Japan Guides: Kumagawa Boating, Kumamoto Prefecture, Kyushu
Kumagawa River くま川
The Kuma River, Kumagawa, begins in the mountains of Kumamoto near the border with Miyazaki and then travels 115 kilometers before emptying into the Yatsushiro Sea on Kyushu's west coast. In the middle of its journey it passes through the Hitoyoshi Basin and Hitoyoshi, the old Edo Period castle town that was once a busy river port shipping lumber downstream and is nowadays known for its hot springs and the Hitoyoshi Steam Locomotive.
After Hitoyoshi the river descends quickly through a narrow valley and it is this section that has earned the river its status as one of the three fastest rivers in Japan, along with the Mogami River in Yamagata and the Fuji River in Shizuoka.
Boat rides on the river have long been a staple of the tourist industry in Hitoyoshi, with two courses being offered, the Seiryu Course, a fairly tranquil section of the river from Hitoyoshi down to Watari, and the Kyuryu Course from Watari down the wilder section of the river to Kyusendo, a limestone cavern. In recent years a new, third option has been added, rafting down from Watari to Kyusendo.
The Seiryu & Kyuryu trips both use the same kind of boat, a traditional, wooden, river boat little changed in centuries, flat-bottomed and narrow, but the rafting trip uses modern, inflatable rafts.
The Seiryu course starts from downtown Hitoyoshi right opposite the Hitoyoshi Castle ruins and then passes through the town before entering the countryside. Most of the course is fairly sedate though there are a couple of sections of faster water. Throughout the year there will be plenty of bird life to observe, including herons, egrets, cormorants, ducks, and kites.
In the spring when the cherry blossoms are out or in the autumn when the maples are red the first section along by the castle ruins is quite spectacular. The total distance is about 8 kilometers and takes 90 minutes. From Watari a free shuttle bus will run you back to Hitoyoshi.
The Kyuryu trip starts from Watari and is a few kilometers longer than the Seiryu course but being faster takes the same amount of time. It ends near the recreation village and limestone cave of Kyusendo. The focus of this course are the rapids and the boatmen's skill in navigating them.
The rafting takes place in two sections of the river between Watari and Kyusendo. The company provides shuttle buses to and from Hitoyoshi for all the trips.
The Seiryu course runs all year round but the Kyuryu and rafting trips are only from April to October.
The Seiryu costs 2,835 yen per adult, the Kyuryu 3,675 yen, and the rafting trips are 6,480 & 8,100 yen.
Advance bookings are recommended.
333-1 Shimoshin Machi, Hitoyoshi City Tel: 0966 22 5555