Only two hours away from the crowded Tokyo, the town of Minakami stands as a highlight destination for outdoor activities all-year-round.
Follow the steps of Ardis, Alice and Jimmy, who went on a 2-day packrafting trip, together with a local mountain guide Hiroko Takatsuki, and discover the exciting possibilities of this mountainous area in the north of Gunma Prefecture, in Japan.
Picture yourself riding the rapids of a river in a single inflatable raft. You are surrounded by a beautiful Japanese scenery: white waters, mountains and a deep forest. You sense a sudden rush of adrenaline, but at the same time you feel completely safe: a guide is taking care of you. Your only concern is having fun.
Although packrafting may not sound as familiar as the classic team version of this activity, it is becoming quite popular around the world. One of its main advantages is that it allows travelers to carry the raft inside a backpack while they are hiking, skiing or climbing. Besides, it offers the freedom of choosing the best place to start boating.
The river Tonegawa, in Minakami (a town deep in the mountains of the Gunma region) offers the ideal conditions for practicing this sport.
Looking for outdoor adventures
Ardis lives and works in Hong Kong and usually travels to Japan with his family during holidays. They consider it a comfortable and safe place to go with kids, especially with the youngest one who is only 4 years old.
Besides, they appreciate Japanese food and drinkable water, as well as the kindness of people. And also value that it’s clean and hygienic, which makes them feel confident and relaxed.
They have always enjoyed outdoor activities, like camping, hiking and trail running. So when they started thinking about their next trip, their idea was packrafting in Japan.
But even though it wasn’t their first time arranging a trip in this country, they found it very difficult to find information and connect with local guides that could speak English.
Luckily, they contacted the Explore-Share team and received all the help they needed to organize their trip step by step. That’s how they got in touch with Hiroko Takatsuki, a JMGA mountain guide based in Minakami, and joined her for the packrafting trip. This time, instead of taking their young children, Ardis and Alice traveled with their friend, Jimmy.
About the organization of the trip, Ardis says:
“We quickly found out how difficult it is to find English information or guides who can guide in English for outdoor activities in Japan. Explore-Share was quick to respond and helped us to successfully find a guide for our trip and facilitated the whole process. The support on credit card payment was very helpful as well”.
An exciting itinerary
Ardis, Alice and Jimmy arrived to Tokyo in the morning. They rented a car at Haneda airport (you can rent an ETC card, which is good for tolls on highways) and spent half the day in the Japanese capital city.
In the afternoon, they drove to Minakami. Driving in Japan is easy, GPS works very well. They stayed at a guest house they found through booking.com.
Hiroko and Michi-san were the guides of the group for the 2-day packrafting trip. The first 45 minutes consisted of an introduction and a revision of each other’s skills. Although Ardis has gone packrafting several times before, his wife didn’t have as much experience. As for their friend Jimmy, he has practiced kayaking a long time ago and was excited about this new challenge.
Then, the guides prepared all the necessary equipment for them, like helmets and wetsuits, and offered them insurance covering the trip. It may be quite difficult to get insurance for this specific activity, so that was a very good thing!
After that, they spent some time exploring how paddling works and how to go through white waters. At the same time, they learned to follow instructions and ‘read’ water.
That day, the weather was fine and the water level too. There were some rough parts of the river but the group managed to go through them safely.
The following day, Hiroko proposed them an alternative plan – to go on a day trip along a river:
“We knew the levels of the guests by now, so we could suggest a more interesting route for them and with their enthusiastic agreement, we went on a long day trip with a picnic in between”.
Although the water level was not as high as during the first day, they still had a great time.
Side B: the guide’s experience
Hiroko Takatsuki organizes a wide variety of trips for each season of the year, from mountaineering (like this climbing to Mount Tanigawa, one of the Japan’s 100 Famous mountains) to backcountry ski tours.
Furthermore, she loves Minakami area and aims to share with their clients the unique experience you can get there, either in the mountains or in the water.
She usually receives guests from abroad that join her trips. She says she doesn’t have much communication issues and that, in the end, their objective is the same for foreigners than it is for Japanese travelers: ensure that they have a fun time.
“Ardis’s group was very friendly and had very good energy. They were keen to have fun outdoors and talked a lot to the guides. There is no language or cultural barrier when it comes to enjoying outdoor activities together!”
Ardis and his team are already thinking about their next adventure. They would really like to go packrafting with Hiroko again, but for her new program for next year on multi-day packrafting tours, which involves staying in a tent overnight.
This shows a very important fact: that when a guide turns a trip into a great experience, by making things easy for their clients and offering attractive travel programs they can adapt together, they start building a kind of relationship with them. And clients are willing to choose them again when they think of a new trip.
Start planning your next adventure
Have you ever heard about packrafting? You can now consider it as an option for your next trip!
If you have the proper equipment and you go with a certified guide, this is a safe activity. A packraft’s centre of gravity is low, so it’s difficult to capsize the raft unless you do something very careless. Of course, it’s important to have helmets to protect yourself from rocks in case that happens!
About this, Ardis said: “We felt very safe and comfortable with Hiroko and Michi-san’s experience and how they were looking after us”.
If you are a beginner who wants to learn the basics and to have a taste of packrafting, you can take a look at Hiroko’s program in Minakami on Explore-Share.
Minakami is a great travel destination. As it is a mountainous area, you can practice canoeing, mountaineering and hiking. You can also visit the area during winter and enjoy plenty of snow for ski touring trips. And after an intense journey, you can relax in its amazing hot springs (onsen), which are one of the highlights of this place.
We hope Ardis’ trip to be inspiring and gave you new ideas to start planning your next adventure. On Explore-Share, you’ll find certified guides from all over the world, ready to show you incredible places and live exciting experiences!
See more picture’s of Ardi’s packrafting adventure in Minakami: