Our Whitewater Rafting experience on Shiribetsu River in Hokkaido, Japan

When someone asked me recently what I learned from the experience of living in Japan (few months in Osaka & Tokyo in 2007 & 2008), my instant response was “quality, simplicity & attention to detail”. So, where else could be safer place to introduce our 14-year-old daughter to her first whitewater rafting adventure?

Game Plan

Found 5 options in Hokkaido, Japan:

  • Saru & Mukawa River in Hidaka area
  • Chubetsu River in Asahikawa area
  • Sorachi River in Furano area
  • Shiribetsu River in Niseko area

The first choice was Chubetsu since it flows behind the hotel we booked near Asahikawa in Higashikawa area. However, the operator required a minimum of 4 people. The rafting season comes to close in October so I started looking in Niseko area. Niseko is the most popular area of Hokkaido among tourists.

I found 6 operators in Hokkaido:

None of them are sponsors of this post or paying this blog

If you are an operator, happy to add to the list. Send a message on X @rajspace

I contacted Niseko Adventure Center through the website. Booking was confirmed over email with a payment due date of 2 days before the booking date. Since I was booking in August for October, I was happy with the flexibility. JPY 6800 per pax i.e. ~SGD 65/INR 4000.

Ready for Action

In the 6 day itinerary of Hokkaido, the d-day arrived on Day 5. It was a rainy day & the temperature was hovering < 10°c. The thought of rafting in rain does not intuitively make sense. Me and the wife cherish our rafting in rain experience on Sita River in our home state of Karnataka, India few years back. It is one of those counter-intuitive ideas that doesn’t makes sense by thought but obvious after the experience. But the father in me was sceptic for our daughter’s first time experience- I didn’t want her to shy away from future rafting adventures because of this. I called the operator to check if the plan was still on. Indeed, it was. I felt reassured after they told me about the usage of dry suit. I have used a dry suit for river canyoning in Minakami, Japan so the confidence went up. Plus the wife made the call to keep going- one of the advantages of having a great life partner!

We arrived at Niseko Adventure Center by 1pm. The reception was smooth. Few minutes we met our guide. He is from Nepal & we were happy to converse in Hindi. We were joined by 3 others hailing from central Japan and possibly in their late 20s. Besides the guide, a safety kayaker joined us.

What is the role of the safety kayaker?

A safety kayaker stays alongside or ahead of the rafts in a separate kayak & partners with the rafting guide on the raft. They are professionals who are trained & experienced to identify changes in water flow, potential hazards and advise on paddling techniques for challenging sections. The safety kayaker is the first line of response, If someone falls out of a raft or needs medical attention.

In the changing room, we put on the dry suit, life jacket & wet shoes. 8 of us boarded the bus after picking the helmet and paddle. After a 15 min ride, we reached the put in point. As expected, it was raining & 10°c. With the gear doing what it is supposed to do, we were comfortable and excited. The next 14kms was pure fun & splashes over 6 rapids of grade 1 & 2. We celebrated with high fives using the paddle, paddle taps in rafting lingo, after every rapid. Before one of the rapids, the guide asked my daughter if she would go in front of the raft and face the rapid face on! She accepted the challenge and enjoyed the experience.

90 minutes passed in a jiffy, and we reached the takeout point where the bus was ready. As with every adventure, safety comes first and never to be taken for granted. We were happy this was another safe & fun run on the Shiribetsu River, thanks to the river and the guide, Ronish Gurung.

Beyond the Finish Line

Having successfully introduced our daughter to rafting, we were proud parents! We relaxed rest of the evening and slept well on the 5th and last night in Hokkaido. The next destination was Osaka. Here is the Hokkaido & Osaka trip summary.

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With the rafting guide in action. Ronish Gurung from Nepal.