Japanese Memories by Giles Chater

In a rather odd twist for someone with an outdoors background I recently found myself behind a desk in Upper Bank Street, Canary Wharf. Being cooped up like a battery hen did little for my productivity and instead I found myself reminiscing about days gone by. I kept coming back to one day in particular, a genuine fairytale and one of the highlights of my paddling career so far.

In Japan, James Fleming, Ian Letton and myself awoke to stunning views from our wild campsite at the bottom of a ski slope abandoned since  the 1998 Winter Olympics. Having scouted them the day before we had in mind to make an illegal run down Fukiware Falls, a beautiful set of falls the name of which roughly translates to “falls that split and blow”.

We hid the car a km or so upstream and ambled down like tourists to plan for our run. We knew we would have no time for faffing once we turned up with our boats. Safety was sorted, filming spots decided and a run order agreed. Even now, thinking back, I can feel the excitement building in my stomach. Awe at the scenery, apprehension about the run itself and that excited fear you get from doing something you know you shouldn’t. We had each opted for different lines and as we emerged from the forest we separated, each with only two things on our minds. Our line, and making sure we nailed our own part of the plan. I lead the charge, running river right, followed quickly by James coming river left. What a buzz as we met up in the bottom, cheers from the Japanese locals in the background as we waited for Ian to charge the centre line.

First Falls on the Fukiware River, Japan

Paddler: Giles Chater – Photo Credit: Ian Letton

We knew we could not linger although the moment screamed out to be enjoyed for as long as possible. A short section of grade three brought us to the second, considerable harder and more serious fall. This had a messy entry and a difficult landing into a horrible pot. I followed Ian down and even with a perfect line and good landing I had to fight to win free. The water pushed us downstream onto an island and looking back up through the lens of my camera I knew James was on his own, with no safety and nothing we could do to help. He got a good line but was promptly swallowed up and taken behind the curtain. Twice we saw his boat get cartwheeled before disappearing again. Finally he broke free and to this day I will not forget the sound he made. It was the single most animated and victorious howl I have ever heard and his scream of jubilation was infectious.

Big Drop on the Fukiware Falls, Japan

Paddler: James Fleming – Photo Credit: Giles Chater

It was on that unmatchable high that we descended into the bowels of the Fukiware gorge and emerged several hours later pretty sure that we would struggle to have a paddling day that good again. The big Inari falls or the super clean drops in Fox Canyon and Yamanashi were certainly highlights  of our Japan trip but nothing compared to the full emotional package that Fukiware delivered that day.

As so often is the case a big thanks to James and Ian, for making the memories and to BigDog kayaks  for yet again enabling adventures! It would be remiss of me not to offer a word of caution…the police were waiting for us at the get out and where very displeased. You have been warned.

Ian Letton on Inari Falls [Photo: Giles Chater]                 Giles Chater on Yamanashi River [Photo: Ian Letton]

First Falls on the Fukiware River

Paddler: Ian Letton – Photographer: Giles Chater