Every year on the long weekend of October, Hyogo AJET hosts an annual rafting trip in Kochi with Happy Raft. It’s a wet and wild weekend in the stunning surrounds of rural Japan and certainly a unique way to experience one of this fair country’s hidden gems.
The trip is generally open to around 25 people and as always, spots filled up fast. The indomitable duo Lauren Keen and Jordan Smith were our intrepid organizers, rallying together drivers, hiring cars, and collecting supplies.
The drive to Kochi is a scenic one, up through the mountains and some truly beautiful areas, but don’t be fooled, google maps will tell you it’s a 3 and a half hour drive but in actuality between rest stops, detours and really slow pensioners in large trucks it works out to be more like 5 hours.
Upon arrival we were lead up the narrowest mountain path imaginable to a simply resplendent traditional Japanese home where we would be staying for the night. Our hosts, an elderly couple working with happy raft, were genuinely worried about space, insisting that we use an additional guest house up the road. However, after some coaxing and reassurance from us that the tatami downstairs was just as nice as the tatami upstairs they let us stay as a collective group. Though we were still divided by gender because heaven knows our twenty-something+, well-travelled, binge-drinking and in some cases already married, virtue needed protecting.
The night, as always, consisted of a BBQ, fending off local wildlife (in this case land crabs and large mosquitos), trying to find the mysterious second bathroom and card games. After retiring at the modest hour of 1amish and getting snuggled up in the collective futon dog pile, the storm started. Your author knows there was a storm because due to her proximity to an open window, she got wet. The rain lasted for a solid four hours and the reason it is important to mention this is that we were about to clamber into inflatable boats and go down a series of rapids.
Bleary-eyed and at various stages we emerged from our quilted-cocoons and embraced the day in ranging levels of enthusiasm and caffeine consumption before heading down the mountain to get kitted out. There’s nothing quite like wriggling into a moist wetsuit of an early morning to make you feel really alive. We were then bundled into a mini bus and taken up to our rafting point and subtly eyeballing each other as we began silently dividing into teams. I was in Team Beam Me Up Scotty which was clearly the most superior of all the teams, both in name and attractiveness.
After a brief but informative safety tutorial which could be summarized as “please don’t die or take anyone’s teeth out with your oar, now sign this legal waiver.” we got into our boats (some more gracefully than others) and headed off on our first leg of the journey. Due to the aforementioned rainfall, the river was especially rough and took little to no time sucking various members of our group under the water and trying to drown them with all the vigor of a particularly vengeful siren.
There were three “oh shit” moments in our team alone, along with a rather magnificent capsizing of another teams boat and numerous others falling out on all sides due to the wild water. In other words it was the best day ever.
At the half way point we stopped at the Happy Raft shack for a bagel lunch. Those bagels it should be noted are damn near flesh of the gods in levels of deliciousness. Your author had four and realized the lack of forethought in this decision shortly thereafter. They are really really good though, so the guilt soon subsided even if the bloated sensation didn’t.
Heading back into the water for the second half of our trip, we encountered still more furious rapids. In addition, we passed several boatfuls of tourists who goggled at our collective foreignness and snapped a few pics. We posed by flinging ourselves off a cliff face, there was cheering. The rest of the time was spent singing Disney songs loudly and off key and trying to splash other boats with as much water as possible. By the time we finally wrapped up the day and got back on land we were all utterly knackered.
After getting changed, checking out the slideshow and indulging in some cupcakes, we divided into our collective vehicles. Though one car did stay behind a bit longer to figure out what the mysterious black smoke coming out the bonnet meant. In the end however all adventurers returned safely home and got to wake up the next day feeling like they had all tried to wrestle a walrus and lost.
Again we give our sincerest thanks to the Happy Raft Company and its utterly insane rafting guides. With them we were able to have a truly spectacular and adventure filled day, even if the second cliff jump has whiskers on it. So next year if you’re interested, keep an eye out and sign up for the next Hyogo AJET rafting adventure.