deep-fried without batter!
●Suji aonori (a type of grass kelp) - season: all year round
A type of freshwater seaweed found in the brackish waters around the Shimanto River estuary. It's soft and full of flavour, and it's most often eaten as a fritter.
●Unagi (Eels) - season: May to October
The taste of wild eel can't be beaten, and it's a valuable resource here. The flavour of the eel from these nutrient filled waters is famous.
Activities on the Shimanto River
If you want to really experience the true wonder of the Shimanto River, then river activities should be on your to-do list!
Among the many activities, the most popular is canoeing. The view from just above the water allows for a better perspective of the surrounding scenery, and the mountains that run along both sides of the river are truly beautiful. There are rapids in a few places along the river, adding some fun and excitement to the experience.
SUP (stand-up paddleboarding) is another activity that has gained popularity in recent years. The widest parts of the Shimanto River are quite calm, making it a great place to try SUP for the first time. You don't have to stand up the whole time either. You can kneel, sit, and lay down too! It's a very freeing and peaceful way to enjoy river and surrounding natural beauty.
Other popular activities include river cruises on traditional roofed boats near the mouth of the river, trekking along the tributaries or the headstream, and cycling along the riverside.
The Shimanto River is a prosperous tea growing region, making both black and Japanese green tea. Tea leaves from Shimanto make for a great souvenir. It's also famous for chestnuts, with chestnut paste-filled Japanese-style sweets, called kuri kinton, being among the popular local treats!
If you're looking for finer Japanese items, why not buy a souvenir made with high quality ingredients from the Shimanto River? Two popular items are tsukudani, grass kelp simmered in soy sauce, and kanroni, which is whole sweetfish simmered in soy sauce. You can get these in jars or vacuum seal packs, making them easier to store and carry around.
To buy local souvenirs, check out souvenir stores, or try the rest areas called Michi-no-Eki that are dotted along the expressway in the Shimanto River area.
●Aguri Kubokawa Rest Area (Michi-no-Eki Aguri Kubokawa)
Address: 284-1 Hiragushi, Shimanto Town, Takaoka gun
Closed: Every 3rd Wednesday of odd-numbered months, last day of March
●Shimanto Taisho Rest Area (Michi-no-Eki Shimanto Taisho)
Address: 17-1 Taisho, Shimanto Town, Takaoka gun
Hours: April to September: 7:30am to 5:00pm, October to March: 8:30am to 5:00pm
Closed: Closed only December 31st to January 2nd
●Shimanto Towa Rest Area (Michi-no-Eki Shimanto Towa)
Address: 62-9 Towa Kawaguchi, Shimanto Town, Takaoka gun
Hours: Shop: 8:30am to 5:00pm, Restaurant: 11:00am to 3:00pm (last order 2:30pm)
Closed: Irregular closing days
●Yotte Nishi Tosa Rest Area (Michi-no-Eki Yotte Nishi-Tosa)
Address: 2410-3 Ekawasaki, Nishi Tosa, Shimanto City
Closed: Open year-round (closed on Tuesdays in December to February)
Traveling is part of the fun in Shimanto
The JR Yodo Line connects Kubokawa Station in the upstream area of Shimanto with Uwajima Station in Ehime Prefecture. It's a very scenic line, passing along the Shimanto River and some of its tributaries. There are regular trains running the line, but for an extra special experience take the Shimantorocco train! It's an open air train, offering the absolute best views of the countryside! The trip from JR Kubokawa Station to JR Ekawasaki Station in the mid-stream area takes about one hour, and all seats are allocated. The trains operates one return trip per day on Saturdays and holidays during spring, summer and autumn.
The Shimantorocco train is not the only train worth checking out on this line! There is also a train shaped like a shinkansen (bullet train) and one covered in a mythical Japanese creature called kappa!
Don't forget to check out other means of transportation!
If you're traveling around the Shimanto River on public transport, you can make good use of the buses available here too! Buses are operating out of Nakamura Station (on the Tosa Kuroshio Railway).
●Shimanto River Bus
Running between Nakamura Station and Ekawasaki Station - passing by some of the highlights in the area.
TEL: 0880-34-1266 (Kochi Seinan Transport)
Operating times: Weekends in October through to March, public holidays, and spring break.
Fare: ¥1,500 course, ¥2,400 course (attraction entrance fees, boat fares, activity fees, meals etc. not included)
●Shimanto Trolley Bus
Sightseeing from Shimanto City to Sada Chinkabashi Bridge. 5 buses/day. Free to hop on and off as you please for one day.
TEL: 0880-34-1266 (Kochi Seinan Transport)
Operating times: spring and winter vacation etc.
Fare: ¥500 for 1 day