If you have been on your feet/bus/train/plane/whatever for the past while and what some down time and/or you are interested in staying in a Japanese guest house, finish the day with some well-earned drinks and a BBQ, there is an array of guest houses available to choose from. If, however, you have a large vehicle other than a Kei car, you may be a little more limited with choice as the mountain roads are very narrow and steep around Iwahara. If you want to have a bit more of a personal and more social experience then we recommend to stay in the ‘Teruya’ guest house. At 3,500JPY a night per person, how can you go wrong? All facilities are included, including a large bathtub and shower space separate from the main house, BBQs, kitchen and lounge space, bedrooms, bedding, but make sure to bring your own towels! The sunsets and sunrises are brilliantly awe-inspiring and the stars at night are endless. Should anything come up throughout the night or if you have any questions, Myself and Miki are caretakers of the ‘Teruya’ guest house and we live on site. All of the other guest houses are with local families and is a fantastic chance so see how traditional countryside Japanese folk have been living over the past centuries.
The most beautiful Canyoning I have ever participated in or worked for is at Happy Raft for sure. Happy Raft’s canyoning tours are available to sign up for from the start of July and is where I first learned how to become a Canyon guide. The canyon is on the very same mountainside as where Happy Raft is situated (depending on water levels, there is another close-by) and is thrilling to say the least. You’ll slide down waterfalls, zipline from one side to the other of the gorge, scramble across rocks and abseil down rocky faces. There is even a 40m waterfall that you’ll zipline down! The canyon is totally encroached by forest and has a very surreal and spiritual feel to it, probably why there are shrines surrounding the area to pay respects to the forest spirits. Spooky.
Furthermore, there is also a couple of local hiking circuits that is a must-do if you are in the area. These trails are ancient Samurai-built trails that have history dating back to 942AD some 1000+ years ago! Be sure to grab a map called ‘Kiriishi Canyon trekking map’ with English versions available as well. Choose from two main courses, long course being about 2 hours long, and the short course taking around an hour to complete depending on fitness levels. On the map you will also see an optional 30 min course for those who become totally entranced with the place and want to see it all. The tracks have been recently marked, are very clear and simple to follow and correspond to the map accurately. Be sure to keep an eye out for Lookout points, shrines, masonry tracks and flower gardens. A significant number of stone statues can also be found along the way so keep your eyes peeled! On the back of the map you’ll find some local history, stories and events that occur throughout the year that makes you really feel a part of what you are surrounded by and seeing.
Be sure to go to an Onsen after all this action and excitement to unwind and soak in a local hot bath to release all the hard work you have just participated in. Three main local spots are at Sun River Onsen, Mannaka Onsen, which are both within 10km from Happy Raft, and our personal favourite Matsuogawa Onsen which is quite a bit further than the other two but is much more personal and scenic.
Kochi-shi is the closest main city and is very famous for it’s variations of seafood, in particular, Katsuo tataki (Hay-fire seared bonito steaks) which are incredibly delicious and smoky. The best place to check out in Kochi for ease and accessibility to everything food, beer and socialisation has to Hirome Ichiba. Hirome Ichiba is one of my favourite places to go for selection of foods and meeting up with people, do not be afraid to approach a table of people and try to speak a bit of Japanese and ask to sit down and join them even! Hirome is locally known for meet-ups and socialising, and Kochi is not like any other Japanese city and is very sociable.
I could go-on endlessly about things you can do in Shikoku and just to get a few extra outstanding things to do off my chest, look up ‘Shimanami Kaido’ if you want to ride a bike between one city to another connecting the dots of islands with bridges over 80km, ‘Kashiwajima’ for snorkelling, diving, fishing and camping, ‘Oki beach’ for long stretches of white sand beach that give North Australian beaches a run for their money, and ‘Iya Valley’ and ‘Kazurabashi’ for stunning mountain towns and vine bridges that smaller Samurai villagers used to use as a Security system to escape larger clans of Samurai that threatened them 1000 years ago. Shikoku has literally everything you could want to do on a trip if you are travelling short-term or long-term and are a thrill-seeker or a family looking to have a bonding experience.
Be sure to call Happy Raft and make a reservation well in advance if you are planning a trip and be aware that during Obon (August) prices will be at a holiday rate. We look forward to seeing you soon and I hope to meet you face to face!
Ryan Forrest White Macfarlane