My Experience White Water Rafting in the Oboke George

This article originally featured in the September 2020 issue of Connect.

“Okay, who here is rafting for the first time?”

I raised my hand apologetically. Fortunately, I wasn’t the only first-timer. Wait, was that a good thing? My anxiety floored the gas pedal in my heart. How dangerous were these waters again?

White water rafting in the Oboke region of Kochi seemed like a decent way to spend a Saturday when I’d clicked “going” on the Facebook group page a few weeks prior. I’d always admired the surreal, swimming pool blue rivers of Shikoku, always imagined what it must have felt like to really be in those waters while driving over the narrow bridges of rural Tokushima and Kochi.

Now, fully strapped up, helmet on my head and strange paddle in my hands, threatening to concuss anyone in my perimeter, I wondered if curiosity was a good enough rationale for signing up for my first white water rafting experience. Didn’t I need a license to do this or something?

How and why did the owners of Happy Raft trust people like me to not kill themselves and possibly everyone else on the raft?

Let’s just say, I’m not the kind of person you want on your apocalypse team. I’m not out of shape—I love to exercise. But I’m a panicker. Actually a diagnosed panicker with a genuine, bonafide panic disorder. On a lighter note, I firmly believe that if I were a cat, I’d be one of those cats who’s constantly getting freaked out by their own tail and falling off tables in funny gifs.

I managed to keep the butterflies in my stomach fluttering at a pace I could cope with while the raft guides went over what to do if you fell off the raft, what to do if someone else fell off the raft, what to do if—god forbid—your leg got stuck under a rock and it twisted and. . . . Just look at the water, I told myself. Look at the pretty blue water! Sure
is blue. You paid ¥9,000 to be here. Don’t freak out.

Then it was time to actually get in the raft and start the ride. Suddenly, I was eleven years old again, on my junior high school chorus field trip to Busch Gardens, Williamsburg, waiting in line to ride the Big Bad Wolf, my first real roller coaster. The magic of peer pressure convinced me to sit in one of those death carts, and I ended up having a great time.

They say history repeats itself, and it turns out, the magic of peer pressure works whether you’re a preteen or a twenty-something adult. I had a great time. One of the best times I’ve had since coming to Tokushima over one year ago for the JET Programme.

Our experience wasn’t without its little ticks. I was, of course, the first one to hold the paddle incorrectly, inspiring our little rafting group to dub ourselves “Team T-Grip” as a reminder to FIRMLY GRASP the handle. I stayed on constant alert after my first mistake, constantly checking my form, not wanting to be the reason our raft tipped over. I held my breath and gripped the ropes for dear life on the first few rapids. It was like being on a roller coaster without a safety belt.

There were enough calm moments to break up the chaos of the rapids. That is, until our rafting group—a mix of Tokushima and Hiroshima JETs—decided to declare war on each other’s rafts, turning the river into a hazardous battleground. Paddle splashing led to pulling and pushing one another overboard, which eventually led to outright kidnapping and raft mutiny. I felt myself being pulled backwards by an enemy’s paddle more than once. There were winners and losers but no casualties.

By the end of the day, just about every orifice on my body was full of river water. My knuckles were rubbed raw from hitting the ropes on the raft, but I had no bruises, no wounds. I’d made it out alive. More than alive, I was happy.

Looking back, I couldn’t believe how quickly I’d gone from nervous and doubtful to joyful and carefree, talking to strangers as if they were lifelong friends, cursing familiar faces for pulling me overboard and later retaliating with a splash of cold river water. I even went to an onsen afterwards, something my anxiety usually talks me out of.

I can say for certain that this experience made me braver and more relaxed, two unexpected but welcome side effects. If you have the chance to go white water rafting in Oboke, I highly recommend it. The river was even used as the location of the 2017 World Rafting Championships! Who knows how long we’ll be able to go out and appreciate nature’s gifts? Even if you have the temperament of a cat frightened by its tail, you could have an unforgettably positive experience in one of the most beautiful places on Earth.


Samantha Harris hails from the tiny mountain town of Boone, North Carolina in the United States. She has been living and working as a hight school ALT in Ishii, Tokushima since 2018. When not teaching, she is either writing, wandering around her beautiful inaka prefecture, or playing Animal Crossing.