Our trip to Japan this year was a few weeks later than usual- the end of September and beginning of October. It was a bit after the rainy season and the rivers ran low and clean. My guest of honor this year was Joshua Tracy from Charolettesville, Virginia.
Josh is an experienced global traveler and was always cued up and ready for the next thing at each airport. Me~not so much. First evidenced at LAX where he figured out we needed to be in a different terminal for our ANA leg of the trip. I felt like we had time and walking was a good idea- he bolted on ahead to make sure.
Long story short- I ended up getting lost on bad advice- lots of contradicting advice- and they were saying my name on the intercom a lot- and I had to run a lot. Finally landed hard in my seat on the plane and the young guy next to me signaled with his hands and proclaimed me “SAFE!”
After landing in Narita we were picked up by our helpful babysitter- my old friend, Iimura-san. Domo arigato gozaimasu Iimura-san!!
He is an excellent chiropractor and was able to help me fight off an ancient rorator cuff injury I’ve had since the 80’s.
Here’s a familiar sight to all my fellow Japan travelers- Hiro’s Palace on the hill overlooking beautiful Sagomi-ko- (lake) just to the west of Tokyo. This place is like an oasis- easy living and quiet with little traffic. This year I changed things up a bit though by re-chopping (sizing) my friend Motchan’s boat in the driveway. It was just a liiiitle dusty and I cleaned up as best I could.
First on the to-do list was a trip to nearby Fuji National Park where we got to see ‘Black Fuji’ which is a rare and fortuitous view~I’ve since learned.
Josh asked me if that was Fuji-san and I said, “No- Fuji always has snow.” I’m often a font of information- not all of it good.
Our friend Enomoto-san is very tolerant of ‘gaijin’. His answer is often, “No problem!”
Then on to a nearby aquarium which had cool fish-eye-view walls.
Made out of very thick glass.
And then we saw these reallly large fish realllly close to shore and Hiro was all like, “I wonder if they’re hungry?”
And then we found this cool expensive looking playground where maybe kids can play too much. And Josh was all like, “I got dis…”
It was non-stop action as we moved on to a museum with these sharp-looking ancient arrowheads~ well-crafted of course!
It was a calm warm afternoon and we encountered some retired gentlemen catching a moment’s peace by tempting trout from the cool, clean, fast, shallow waters.
Josh in his humble museum slippers meeting “Kuma” up close.
The next day we went to meet a famous paddle and wooden boat maker named Yamada-san in the Naguri region north of Tokyo.
There were also many other Buddhist temples in the area.
I showed off to Yamada-san with a nice paddle throw right before we left and then it was lunchtime~ but we were way out in the boonies and restaurants were hard to find. But then Iimura found us this memorable little curry house at the base of a ‘lucky mountain’ where there’s a special rock and shrine where ‘dreams come true’. And you could also buy a used car there if you want…
The matron of the house was an exuberent woman who grew and hand-rolled her own tea. We bought some- it was so good! The meal was excellent- but I need to pick up the pace of the story here or we’ll never get done.
And then we found this mondo bell and rang it for good luck and to remind the people in the area that it was time to do something.!
OK- let’s go boating in Hiro’s incredibly nice new van! We also drove on a new highway around the south side of Honshu Island to go see the new mystery spot where the Squirtogether championships would be held this year ~ a place named “Akabeko” meaning “Red Bull”~ on a crystal clear trout stream named the Toyogawa.
And then for the evening we were glad to go to the Borobas campground where Joshua was lucky to spot some Buddhist monks keeping things nice-
He is quite a celebrity in Japan and has even had the Royal Prince visit his shop. He sees many tourists every year. That sailboat to the right of Iimura was about 10 feet long. This guy has done SO MUCH work in his life.
So after a delicious and fun meal we hiked up the hill to the lucky rock and temple. Left a coin in the spring water there for the fates- as people have been doing for years.
more cool shots of Naguri Canoe
Next we traveled to the Mitake region where the Japanese National Slalom team was training and assembled for their team trials. We went to meet up with Motoko Ishida to help her re-size a squirt boat I built for her. She is a top expert and champion in the squirt boating world and has to have her equipment ‘just so’. Our friend, Taiki Sugawara, had all the tools and equipment I would need shipped down from Sapporo- very helpful. So- Josh is all drooling at the beautiful river and one of Motoko’s friends offers him a boat to play with- Josh is happy for the meanwhile. We duck taped Motoko’s boat back together and then went to the water to see if it was small enough. Within 10 minutes Motoko was convinced it suited her. I would finish up the inside seams and end pours in Hiro’s driveway over the next few days.
The next day Joshua went and sampled the “JB” mystery arena which has somewhat diminished from its previous glory- due to typhoon floods. This happens regularly in Japan- mystery spots come and go over the course of years- but re-generate in specific spots often due to the bedrock structure of the gravel filled rivers. I stayed back and worked on Motoko’s boat.
pretty fancy stuff! and quite serene…
It was only a couple meters deep and the geometry was good though complex. Not fickle- but not easy to exploit either. It was so intensely clean you could see fish every time you went in for a mystery.
Today we hooked up with Sue-san- a local expert and good friend. He is a retired auto worker and spends a lot of his time hunting….new mystery spots. He showed us a couple new ones which we enjoyed.
The first was called “Daitokai” which means ‘Downtown’- good name for a drop zone.
Such a cool little spot! 4.5’ deep in one spot and highly retentive. It was two microslabs coming together at maybe a 120 degree angle with a deep spot in the gravel exactly there. Maybe 100 cfs total. With more water this could be PHENOMINAL!
It’s a peaceful place although they are building a huge bridge over the valley. I stayed in my zombie disguise to keep the paparazzi from hounding me.
This clip will give you a good idea what it was like.
We told her we like to ride whirlpools and she said whirlpools are the spirit of the river made real.
This was right at the outflow of a large dam and after about an hour- we had a helicopter flying over us trying to figure out what we were up to -or down with. And then the river right trib suddenly came up and got muddy and ruined the spot. So- we ate lunch and went and explored another new spot further downstream. It was a cool convergence that again would be so awesome with 3 more inches of water. I hope I get to play these places again!
Check out this new highwall where the old gradual beach has been eradicated. I can’t wait for it to come back. It needs a typhoon flood of just the right cfs has to happen and resonate in such a way off the river left cliffs so that it scoops a 3 meter deep spot right there at the base of the island convergence. A nice 30 foot round bowl like it used to be please.
Then later we went to see what is left of Borobus- which has changed dramatically from the last time I played here at the World Mystery Championships in 2010.
And a nice spot near the campground, named Tombo, was also affected badly by typhoons:
That night we had too much fun and laughed too much- thanks to Hideo-san.
Then the next day it was game on for the Squirtogether! (Japan’s squirt boating championship). We went to a park near the Akabeko competition site and met everybody. This year we were surprised to see Aoki-san with a new squirt design he created- but hasn’t named yet. It has a lot of cool features- like footbumps on the hull as well as the deck. The design and plug work was super clean and he even uses a tongue and groove seam.
Every year there are individual champion trophies and also a passed down trophy. And this year I brought special food for my zombie family.
And then on with the sessions at Akabeko! It was a real subtle drop that they say is epic at higher levels. It was really fun and there were lots of fish in the super clean water. We didn’t scare them at all!
Retired champion Marcy Hayakawa-san is on good terms with the fishes.
Then I had an interesting encounter when I got to the top of the waiting line in the eddy on the left here;
with a poisonous Asian Tiger snake that wanted to crawl up my chest and get up in my face!!
I basically spazzed out and taught him to fly by flicking him off me with my hand paddle. But I was watching out for him every time I got back in that neighborhood…
So the mysteries went on for hours until everyone was pretty played out and ready for the sento (public hot baths- a common way for travellers in Japan to bathe). And then the party!
Josh set up his tent and asked everyone to sign it as a nice remembrance of the trip.
And then….. we were surprised when our Japanese hosts asked us to try to teach something about mysteries. So- we tried to have a class- but we were drunk…
and it wasn’t long before we were doing charades and no one was guessing correctly- it was really fun though….
SUNDAY~~ was the competition day. One of the best zombies- Shiroto-san won last year- but his competition was strong this year– including Kuma-chan- the paddler who did the first ever “Flying Fish”- where you come up from a mystery so fast your boat flies completely into the air and you do a flip in the air and land nice and flat on the water.
The guests of honor would choose opponents in this one-on-one contest- by randomly selecting paddles from a pile- hoping not to pit the best paddlers against each other~~ until later…
Well- the contest was really fun to watch- even though it was broiling hot out. The best paddlers used very subtle technique and really exploited the place for all it was worth. In the end- there was a NEW CHAMPION! Someone who has never won before although he is certainly one of the best- Kuma-chan! (His name means “Little Bear”)
Kuma-chan is a first rate carpenter and maybe the humblest guy in the world.
And Yoshiiko won the women’s prize. She’s really good.
There was a lot of good spirit- everyone had a really good time. It’ll be great to play here again someday!
On Monday we had maybe the fullest day. We toured Tokyo. Sadly our host, Hiro, had an uncle pass away recently and Hiro had to go to his funeral in the morning. It was very formal so while he was there we spent time walking around and seeing the sights.
Iimura-san tried his best to keep us out of trouble as we visited the busy electronics section of town ~ Akihabara.
And he took us to a serene park-like area of the city.
Then we got back together with Hiro and Hideo-san for more adventures- starting with the popular Sensoji Temple.
It was packed- including a large number of Chinese tourists and western visitors. You could buy all kinds of nice things including swords in these booths.
To get to the temple you have to go through this gate which is guarded by two gnarly dieties behind the screens at both sides on the bottom.
They really take their incense seriously at these temples.
And sandals are real big here as well. Josh poses to show scale.
The inside of the temple was too fancy for the likes of us- so we admired from afar- and then bought little paper fortunes ~ mine said something about being careful in airports I think.
Masterful traditional woodwork and art for the ceilings.
Then… let’s go for a river cruise through Tokyo in the setting sun! But just before we departed these young lasses started stalking Joshua- he just smiled and waved. These things happen. The older lady in the background gave me a smile and a wink I think.
Yeah~ it was like that!
Then we dove into the underground city of Tokyo- where it’s really buzzing at night. Eventually we would meet up with last year’s Squirtogether Womens Champ- Soko-san~ for some fine dining in the Shinbashi district..
Oh no! Don’t detour into the pachinko palace- they are too loud!
First Hideo-san showed us his favorite kind of restaurant- this is where REAL Tokyo ‘salarymen’ eat. See the little shelves for their briefcases?
This place was small and yummy and loud.
Then Josh took it to the next level– a stand up sushi bar was calling his name. His eyes started rolling up in his head when he started sampling the goods.
It was every bit as good as he had hoped.
We finished up at this barbecue where we spent a couple hours. It was really nice of everyone to join us for this memorable last evening.
We ran across this well-decorated van at a rest stop- very Japanese!
Our last day was a flurry of packing and driving to Narita airport. Then at one of the restaurants at the airport we shared our final meal with Iimura-san- our main babysitter on this trip. I had a delicious pesto pasta with avacados- cho oishi! Then Iimura insisted on paying for the meal and I wanted to as well. We decided to sort it out mano a mano in the field of battle with a full-on arm wrestle- very American.
Suddenly I worried about breaking his arm off and making it hard for him to drive home- so I let him win.
Wow! We get to fly to LAX in the new Dreamliner! It really was a pleasant experience even though we hit some BIG air bumps over the middle of the Pacific.
Soon we would be re-engaging our *real world* lives~ leaving Japan far behind. Memories, photos, and smiles would be all that remain.
Oh wait! I found a poisonous Mukade millipede in my suitcase when I got home. He was about 6” long and I found him before he found me.
To sum it up- this has been the ‘short version’ of the trip- we really did a lot more than this- including another memorable meal at Shu-san’s incredible organic restaurant. Our Japanese hosts were really gracious and accommodating and really took care of us and made us feel like stars! Hopefully we can pay them back when they come to visit us sometime. This was my firt time to try Akabeko and I hope it’s not the last. The water was super clean. Wow- we did so much but it seemed to happen so fast!