Combining a historical experience with stunning views of nature, a wooden boat ride down the rapids of Kuma River in Japan’s southern island of Kyushu is perfect for both adrenaline junkies and those who want to take things slow.
With excellently preserved temples and shrines as well as castle ruins, Hitoyoshi City in Kumamoto Prefecture is renowned as a place to dive into Japan’s history. Kuma River Boating taps this heritage by offering unique rides on traditional wooden Japanese boats dating from historic times.
While cruising along, passengers can enjoy mountainous scenery along the river’s ravines and get up close to some of the area’s historic sites downstream. The crew provides a commentary on the area’s historic and natural points of interest, including pointing out birdsong from various local birds.
There are four courses available year-round: the Long Course (120–150 minutes), the Middle Course (50 minutes), the Short Course (30 minutes) and the Rapids Course (45 minutes). The Kotatsu Course (50 minutes) provides a roof and heated tables with attached rugs and is available solely in winter.
As the Kuma is one of the three fastest-flowing rivers in Japan, the Rapids Course offers a thrilling ride, while the others offer a more tranquil experience.
While on slower-moving water, passengers can try steering the boat using the traditional heavy, long wooden paddle, supported all the while by the skippers.
Each traditional boat can fit up to 12 people, but a number of boats can depart in succession, helping to accommodate larger groups. Groups can book out an entire boat or fleet of boats. Prices range from US$299 to US$598 per boat, depending on the course.
As various courses are available, the activity is ideal for diverse groups. The year-round availability is also helpful.
There is a comfortable waiting area at the departure point where guests can sit, shop or have refreshments.
A free shuttle bus is available from the end point of the river cruise to the start point, so groups do not have to arrange transport to return.
A professional photographer located downstream will take the group’s picture, which is available for sale after the cruise.
The skippers happily pointed out local historic sites and encouraged us to steer the boat. I was impressed with their teaching skill and patience.