The guys who run the Canyons operation really know what they are doing -- they know the area, they know the terrain - some of the most popular courses they created themselves. And they take every safety precaution. You bring a swimsuit, they provide the rest: wetsuits, life jackets, helmets, etc. Many Canyons guides are ski instructors during the winter.
From July to September, conditions on the Tone River are calm enough - Grade 1-2 rapids - for children to go whitewater rafting. That is, the rapids are grade 1-2. In Spring, they're grade 3-4, and you have to be at least 13 to participate.
suiting up at the base lodge
right before setting off down the river, with the Dix familyIt was the last weekend in August, and the current was just swift enough (in parts) to keep things interesting. We had a few good thrills paddling through some rough patches, our guide steering from the rear and telling us when to pull our oars out of the water and just hold on...
Canyons' own photog took some great shots for us
Not everybody had the nerve to leap off from this one very high cliff; somehow I managed it but only because I was afraid I would fall if I tried to climb back down in my neoprene socks! Here's Terry and the boys in midair:
At the end of the course the guides flipped a raft over and let the kids bounce off it and into the water below..
On the Sunday we did the family-style canyoning, which was brilliant. It entails taking a ride up into the mountains and then hiking along forest trails until you reach a good point of entry, where rocks become water slides.
Our boys love water parks, so they were over the moon doing this. Canyons offers canyoning for grownups too, and Terry says it's similar, just more intense - more climbing, deeper, rougher waters, etc. Something the expat guys do when the wife and kids are away for the summer.
We were lucky to have Mike as our guide. (He's the one not wearing a yellow life jacket in the photo above). Originally from New Zealand, he's lived and worked in Japan for years - he's one of the guys who started the whole Canyons operation - and is fluent in Japanese. I kept wondering how he keeps his long ropey dreadlocks from catching on the rocks. He made a sculpture for us:
Logistics: Many of the families who spent this weekend in Minakami with us drove up from Tokyo, a 140 km or 2-hr journey up the Kanetsu Expressway. And they were glad to have their cars, to get out and explore the area a little. A few moms took their daughters to a co-ed outdoor onsen - pretty setting, lots of naked old men. A few of the families went kayaking, which they had to arrange separately, as Canyons doesn't offer it.
It's just as easy to take the train - we took a JR to Omiya and then a Shinkansen to Jomo-kogen station, which took less than 2 hrs, plus another half hour van ride to the lodge. One of the Canyons guides collected us at the station at no extra charge. Everything was arranged via email: firstname.lastname@example.org
In addition to the rafting and the canyoning, we managed to fit in a half day of mountain biking with MTB Japan, also booked through Canyons. MTB provided the bikes, helmets and gloves; the instructors picked us up at the lodge and brought us back. We learned how to cycle down steps, up steep rocky slopes, down and around steep curvy trails covered in leaves that make you skid out. And I learned something else that day: that I'm a big chicken.
CANYONS Outdoor Adventure Experiences
TEL: 0278-72-2811 FAX: 0278-72-2812
Canyons Ltd., Japan
Tours & Lessons
Canyons on Facebook
Canyons Minakami Base:
45 Yubiso, Minakami-machi, Tone-gun, Gunma-ken
P.S. As a bonus, there was a matsuri that weekend - most communities in Japan throw some sort of summer celebration, or harvest festival, with food, beer and sake stalls and revelers processing in yukata robes, headbands and and tabi sock-booties, beating on taiko drums, singing and/or dancing around. Mike, Mr. Canyons himself, drove a bunch of us lodgers out to the Minakami festivities in time to catch the fireworks: