Iwate kayaking trip

November 18, 2006

I had planned a weekend in Iwate, camping over night and kayaking both days but cautiousness got the better of me and I didn’t camp.


Above is the put in as seen from the sea. This was a poor choice by me and it ended up as one of the reasons for me not camping: the put in was pretty rough: I got wet going out through the dumping surf and I was worried that if the weather changed on Sunday I wouldn’t be able to get back in. Even though the waves were small a steep beach with an odd shape meant they were uncomfortably dumping.

I started paddling at 11am after a massive 5 hour drive from Matsushima.

Along the way, I stopped in a town called kaminishi to visit Mesa, a kayaking shop run by Kusayama-san. He was very friendly and offered me some good advice about the area and the weather and what to look out for.

Between now (mid November) and the end of December they stop all kayaking because of the North West winds which are very strong.Kusayama-san cautioned against this wind and advised to stay near shore and the protection of the cliffs.
He also speaks good English and runs kayak tours so if you are heading to Iwate give him a call.

At his shop I also met Hiroko Takeuchi who runs Relaxing Program Sora, one of the kayak tour companies I list under tours and schools.


From 11 to 3 I paddled south from Taro along the beautiful Sanriku coastline. As you can see from the pictures it is very exposed with cliffs and rock gardens and few stopping points.


There was a 1m swell from the east and light winds as forecast…

But as the day progressed the winds increased a bit. They got particlarly strong at the peninsula tips making photogrphy difficult.


But the weather was really beautiful: blue skies and sunny. The temperature was about 10 degrees in the sun but with wind chill and shade felt close to freezing. The water was 15 degrees, not too bad.


It was really a beautiful coastline.


But spoiled by some made made things. In the above photo, on top of the cliff is a cheap plastic hotel with faux Islamic detailing and green roofs.


The scale of the coast is quite amazing. On these huge slab rocks there is a man standing, fishing. Can you see him? (Sorry for the bad photos – the sun just washed everything out and my camera is rubbish too).

At 2.30pm I stopped at a tiny beach to put on more clothes, as it was getting colder. So far I had gone about 8km and not seen a decent beach worth camping at, this was the first where landing was easyish. The beaches on the map shown as possible places to camp were ‘inhabited’ and this wasn’t the idea I had when planning this trip – I wanted to be in the wilderness. The other beaches were either tiny ledges or very difficult landings. Swimming the kayak in is fun in August but not that attractive in November…

I suppose I had an idea of Iwate as like the Highlands in Scotland – really away from civilisation. There are places in Scotland where the nearest house is 20 miles (in North America this distnace increases exponentially). In Japan I now realise this kind of wilderness simply doesn’t exist – at least on the coastline. (Maybe Hokkaido?) Japan is simply too densly populated and along pretty much the whole coast there are houses, villages and towns on every peice fo flat land.

Driving through Iwate I was struck by this. I had expected the ‘towniness’ of Miyagi to gradually fade as I drove north into the deep ‘Inaka’ but it didn’t and remained a constant throughout.

So here i was, stopped on this tiny beach with its steep slope and dumping surf thinking about what to do. I had an hour and a half before the sun set, then maybe 30 minutes more of usable light. I could carry on south towards Miyako and hope to find a good camping spot, there were probably some places. Or I could go back and camp by the car.

I decided to go back. Basically I chickened out of going south worried about not having enough information about the coast, the freshening wind and the problem of what to do should the weather change overnight. Also fresh in my mind was the poor choice of put in beach.

I think chickening out though was the right thing to do. It was an unfamiliar location, the weather was cold and most importantly I was on my own. If you paddle on your own you have to be overcautious I think.

Anyway after a solid 90 minutes of paddling into the wind and waves I got back to the put-in beach. Despite hanging around trying to time my run in I still got dumped by the surf as predicted. I then decided against camping. There were quite a few cars coming and going, stopping to look out to sea from the view point and I didn’t feel it was that safe. It was also pretty cold and home comforts beckoned.

But I did use my new trangia, (more on that tomorrow) to make dinner. Then on the way home I had an onsen in Miyako, as I luxuriated in the steaming hot baths remembered a few things:

1. Japan is great

2. I am old and not into ‘roughing it’ anymore

Lastly here is my route map (see also previous post on route 11)



2 Responses to “Iwate kayaking trip”

  1. komi Says:

    As far as I know, you can camp at only a few places (almost none at beach) in the Iwate coast.
    I am glad to hear you stopped at Mesa and talked with Kusayama-san before you put out. I was a bit warried about you lost in a heavy north/west wind blown this time of year.
    While you were paddling up norht, I was paddled in Hirota bay at Rikuzen Takaka, Iwate (most southrn town of costal Iwate). Here is not a great place to paddle but it is safer spot when wind and wave is concerned. The bay is protected by peninsulas and has less influences of wind.
    Hope to see you on ocean one day.

  2. Hi komi!

    Thanks for your advice to stop by at Mesa. It was a good idea and good to meet Kusayama-san. In hindsight I should have gone paddling at Hirota bay too – it would have saved me 4 hours of driving! And as you say would have provided safer paddling.

    Thanks again

    ps me too

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