The Yoshino River: One of Japan's top three rivers
Rafting is a great option for anyone who wants to have some excitement or experience nature while travelling around Japan.
As it’s a small island, there are plenty of rapids ideal for exploring.
One of the best rivers for this is the Yoshino River, which flows through Shikoku from Ehime Prefecture to Kochi Prefecture,
and then on to Tokushima Prefecture.
A total of 194 km long, its rapid current makes it one of the three greatest rivers in Japan,
along with the Tone River in Kanto and the Chikugo River in Kyushu.
An appealing river to challenge, the 2017 Rafting World Championships were held here.
Surrounded by mountains, the Yoshino River also has some stunning natural sights to offer which adds to its charms.
Even the air seems to have a delicious taste to it.
The best place to experience rafting on the Yoshino River
There are around 19 companies that offer rafting tours along the Yoshino River, one of which is Happy Raft.
Located just slightly to the east of central Shikoku,
their guides have plenty of experience so you can be sure you're in safe hands.
We tried the Koboke Long Rafting Tour, a 1-day tour costing 11,000 yen.
Covering a total length of 9 km along both the Oboke and Koboke Gorges, it starts at 10:00 and ends around 16:30.
Happy Raft's famous handmade bagel lunch is also included.
Another option is the half-day Oboke short course, which costs 6,000 yen and lasts about 3 hours,
covering a total length of 4 km.
All you need to bring on the day is swimwear and a towel.
Sitting right next to the river, the facilities are an impressive size and offer some great views.
The thought of rafting in such a magnificent place surrounded by all that nature is really exciting,
and everyone’s eager to get going.
The changing rooms are also spacious and clean, so it’s a pleasant experience for everyone.
Once everyone has changed into their swimwear and has their helmet, wetsuit, boots, and a life jacket,
the rafting can begin!
The rafting experience
After going over the instructions and safety precautions on what to do if you fall in,
the experience can finally start and everyone gets onboard the raft.
It's really important that everyone pays close attention to the safety talks, or you might regret it later.
I was a little worried at first, since I'm not physically strong, but once we started, this wasn't a problem at all.
The beginning of the course is gentle, so you can take in the sights as you slowly float down the river.
All that magnificent nature is healing, but then...
We arrive at the rapids.
This is truly one of Japan's greatest rivers, and was much more powerful than I had imagined
—I was actually thrown out of the raft!
While in the river, you're not sure which way is up,
and it feels like you're being spun around inside a washing machine.
This is when you need to follow the instructions and safety precautions given earlier.
When you fall in the river, you raise your feet to the surface and let yourself be swept away.
In this position, the buoyancy of the life jacket will keep you afloat.
So, I just stayed calm, held my breath, and hung in there.
It seemed to take ages, but eventually I was floating properly.
When we reached somewhere with calmer waters, they were able to safely pull me back into the boat.
Falling overboard was an exciting experience in itself!
Lunch time is around 12:30.
They stop the raft in a calm spot and everyone eats lunch along the riverbank.
The real highlight of this course is the Koboke Gorge.
Jagged rocks rise upwards as the rapid waters flow between them.
Together with an abundance of trees, they create a stunning natural masterpiece.
As you head down the river while taking in these amazing sights,
you'll see why the Oboke and Koboke Gorges are just the kind of spots that rafting and kayaking fans alike long for.
After lunch, everyone gets back to rowing the raft as a team, all working together to help reach the finishing line.
It requires a great team effort, so even if you go with a group of strangers, you'll soon be getting along well with everyone.
Reaching the goal gives you all this wonderful sense of accomplishment.
From there, they drive you back to the facility to get changed, and this one-day course is over.
Which season is the best?
Rafting in April with all the cherry blossoms is wonderful, but the water temperature is still low,
so falling in might be even more challenging for those who don't handle the cold too well.
You can enjoy fresh green leaves from the end of April until the middle of May.
Then throughout summer from May to August, you can have all the fun without the worry of getting cold.
From mid to late November, there are the wonderful colors of fall that paint the surrounding mountains.
In short, there are plenty of wonderful things to see throughout the year, but if you want to avoid the busier times,
then late May to mid-July would be best.
If you want to enjoy the sights, then both May and November are a great time to go.
Visit an extraordinary suspension bridge
While you're in central Shikoku, it would be a shame to head home having only experienced rafting.
There are other sightseeing spots in the area for you to enjoy, the main one being Kazurabashi Bridge in the Iya Valley.
Made from Hardy Kiwi plant vines and a nationally designated Important Cultural Property,
this 45 m long and 2 m wide bridge crosses over the Yoshino River, which flows 14 m below.
It costs 550 yen for adults to cross.
Rafting is a thrilling experience, but so is the Kazurabashi Bridge.
Made from vines, it's quite frightening to watch the river flowing underneath through the gaps between the boards.
Plus, it's a suspension bridge, so it also shakes as you walk!
Before crossing, it looks like just a normal bridge, but as soon as you start going across, you realize it's scarier than it looks.
If you're not afraid of heights, then you should definitely give it a go.
There's a nearby parking lot called Kazurabashi Yumebutai which costs 500 yen for a normal car, or you can take a public bus.
162-2 Nishiiyayamamura Zentoku, Miyoshi, Tokushima Prefecture
Opening hours: 07:00–18:30
Shikoku isn’t easily to get to, so it tends to be forgotten when it comes to the major tourist destinations.
But that's exactly why it's full of these fascinating natural sights and experiences.
Head there to experience rafting and more wonderful spots nearby.