Action & Adventure
Extreme sports and thrill seeking may not be the first things that come to mind when you think of traditional Japanese culture, but on the Kuma River you can experience exciting boat rides in the spirit of wild old-fashioned Japanese pastimes dating back to the Edo period.
The launch point for the boats is a 20-minute walk from JR Hitoyoshi Station.
Getting to Hitoyoshi Station from Kumamoto Station can take between an hour and a half to two hours, depending on whether you take the Kyushu Odan, Kumagawa express lines, or the Hisatsu local line. Taking the local train from Kumamoto will require a change at Yatsushiro Station, while the express line will take you directly there.
By far the most unique and memorable way to travel in Hitoyoshi is by the Hitoyoshi Steam Locomotive, which departs once per day from Kumamoto Station and requires reservations well in advance.
The Kuma River is 115 kilometers long and eventually ends at the Yatsushiro Sea
Its pristine waters are rated as one of the top three most rapid rivers in the country
Flooding is common during the rainy season in June
There are a number of different courses you can choose when visiting Kuma River for a boat ride, ranging from slow and gentle to fast and thrilling.
There are two main fast routes for the rapid shallow stream: the long course or the ultra-rapid course. Expect water splashing over the sides as your boatmen - one at the front and one at the back - expertly maneuver you through the rocks.
Alternatively, the short and middle courses avoid the rapid shallows, making for a much gentler ride. Enjoy the scenery from the vantage point of your little wooden boat, and listen to the guide who will point out key features of the area.
Different options are available depending on the season, so confirm your selection before visiting to avoid disappointment. The view will also appear noticeably different depending on the time of year you visit, so bear this in mind when making travel plans. The faster routes tend to be more expensive per person, but you can hire an entire boat for groups or special events.
The wooden boat rapid rides are only available from April to October, while the gentle courses are open throughout the year, although these can sometimes be canceled due to poor weather or flooding.
During the summer months there are whitewater rafting trips, where you'll be outfitted in a helmet and life jacket as you climb aboard a modern rubber raft for a white-knuckle ride. Expect to get wet!
With 70,000 tourists taking a Kuma River boat cruise every year, this is certainly one of the most popular tourist attractions in the area.
Summer is the most popular time to visit for the warm weather and the rapid shallows, but winter has a uniquely Japanese charm: you can opt for a "kotatsu fune," a boat that includes a traditional heater to keep your feet warm while you get a view of the river that most never see.
Visit in spring for gorgeous views of Japanese cherry blossoms, or in the autumn to see the spectacular changing of the leaves. If you're lucky, you might see a yomeiri fune, a boat traditionally taken by a bride in formal kimono as she goes to meet her groom.