JAPAN: The land of the rising sun
So it has taken a little time to sift through all the different photos and media from the trip so there will probably be 2 Japan updates here at SBP. I am also crazy busy trying to finish Slippery When Wet and get the last 3 trailers out and live so forgive me for my lack of updates since we have been back. Let me start out by saying that Japan was not exactly what I expected, in a good way. This country contains some of the most unique white water I have seen anywhere in the world; everything from steep committed creeking to aqua blue big water. Personally I did not expect such a versatility of white water nor the amount of big drops that litter the island. When it comes down to it the white water was AMAZING but the local people of Japan were the ones that captivated my trip.
Gallery photos courtesy of Darin McQuoid.
Before we dive into all white water some fun facts. Tokyo, Japan boasts the densest metropolitan area in the world while the surface area of Japan is only slightly smaller than that of California. The difference you ask? Well, Japan has a population of 137.5 million people while California only hosts just over 37.5 million. Since Japan is one of the most seismically active countries in the world, rock fall is real business and much different than the millions of year of glaciation displayed in California’s Sierra Nevadas. I found out early to always keep your head up, after pulling a rookie move and standing underneath my boat being roped up a cliff side. There was some rock fall that came down off my boat and luckily I missed the bulk of it but a couple small pieces caught me on the arm and it was a big wake up call to get my sh#t together.
Gallery photos courtesy of Brandy Suppi.
There were so many highlights from this trip that its hard to narrow them down. We had a great crew that all worked together to make this trip happen, so without each of them none of this would of been possible. Our largest debt of gratitude must be given to our friend and fellow paddler Yoshihiro Takahashi for not only letting up rape and abuse his van throughout the trip, but for his tolerance and kindness of hauling around 6 Americans for 17 days. Since there will be another photo update from the second part of our Japan trip, I am going to give the quick run through of what went down at the beginning. So the trip started May 9th with a drive to LA followed by a flight to Narita, Tokyo on the 10th. The team (myself, Yoshi, Cody Howard, Darin McQuoid, Ryan Knight, Nick Calderone, and Brandy Suppi) quickly hit up the Otaki slide that Cody ran on his first trip kayaking in Japan. From there we jetted up to Minakami for a fews days boating the Tone, Takarogawa, and a little drainage ditch creek that I Pton’d my brains out on. After spending a few days in that area we headed north where Yoshi fired off the first decent of the Phoenix, a 40+ footer with a shallow landing, which he styled with pure ninja steeze.
Gallery photos courtesy of Ryan Knight.
At this point we were very close to the zone that got hit hardest by the tsunami (just north of Sendi). With Yoshi’s help we decided it would be a good time to volunteer with the clean up efforts taking place over 100+ miles of eastern Japans coastline. This was where I felt my trip shift from just another kayaking mission to understanding the suffering caused from these recent disasters. You see the photos, you see the video, but nothing can really paint the real picture of destruction like being there in the flesh. We checked into RQ (one of the organizations sending out volunteers) and got set up for a day of cleaning up styrofoam from a oyster packing plant that got destroyed by the tsunami. We spent probably 8+ hrs breaking up styrofoam and putting it into rice bags to be utilized for insulation. Later in the day we were informed that the road we were cleaning up was on the way to the local elementary school. At the end of the day we got back to RQ and it really hit me how little we had done, a small drop in a large ocean of need. We returned our gear (boots, gloves, jackets) and outside RQ we were approached by an older Japanese woman who spoke very little english. She grabbed each one of our hands, looked us firmly in the eye and said “thank you”. It was in this moment of feeling our help was so insignificant that her reassurance and appreciation honestly touched my heart. I am not a super vulnerable guy or the most in touch with my feelings but in that moment I understood her completely. Just seeing foreigners out there volunteering was a huge gesture in her eyes, while in my mind all I could focus on was how miniscule our contribution was. It was empowering feeling that gratitude and interpreting the situation from another perspective, realizing that she saw people from around the world coming to help Japan in a time of need, even if it was for only a day. What I took away from that experience was that no matter how miniscule the donation or gesture every little bit helps Japan get closer to a fresh start. If you are in the position to donate to American Red Cross Japan, every little bit helps.
Gallery photos courtesy of Nick Calderone.
After our little time volunteering at RQ we continued the search for waterfalls and new rivers. Our team got skunked, put in many days of driving, and eventually came out scoring one of the most pristine one day runs I have ever had the pleasure of experiencing. We will leave it there for the first update on Japan but keep posted for more photos and the rest of the story very soon.
Huge shout out to all the sponsors that made this trip possible: Liquidlogic Kayaks, Sanuk, Five Ten, Go Pro, Matador Network, Astral Buoyancy, Hippy Tree, Level Six, Werner Paddles, Watershed, Snapdragon, Helmet Camera Central, FNA, Six Six One, Shasta Base Camp, and Dragon Graphics.