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What is Sawanobori?

Japan: a mecca for Sawanobori fanatics

Follow a clear stream through a canyon and climb the waterfall that lies at stream's end. Scale a cliff and enjoy a natural shower courtesy of the small waterfalls you encounter along the way. Move from valley to valley, descending every gorge you find and then ascending the same gorge via a picturesque hidden cataract. These experiences and many more represent Sawanobori's charm and excitement, which can't be duplicated by trekking or mountain climbing. And truly, there's no better place for Sawanobori than Japan. One reason why is Japan's many steep mountains. Another reason is the year-round water flow in Japan's countless valleys. Japan also benefits from mountains residing at the perfect "Sawanobori altitude". Higher-altitude mountains such as the Himalayas and the Alps have too much snow and ice, making Sawanobori almost impossible. Simply put, Japan is heaven on earth for Sawanobori aficionados. So whether you live in Japan or are just visiting, all you need do is look out your front door -. chances are your next (or first) Sawanobori experience is only a short drive away!

Komegosawa, in the Niigata Prefecture and part of the Uono River water system, is a wide, picturesque stream. The splendid scenery and huge slabs of rock are breathtaking, and unlike anything to be found near Tokyo.

The Yubiso River, a Tone River tributary, is a very popular spot for experiencing Sawanobori's pleasures and challenges. Some years the snow lingers longer than others, so the degree of difficulty varies.

If the ledge isn't too high and the water below is danger-free, dive in! This is a special experience unique to Sawanobori, one that's guaranteed to raise your spirits and get your adrenalin pumping!

Top) what's the best way to cross the river? If the current isn't too strong, you can swim!
Bottom) if the current is too strong to swim, use the Tyrolean traverse method instead. It's very useful, but requires good teamwork!

Sawanobori means excitement!

"The best part about Sawanobori is that it combines popular activites like climbing and swimming in a beautiful natural setting," says Etsuro Shikishima, Japan's foremost Sawanobori expert. "Rock-climbing is sometimes unfulfilling because its main purpose is typically to break a record. Contrarily, Sawanobori allows you to simply have fun and be a kid again. It's casual exploratory play for adults." Whether you're crossing a gorge using the Tyrolean traverse method, swimming a shallow river or diving in a small waterfall basin, Sawanobori offers never-ending fun. For safety reasons, and for added fun, you should do Sawanobori in a goup . an"expedition party", if you like. "Working with your friends to decide how to cross a ravine or climb a waterfall is a rewarding experience," says Shikishima. "Overcome nature using teamwork and share the rewards. You might need to scale a cliff using ropes, or boost someone up on your shoulders. Sawanobori requires brains as well as brawn. That's why it never gets boring!"

You can do Sawanobori solo, but it's far more fun (and safer too) to share the experience with friends. In addition to experiencing nature and problem-solving together, you can camp on a mountain and enjoy tent setup, firewood collecting, fishing and cooking. The ideal time for Sawanobori is April - October, with June, July and August being especially good months since the water temperature is just right!

Etsuro Shikishima: born 1951 in Kumamoto prefecture. His life reads like an adventure story. He's conquered the rocks and rivers of major Japanese mountains including Mount Tanigawa, Mount Kita, Mount Hotaka, the Akaishi Mountains (Southern Alps) and the Kiso Mountains (Central Alps), as well as countless tall peaks worldwide, in such places as the Himalayas, Dhaulagiri V, the Andes, the Amazon and Africa. Regarded as a Sawanobori pioneer, Shikishima teaches a Sawanobori workshop at ORIZZONTE Mountaineering School and has authored many books, including Ketteiban Kanto Shuhen Sawanobori Best 50 Courses and Sawanobori no Susume. His most recent book is Nihon Hyakufuji; Furusato hyaku Meizan.