Nature and Other Adventures in Gifu, Prefecture

For those of you that know me and know me well, I have a very hard time sitting still.  So when the weekends here in Japan roll around it takes all I have to not hit the ground running with John dragging behind me, because he’s exhausted from a long work week.  As I talked about in my last post I’m still trying to find balance, which also includes knowing when to sit still or embrace the constant wanderlust I have.

The majority of the time John is a good sport and is happy to partake in whatever activity I happen to find for us.  This particular weekend it happened to be white water rafting on the Nagara River in Gifu Prefecture.  The past few weekends we have been spending a lot of time in Gifu Prefecture, which is the prefecture just north of Aichi, where we live in Nagoya.  I love Gifu.  It’s just gorgeous, with so many mountains, rice fields, and traditional Japanese houses and buildings.  It’s almost untouched and it’s easy to forget that you are only an hour away from a huge metropolitan city.

Our first trip to Gifu was a few weekends ago when we hiked from Magome to Tsumago.  Two traditional Japanese towns that are connected by a post trail, which is a 7.2km hike.   Something I will highly recommend to anyone traveling in central Japan.  The hike itself at the start can me a bit challenging but overall it’s worth it.  Here are a few photos from it as a reminder of how beautiful Gifu is.

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Gorgeous mountain ranges are everywhere

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Maybe one of the coolest things about this hike was the small tea house in the middle of the trail.  An older Japanese man offers you green tea and a rest in his home.  More things that  I love about this adventure.

I didn’t really talk much about that hike in my recent blogs posts and wanted to remind everyone of the beauty that is Gifu.  Which brings me to white water rafting on the Nagara River.   I believe this is pretty popular among expats and those traveling in Japan.  Therefore, it was no surprise to us to find many other ICT’s and travelers, with the same idea we had, on the same tour group we took.  This was John and I’s first time white water rafting and we really didn’t know what to expect, besides maybe an adrenaline rush.  Which we definitely managed to get.  We had rallied a few of our new friends together for this trip and Adventure Spirits did not disappoint!

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Sadly, for us the river’s water level was lower then normal so the rapids were more rocky and not as high as normal.  Still having nothing else to compare it to I had a fantastic time.  Our guide, a guy straight out of the Outback, was pretty cool and hands down showed us an excellent time on the river.  I think he has something like 25 years of rafting experience so we were able to do some exciting tricks in the rapids.  There was even a point where another raft got stuck and our guide legit got out of the boat, climbed a bunch of rocks about 100 meters away, swam to the boat to help them get unstuck, and then proceeds to ride the rapids down back to us…say what? Maybe a little insane, but awesome none the less.  Despite the lower water level there were a few moments throughout the day that may have been touch and go, such as a pretty intense collision with another boat that almost ended very badly.  Thankfully, our guide knew exactly what to do and we managed to ride that situation out without the boat flipping over.  Maybe that was particularly a legit scary situation that I don’t want to end up in again!

So my friends, it sounds like the rafting was the most adventurous thing we did on our trip, but I think that there maybe one or two other things that had me out of my comfort zone even more then that.

Lets start with what is fondly call the “squatty potty”.  I know that I touched on this a bit in my blog post about our home finding trip, but never actually elaborated.  A “squatty potty” is basically a hole in the ground and is supposed to provide a more natural form of “relieving” yourself.  These are pretty common in Asia, however, Japan is unique in the sense that they have such advanced toilet seats that are heated and remote controlled, that often you don’t really come across eastern style toilets, but they exist and holy shoot does it suck to use them when you really gotta go.  And that friends is exactly what happened during our rafting trip.  I’ve managed to successfully avoided the “squatty” since arriving in Japan, but my time was up and I had to suck it up.  Before I continue here is a photo so you have an idea of what I’m talking about: IMG_2026This is actually a really nice one.  The one I used was no where near as great. It was filled with bugs, no handle, and smelled especially gross (just to give you a visual because I know that’s what everyone wants ;).  Talk about getting one with nature on this trip!  Also, I will say that it’s not advised to try and operate one of these things in a wetsuit.  It took coordination and balance, friends, both of which I don’t have.  It was rough.  Enough said.

And lastly, the other Japan milestone I met on this trip was an onsen. I should write a whole blog post about this, but we will just cover it here.  The rafting trip we booked included tickets to a onsen located right on the river.  For those of you that don’t know what an onsen is let me give you a little background information, these are very, very popular in Japan.  Onsen in Japanese translate to “hot spring”.  Because, Japan has many volcanos these natural hot springs are basically everywhere and the water is naturally heated.  Japan has taken full advantage of these natural hot springs and have onsen facilities almost anywhere.  They are even entire hotels, called Ryokans, that have public and private bath facilities.  This onsen happened to be public and I guess what better way to try one then to just rip the bandaid off.  So you understand what I’m talking about here are some important rules of bathing in an onsen (thankfully I had someone explain this to me before I went in…eek):

  1. You must take your shoes off when entering the facility.  Most onens have tatami mats and there for it’s shoes off
  2. Men and women bath in separate onsens
  3. NO SWIMSUITS ALLOWED…that is right you have to strip down to your birthday suite in order to enter these hot springs.
  4. Shower and cleanse every part of your body before getting in.  This is just to ensure that the water stays clean and pure.  There are always very large open shower rooms that provide shampoo and body wash to use before getting in
  5. Towels are not allowed in the onsen.  You can bring a small washcloth in with you, but you must keep it on your head and not let it touch the water
  6. Lastly, enjoy!

So…again I got one with nature.  The whole getting naked thing was a bit intimidating and I gotta be honest never realized how modest I am.   Once you get over that, it’s actually a really wonderful and relaxing expierence.  It was definitely awkward at first, especially since I happened to also be with people I know, annnnnnd about 30 other strangers, but the truth is every one else is naked too, so when in Rome (or Japan). Hotel-Kazurabashi-ryokan-onsen-Shikoku-Iya-Valley-Japan onsenI obviously could not take photos inside the onsen, but here are a few photos to give you an idea of what they look like.  The one we went to had an indoor bath and an outdoor bath.  I particular liked the outdoor part because you could look at the mountains and also enjoy the fresh air.  For anyone reading this and planning to travel to Japan, I would highly recommend trying an onsen.  Just throw that modesty thing out the window and enjoy it, because natural hot water, beautiful scenery, and the pure relaxation is totally worth it!

I have to say this past weekend was a lot of firsts for me and I’m really starting to love all the outdoor activities I can do here.  Japan has pretty much an endless amount of nature and outdoor fun and I got to be honest, it’s starting to get addicting.  I had a blast and would do it all over again.  John and I recently booked a trip to New Zealand for Christmas and we both agreed, since New Zealand is for nature enthusiasts, that another white water rafting trip is a must for us!

Unit next time!

さようなら!

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