Samurai Dave: The Roving Ronin Report

Rambling Narrative of Travels, Thoughts, and Embellishments

Geibikei – Floating Thru a River Gorge in Northern Japan

Floating Through a River Gorge in Northern Japan
Geibikei Gorge – Iwate Prefecture

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Flat-bottom boats ply the river in Geibikei Gorge

In northern Japan in the prefecture of Iwate is a little known natural treasure known as Geibikei. Geibikei is a river gorge enclosed by tall rocky cliffs some 100 meters high. Visitors can take large flat-bottom boats piloted by a singing boatmen who pole along the shallow slow-moving river somewhat like the gondoliers of Venice.

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The boat pilots guide the boats with poles like the gondoliers of Venice

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The round-trip boat journey takes about an hour with a stop in the middle for a quick walkabout. The walk ends at a cul-de-sac where one can try their hand at getting a bit of luck. There’s a hole in the canyon wall across a pool which people try to cast charms into in order to get good luck. For 100 Yen ($1) visitors can purchase 5 stones that have charm characters carved into them. The five are for long life, love, luck, destiny, and your own personal wish.

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My first toss went straight into the hole and thinking myself done I gave my other charms to some of my fellow passengers. I forgot until later to see which charm was the lucky one.

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Good Luck Charms for throwing

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Visitor try to cast their good luck charms into the hole to make their luck come about

On the return, the boat pilot will sing old traditional songs that echo off the cliff walls. It’s a very serene Zen-like experience to be floating along that slow-moving river with the cliffs looming high above, the occasional piercing cry of a bird of prey on the wing, and fish swimming past as the boat pilot sings old folk medleys from long ago.

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One of the highlights of the trip is the boat pilots singing old traditional songs as they pole along

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My first visit to Geibikei was completely by accident a few years ago. My parents were visiting and having seen Tokyo and Kyoto before, they wanted to venture into the more unknown regions of Tohoku, the northern section of Japan.

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A small shrine along the river’s edge

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Tohoku is a region which often goes overlooked by overseas travelers especially by those in Japan for the first time. Tokyo and Kyoto and the surrounding areas tend to lure visitors to them and use up much of their time leaving little if any time to explore the hinterlands. It’s a shame because Tohoku has a lot to offer, Geibikei being one such place.

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I had only seen the name Geibikei in passing in one of my guidebooks. I had no intention of going there until I stumbled upon a poster of it in Hiraizumi, a town we were visiting at the time. The picture was enough for me to decide to schedule it into our itinerary.

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Although close to Hiraizumi, like much of Tohoku, Geibikei isn’t easy to reach. Trains don’t run so regularly as they do further south. We took the southbound train which runs about twice an hour to the little city of Ichinoseki where we transferred to the sometimes-once-hour-sometimes-less train to Geibikei station.

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Not much there but there was a convenient store, ever the bastion of civilization in the woolly wilds of the hinterlands or the concrete jungle of Tokyo.

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The boats can fit up to 60 people but we were fortunate not to need its full capacity. Instead we had plenty of space to have a picnic and more importantly, drink beer. Like Japanese fashion on land, we had to remove our shoes before boarding.

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We passed other boats filled to the gills with giggling school kids from junior high. My folks got a kick out of watching kids just being kids despite being in school uniforms. The kids were laughing and joking and some girls had their feet in the water.

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One boat of school kids, however, was quiet and somber. We found out why as it passed us – the school teacher was on that one. The kids on that boat were well-mannered and a little glum, no doubt cursing their luck to have wound up on the same boat as the teacher.

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For those adventurous types on the loose in the northern country, Geibikei is certainly worth a visit. Geibikei can be reached in about 30 minutes by train or bus – neither of which run frequently – from Ichinoseki in southern Iwate.

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October 3, 2009 - Posted by | Blogroll, boating, boats, geibikei, iwate, japan, japanese culture, nature, photographs, photography, tohoku, travel | , , , , , , , , ,

2 Comments »

  1. The waters look really clear.

    Comment by The Envoy | October 23, 2009 | Reply

  2. Amazing! I will go there one day…

    Comment by boattrailer | February 26, 2010 | Reply


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