Listen to the sound of the boatwoman's song
The other noise in the background is the sound of the wooden oar
After visiting Hirugami Onsen in Nagano Prefecture earlier in the year, I decided to return in the summer to try floating down the Tenryu River in a traditional boat.
I thought this would be a literally cool way to spend part of the day but it was still baking hot for the most part.
From Nagoya, the journey is a pleasant 2 hour and thirty minute drive on Route 153 via Toyota City with a short cut on Route 39 through Korankei (香嵐渓) - where people swim and fish in summer for ayu (sweet fish) in the nearby rivers.
We spent the night at the Tenkunoshiro Sangitei hot spring in the center of Iida. This vast ryokan is situated on a hill with fine views of the surrounding southern Alps. The decor is fading glitz circa 1963 but the huge baths complete with a pleasant rotemburo (outside bath) have excellent water which feels silky smooth. There is also an interesting herbal mist sauna which certainly clears the sinuses.
I would like to return to see more of Iida, as the people seemed extremely friendly and the town has a number of interesting museums and plays host to an international puppet festival earlier in August. The surrounding countryside is also full of apple orchards and vineyards where it is possible to stop and pick your own in season.
In the morning we drove south from Iida on Route 151 to Tenryukyo, though you can also get there on a local JR train on the Iida-Toyohashi Line. There are boats roughly once an hour seemingly throughout the year and quite a crowd had gathered for our 10.30am departure. The first boat leaves at 8.20am and the last boat is at 15.45pm. Cost is presently 2,600 yen. See their website for full information (Japanese only)
We piled on to four boats and started our 45-50 minute journey downriver to Karakasa Station where you take the train back to Tenryukyo or the boat operators provide a bus if there is no connecting local train.
On the way we are given a guide to the river by the attendant boat-woman (who was quite a beauty), have our photo taken as a group (which you can buy later), stop for drinks at a boat-bar moored in the shade of the cliffs and are serenaded by the said siren in the middle of the journey.
The gorge is stunning and the water crystal clear though like most things in Japan the whole experience is probably best done mid-week in Spring or Fall.
Tenryukyo is a 30-minute drive from the historic castle town of Iida. Iida can be reached by JR train from Toyohashi on the Iida Line.
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