“Shimanto River” Known as The Last Clear Stream in Japan. Discover Unknown Hot Springs, Enjoy The Natural Eel Specialist And More! (Part 1)

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“Shimanto River” Known as The Last Clear Stream in Japan. Discover Unknown Hot Springs, Enjoy The Natural Eel Specialist And More! (Part 1)

Our search for the river’s source begins at the mouth of Shimanto River, which overlooks Tosa Bay. From here, we will travel by a small boat to the source of the river. When heavy rains pound the Shimanto area, the river water tends to become slightly murky. Each turn on the Shimanto River brings a view that can only be enjoyed by boat. The surrounding forests, which are very old, are valuable nature spots. Most rivers in Japan have been paved with asphalt but this river remains untouched. It is no wonder that the river is called "the last clear stream". Another reason for its untouched beauty is that there are no cities located along its banks. Even Nakamura, a large city downstream, is a short distance from the river. The riverbanks remain unchanged, thus helping to preserve the natural beauty of Shimanto River.

As the boat makes its way to the source of the river, it will pass under Shimanto Oohashi. This huge and high bridge is closest to the coast. During the boat ride, look out for fishermen along the way. Freshwater prawns and other fish abound in the clear waters of Shimanto River. There are about 60 fishermen in the area, who make a living off the river’s rich bounty. You can watch these fishermen hard at work. For example, observe how they use a traditional fishing method using a casting net. Throwing the net into the water requires a lot of skill. Some of the common things caught here are mullet and black porgy. Another traditional fishing method in this region is called shibazuke. It involves tying up thin bamboo branches and placing them in the water. Things such as fish and shrimp get trapped while hiding within the branches. Other types of seafood which are caught using this method include eels, crabs and prawns. In fact, wild eels are a speciality of Shimanto River.

To try these delicious eels, make a stopover and head to Shimanto-ya, a restaurant which has appeared in the hit manga “Oishinbo”. The owner of the restaurant is a fisherman too. He grills the eels over hot coals without steaming them. This is believed to help preserve the flavour of the eels. The eels are then dipped in a sauce and grilled again. The unaju set costs 3,600 yen. Another popular treat at the restaurant is eel liver.

Continue your 196km-journey to the source of Shimanto River by boat. The beautiful Shimanto River attracts lots of tourists so don’t be surprised if you come across a sightseeing boat. The next leg of the adventure will take you deep into the countryside. The scenery changes and you can admire the beautiful mountains and widespread forest from here on. You will also pass low water crossings. When the river floods, the crossings disappear beneath the water. That's why they're called chinkabashi. Shimanto River has 47 big and small chinkabashi crossings. Most of them have been around for ages and the locals use them regularly.

You will soon reach the middle of the river’s path. The landscape from here is breathtaking. You will also notice a chinkabashi which is broken. According to the locals, this bridge collapsed from “old age” about three years ago. There are plans to rebuild it. Dock your boat at Kuchiyanai, a small residential area made up of 70 houses. You will see a small shrine for a few jizos. There are also several chadous along the river, built for those going on a special 88-location pilgrimage. In the past, there were more people undertaking this major pilgrimage. They would visit all the 88 sites. Though fewer people make this pilgrimage now, locals maintain these chadous and use them for gatherings instead. Shimanto River is also called a wild river. Once every few decades, severe heavy rains would “swallow” houses that are 40 feet away from the river.

Since the source of the river is still quite a distance away, you can stay the night at an inn called Senba. This small private home is also the only inn in the area and it boasts a fantastic view of the surroundings. After a relaxing bath, feast on a dinner featuring delicacies such as yamato tenaga ebi and mokuzu crab from Shimanto River. The crabs are caught by laying traps with food and letting them sit overnight. They can only be caught between August and October.

On the second day of this 196-km journey to the source of the Shimanto River, take the boat to the chinkabashi near Iwama. This is said to be the most beautiful part of the river. However, the water is really shallow here, so do be careful when manoeuvring the boat. It gets shallower nearer the top of the river, so don’t be alarmed if your boat happens to get scraped on some rocks. If the area is too shallow and the boat can’t go through, some travellers would make a stop at the nearest shoreline and drive a few miles before continuing their boat journey from a shoreline with deeper waters. However you would need to make arrangements to transport the boat to the next shoreline.

Take a break by having a meal at the Iwaki restaurant. Its udon is highly recommended. What makes the restaurant’s udon special is that the chef mixes green nori into the noodle dough. The noodles are chilled after cooking, after which chilled dashi is poured over them. The dish also comes with tenaga ebi.

THIS WEEK'S TIPS:

  • A must-try item for visitors to the Shimanto River is the river’s wild eel
  • Certain portions of Shimanto River are too shallow for a boat to pass through, so arrange an alternative mode of transport

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