Japan is filled with rivers, streams and of course canyons, but canyoning in Japan is not that big of a sport.
Although there are commercial companies promoting canyoning as recreational tours, you could probably count the people who do canyoning for fun on two hands who are not guides. The most popular sport is instead Sawanobori (River Climbing) where there is a large number of practitioners who do this on a weekend basis. Sho Kawa Tani in Kanagawa, just 2 hours outside of Tokyo, is one of the top destinations for sawanobori groups, clubs and mountain associations. It has everything you possible need in a sawanobori environment which is why we decided to do it in reverse canyoning style to see what it is like.
Parts of the Tanzawa Mountain Range where Sho Kawa Tani is located are quartz diorite (although basalt, limestone, sandstone can be found) which is a blessing and sometimes a curse. Sho Kawa Tani thankfully is a blessing with most of the rock being solid and not crumbling under your feet and hands like in other areas. The major issue with all canyons in this area and especially with Sho Kawa Tani being a popular sawanobori route is that it’s littered with pitons, tap in rings and trailer rope.
Finding these canyons can be quite tricky as the maps are a bit thin on the ground and require some dedicated research in finding the access points. Most of the time we are working backwards from the sawanobori notes bypassing some sections due obscure exit points. Although there is only 1 major double tiered waterfall of 30 metres and some smaller waterfalls of 10 meters or less throughout the canyon, Sho Kawa Tani is a nice long day through some of the nicest granite around. The approach is long and can take up to 1.5 hours and involves walking along a closed road for at least 30 minutes before hiking up a very under used trail to find the drop in point.
We actually missed the top section drop in point as the only feature was a man made dam and started on a side river into Sho Kawa Tani instead. From here down, there is nothing but tall granite walls and the flow of the canyon. Once in, we are committed and what an amazing place to be in. Although it is the end of November in Japan, the canyon is still warm and the recent rains have made it even better. We were also lucky that no other groups had decided to come up today.
On every exploration I always make sure to bring pitons and a bolting kit and it’s a good thing as we reached an 8 metre waterfall with nothing but smooth walls, flowing water and zero chance of a natural anchor. Finding the slimmest of cracks I bang in a couple of pitons and make a redundant anchor and off we continue.
The trickiest section was double tiered 30 metre waterfall. Rappelling to the 2nd level of the waterfall we realised that it was choked up with with a massive log jam which made it tricky for some of the party. The pull down was a pain due to the wedges in the rock and the anchor set so far back, it took some time to make sure that the angles and length were set correctly. But after all that, smooth sailing all the way down the canyon.
The canyon opens and closes up with some really nice gorge sections that can get quite dark and then some bright airy green sections which were a refreshing way to break up the day. Our favourite highlight of the canyon is the massive chockstone in centre of the canyon, where you climb up and slide all the way down. It’s even more fun with the autumn leaves all over the place. A few more down climbs and 2 small rappels, and its all over.
Last thing we have to do is figure out how we get out of the valley. The exit of the canyon along the river bed was interesting to find and took us a bit of time as there was no discernible markers at all. Finally we found some old trailer rope up the side of the river wall and assumed this was it and thankfully it was. Finally reaching to the top with the sun coming down we make the 30 minute walk back to the cars and head on to the closest onsen to relax.