“As I pole my boat
On the clear waters of the Satetsu River
The clouds that dull my heavy heart
Are dispelled by the lions snout
Come see for yourself in old Iwate
This wonderful sight, unrivaled elsewhere
Take the Ofunato Line
Its not far from Ichinoseki”
A song of just eight lines but which the boatmen and women of Geibi Gorge (Geibikei) spend five minutes belting out in the original Japanese. The slow lyrics echo off the steep walls of the gorge, and the only other sound is that of a wooden pole going into the riverbed to push the boat along.
One of the boatmen with his "sao" or pole used to propel the boat.
Geibi Gorge was a kept a secret in the past from feudal lords, and remained unknown until the head of the village 100 years ago led efforts to further tourism to the area. They soon bore fruit with the gorge being designated in the 1920s as a place of scenic beauty and one of the “100 Landscapes of Japan.”
The vibe in fall
Geibi Gorge is now regarded as one of the three great gorges in Japan, but the tranquility has not changed. What does change are the colors of the season – cherry blossoms and wisteria in spring; fresh green foliage which continues into the summer; vibrant yellows, oranges and reds in fall; and snow in winter transforms the gorge into a white wonderland.
Rain, hail or snow, the boats glide up and down the gorge all year round.
The journey up and down the gorge takes 80 to 90 minutes, including 20 minutes or so to explore the end of the gorge on foot. Here visitors can try throwing lucky stones into a hole a few meters high in the cliff, said to bring good luck if they go in. There are ten clay balls to choose from, with characters such as romance, income and longevity carved into them.
A handful of lucky stones to be thrown at the end of the gorge
The cliff face here is the tallest point of the gorge, towering 124 meters above. In the deep water below at its base, there is said to be a dragon lurking in the body of a carp, waiting for its chance to rise and succeed.
Heights and depths of the gorge
The boats are made by three of the gorges boatmen, using local cedar and taking about a month to complete. Passengers can eat and drink on the boats throughout the year with snacks and lunches available, not to mention beer and sake. Popular choices include ayu sweetfish, known as the queen of river fish, and locally-made sake “Kanzan” which comes in a Geibi themed glass.
Locally made sake to be savored on the ride
Access: Geibi Gorge is a five minute walk from Geibikei station on the local JR Ofunato line, which is half an hour from Ichinoseki station in the south of Iwate Prefecture. A two-carriage Pokemon train fully decked out in Pikachu also runs on Saturdays, Sundays, national holidays and during summer holidays.
A shot of the playroom onboard the Pokemon train
© Japan Today