Cycle along Kochi's rugged mountain ranges, take out an old-school sailboat and camp by one of the clearest rivers in Japan.
Running like a ring around the southeastern corner of Kochi Prefecture, the Shimanto River is surreal in its natural beauty and biodiversity.
This widely undiscovered area is a destination where vibrant green mountain peaks are the backdrop to turquoise waters that offer up unique ways to discover local life in Japan. It may take a little legwork to get there, but once you arrive it feels like you’ve been let in on some incredible secret.
The Shimanto River is the longest in Japan’s rustic Shikoku region.
Known for its exceptional quality and clarity of H20, the Shimanto River is more than just a beautiful scene. For fishermen and nori (seaweed) farmers, the river is a source of livelihood. For local children, it’s an enviable naturally crafted playground, and for the population of outdoor-loving locals, it’s a way of life.
At 196-kilometers in length, the Shimanto River is the longest in Japan’s rustic Shikoku region of the coast of Japan’s main isle of Honshu. Still, seeing everything the area has to offer is a very doable feat.
If you have three or four days available, a set of wheels, charged camera batteries and plenty of gusto, it’s an incredibly rewarding way to explore a naturally stunning, untouched pocket of Japan.
There’s no correct way to “do” the Shimanto River, however, if you want to properly immerse yourself in the scenery and connect with the area’s culture, getting around by bike is an excellent way to go.
For non-Japanese speakers, the easiest way to get your own set of rental wheels is to pop by the Shimantogawa Bicycle Rental Centre at the Shimanto Tourist Information Center in town. (Accessible by train). Pick up a mountain bike, a map of the river cycling route and chat with the friendly English-speaking staff who are more than happy to let you in on some local tips on where to start the Shimanto River circuit.
Off you go for some incredible photography while cycling across these historic bridges that take you from one side of the pristine river to the next.
To see Shimanto from a different perspective, consider hopping aboard a local — and quite rare for modern times — sailboat as it makes its leisurely crawl along the Shimanto.
Northwest of Nakamura train station, you’ll find a humble riverside shed occupied by Mr. and Mrs. Matsuhiroya — the husband and wife duo behind Semba Roman Matsuhiroya. The pair have a collection of senba boats, a roofless style of vessel used in the 1930s to transport goods with which they run regular 45-minute-long cruises along the river.
There are also canoe rental and guided tours available at the Shimanto Canoe and Camp Village Kawarakko as well as Canoekan (Japanese). Sign up for a session and paddle down the tame stream weaving underneath the concrete bridges that tower over the river like a conjoined waterlogged Stonehenge. If you’d like to linger a while, they have a campsite, too.
This article was sponsored by Kochi Prefecture.