Tenryukyo Valley runs along the base of the Southern Alps in the far south of Nagano. It's a great area for boating on the Tenryu River and taking in the gorgeous surroundings.
Tenryukyo Valley can be accessed by train or boat.
From Tokyo's Shinjuku, take the JR Azusa to Okaya, about two hours and 30 minutes away. You can also reach Okaya in about three and a half hours from Shin-Osaka Station. From there, change to the local Iida Line.
For the Garyu Gorge, get off at Ina-Yawata Station, which is two hours and 25 minutes. Boats ply the waters from Benten Port, a 25-minute walk from the station.
For the Tenryu Gorge, disembark at Tenryukyo Station, a two hour and 40 minute trip from Okaya. Tenryukyo Port is near the station.
The Tenryu River's headwaters flow from Nagano's Lake Suwa, winding along the Ina Valley at the foot of the Southern Alps before heading toward the Pacific. At Tenryukyo, the river has cut the narrow and precipitous Garyu and Tenryu Gorges. The rugged cliffs, jagged rock formations, and abundant woodland scenery have led to a boating tradition along the river.
The tours run year-round. The fresh green of spring coincides with the flowering of mountain cherry trees. With the summer heat, you'll be glad to be on the water among the lush flora of the gorges. The spectacular scarlets and golds of fall on the emerald river is a sight to see. You can even do the tour amid the snows of winter, too, when they heat the bottom portion of the boat with a quilt covered device called a kotatsu.
For the northern Garyu Gorge, the Tenryu Funa-kudari sets off from Benten Port for a speedy 35-minute ride downstream. You'll hit some rapids along the way, and the pro guides deftly maneuver between the boulders and away from the looming cliffs. The boat zips along through this stretch of river, and since getting splashed is likely, it's best during the warmer seasons.
The ride finishes at Tokimata Station and leaves you with a choice: Head a few stops down to Tenryukyo Station for a dip in the hot spring bath, or continue boating on the next section of the river.
The Tenryu Gorge trip is longer, taking you on a 50-minute cruise. Known as the Tenryu Rhine Kudari, the tour starts from Tenryukyo Port near the station. Before beginning the boat tour, hike the easy one-hour trail starting near the station that takes in parts of the gorge.
You will leisurely coast along the gorge with the commentary of the guides. Many of the boulders and rock formations have names, and the guides gleefully point them out at every turn.
At one wide stretch of river along the way, they'll stop and demonstrate traditional net fishing techniques. They'll grill the catch right there on the boat. This is river fish as fresh as it gets.
The ride finishes near Karakasa Station, making it easy to continue your exploration. If you want to relax or warm up after the ride, head a few stations back upstream and check out the Tenryukyo Onsen area near the station.