Tokushima: Reservoir emerges as hot spot for water sports

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Masayo Abe, left, paddles a boat while supervising children at an organized water sports event last summer on Lake Ikeda in Miyoshi.

MIYOSHI, Tokushima — Former Japanese national rafting team members have started a rental service for stand-up paddle boards (SUP) and other equipment for water sports at a reservoir in Miyoshi, Tokushima Prefecture.

The artificial lake, which was created after Ikeda Dam was built in the middle of the Yoshino River, is called Lake Ikeda. Surrounded by mountains, the surface of the lake is not easily affected by wind, making it a great place for recreational water sports.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Keita Yagisawa poses in front of the lakeside office in Miyoshi, Tokushima Prefecture.

The general incorporated association, “Chikyu no Theme Park” (Theme park of the Earth) started the business. Among the staff are Keita Yagisawa, who won the world rafting championship as a member of both the Japanese and Australian national teams; Masayo Abe, who won the world championship with the Japan women’s rafting team; and Keita Nakahashi, a former member of the Japan national rafting team.

The association rented a former lakeside inn and has been gradually building changing rooms, toilets and shower rooms so people can enjoy water sports on the lake. By next spring, they plan to open a cafe and lodging facilities, as well as a course for rafting competitions.

Although the facilities have yet to be completed, the association started operations on a trial basis on Aug. 1. They also set up an office in the former inn to allow customers to change and rest, along with renting out SUPs, life jackets and an eight-person rafting boat.

The staff also teach how to paddle a boat. They sometimes offer SUP tours around the lake and rafting classes.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
The writer, in back, rides on a stand-up paddle board.

Attracting world events

The Yoshino River is the longest in Shikoku, originating in the mountains of central Shikoku. The river is famous for Oboke and Koboke, a national natural monument with unique rocks that create a spectacular landscape. Tourists have long flocked to sightseeing boats that travel slowly down the river.

Rafting was added as one of Yoshino River’s attractions in the 1990s, locals said.

In 2017, the city hosted the World Rafting Championships along the Yoshino River. The following year, the Wakeboard World Championships 2018 was held on Lake Ikeda. Miyoshi became more recognized, attracting many athletes from Japan and abroad.

In recent years, the Miyoshi city government has been working with the private sector to promote the revitalization of the local community through water sports. In June last year, a group of local residents started a water sports event for children to help them enjoy still-water rafting and canoeing on the lake. The hope is to further popularize the sports and create more competitors.

“I want to help children learn about the fun of getting close to water,” said Abe, who instructs children.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
A wakeboarder shows off aerial techniques during the Wakeboard World Championships 2018.

More people moving to town

Hiroshi and Yoko Nishimura, who run a local construction company, have been devoted to introducing and popularizing water sports in the city. In 2004, they built a communal facility to welcome tourists, using a lot of wood to give off a feeling of warmth.

They said they wanted to revitalize the region by showcasing the Yoshino River.

The couple became a conduit between the local community and tour operators in and outside of the prefecture who were planning various events. The residents gradually gained an understanding of water sports.

Nowadays, many people from all over the country visit Miyoshi to enjoy water sports. It is believed there are 30,000 to 40,000 visitors per year.

More and more people have been moving to the area and learning about the beauty of Miyoshi through sports. Abe is among them. She was attracted to Miyoshi and moved from Osaka over 10 years ago.

Katsuhiko Susukita, a wakeboarding lover, is originally from Chiba Prefecture. He worked hard to bring the Wakeboard World Championships 2018 to Miyoshi, and he is now an employee of the city government, working as a planning supervisor.

“We’d like to raise the momentum of the entire city to support water sports and create local athletes who will go on to compete on the world stage,” said Susukita.

How to get there

Lake Ikeda is about a 10-minute drive from the Ikawa-Ikeda Interchange on the Tokushima Expressway. It costs ¥3,500 to rent a full set for SUP (board, paddle and life jacket) for two hours, and ¥2,000 to rent a full set for rafting. Guides are available for an additional fee. In the case of SUP, the fees for 2 hours are ¥5,000 for adults, ¥3,000 for children. Individual items can also be rented — for example, a life jacket for ¥1,000 per day.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
A map of the Lake Ikeda, Ikeda Town, Miyoshi City, Tokushima Prefecture