Kawa-kudari Boat Tours: an exciting, but relaxing water attraction on the scenic river
In Summer, on a hot and muggy day, what you probably want to do is water activities to escape the heat. Rafting, Canyoning, and Kayaking.., there are many aquatic activities, though, if you're going to try something different, something Japanese, how about Kawa-kudari boat tour?
What’s Kawa Kudari Boat Tour?
Kawa-kudari or River Travel is to ride a wooden boat and do sightseeing while going down a river, usually on a rough and calm stream between scenic valleys. Kawa Kuudari is also called Line Kudari (pronounces lie Rine in Japanese), which derived from the sightseeing boat tour on the Rhine in Germany, known for the splendid views. So, Kawa-kudari and Line Kudari are the same, and Line Kudari is more commonly used.
*Kawa-kudari is also called Funa-kudari, literally means "traveling downward by boat".
Kawa-kudari boat tours are served by professional boat-operating companies. The tour begins from a boarding point (乗船場) on the riverside and goes down the river toward the endpoint (下船場),. During the tour, the customers enjoy both the exciting ride and the scenic view on the boat. The boats for Kawa-kudari are all made of wood and have no engine. The thin and shallow appearance may make you feel thrilling in a different way from it of roller coasters.
The boat-operator called “Sendo-san” skillfully uses a rod to manipulate the boat even in rough waves between rocks. Sendo-san also entertains customers with funny talks and singing on the boat. The Sendo-san sometimes sings Japanese folk songs at the point where the stream is serene, and the nostalgic melodies echo through the valley in silence.
Kawa-kudari tours are available throughout the year. Though the best season is in summer, it provides enjoyment seasonally; Bonsai-like trees with fresh leaves and flowers in spring, and rocky cliffs covered with snow in winter, when roofed boats with Kotatsu heater are often served.
What to know before enjoying Kawa-kudari
There are many boat tour sites near famous sightseeing spots at the river, and the Kawa-kudari operators offer tours from thrilling to relaxing ones for both young and old. The tour duration is somewhere between 30 and 90 minutes, and the length of courses is 6km to 10km, depending on the tour you join.
Kawa-kudari operators provide safety measures and have well prepared for safety hazards. However, they don’t have supernatural powers to control the stream of the river that nobody can say it is 100% safe. Kawa-kudari boat-operators give safety advice when boarding, but it is usually done in Japanese. You should know about what Kawa-kudari is going like to be and the precautions.
Wear a life jacket
Under the life-jacket low, wearing a life jacket on a Kawa-kudari boat is obligated, whenever rain or shine, hot or cold. This is strictly required since a drowning accident had happened before.
Watch out for not getting your fingers caught between boats
When you get on a boat and waiting for the departure, do not hold the frame part of the boat. You may get your fingers caught between other awaiting boats while they are hitting each other by waves. It is of cause OK to hold the frame tight once the tour began.
Use the plastic sheet to avoid splashing water coming in
The plastic sheet provided around the boat is to prevent water from coming in. The customers are supposed to use it when the boat reaches rough streams. Remember, the improper use of the sheet brings the opposite effect, and water will flood into the boat, so the Sendo-san (boat operator) will let customers know how to use it when the tour starts. What the sendo-san tells is that customers need to use the sheet altogether, in cooperation, in synchronization, where you will find solidarity of people.
For your information, customers who sit in front usually get wet even if using the plastic sheet. The splashing is so welcomed in hot summer, but you may get wet much more than you expect. Watch out for your camera or mobile phone.
At the endpoint of the boat tour, a bus is often served to go back to the starting point.
The starting point of Kawa-kudari is often located near train/bus station. Kawa-kurari operating company offers a bus service between the end and the starting point for those wanting to go back to the point of departure to take a public transport service nearby. The fare is usually for free, but make sure when you use the service.
You are not allowed to bring large luggage on the Kawa-kudari boats
There are items you are not allowed to bring on the boat, such as large luggage (suitcase) and bags troubled after wet. You cannot leave such luggage at the office at the starting point. In this case, ask the Kawa-kudari operating company to bring them by bus to the endpoint for you (with a fee, usually 100 JPY or so), or use a coin-operated locker at the nearby station, or ask your hotel to keep them.
Kawa-kudari may be canceled due to river and weather conditions
Kawa-kudari operating companies せsee the river/the weather conditions every day, and they sometimes cancel their services for safety reasons. Even if it is sunny at the Kawa-kudari site, the chances are that it is heavily raining in the mountain, which causes a flash flood in valleys. So, it is advisable to check online as the Kawa-kudari company updates its website's operation schedule.
Kawa-kuradi is usually available for those not having booked, but it may be better booking beforehand as reserved customers can take a tour on schedule without waiting. For groups of 10 people or more, prior booking is always required.
Recommendable Kawa-kudari Boat Tours
Kawa-kudari at Tenryu River (Iida City, Nagano)
天竜川 川下り (長野県飯田市)
Kinugawa Line-kudari (Kinugawa in Nikko City, Tochigi)
Kinugawa Line Kudari 鬼怒川ライン下り https://linekudari.com/
Nagatoro Line-kudari (Nagatoro in Chichibu City, Saitama)
Nagatoro Line Kudari by Chichibu Railway Comapny 秩父鉄道 長瀞ラインくだり https://www.chichibu-railway.co.jp/nagatoro/
Last Updated: Jun 2020
This article is also available in Japanese : Things to know about Kawakudari boat tour