VIDEO: Fun kayaking on Okinawa’s Hija River

(Photo courtesy of Umiashibi)

Though Okinawa is home to beautiful beaches to enjoy the crystal waters surrounding the island, you can also enjoy an adventure while kayaking in some of the area’s rivers.

Hijagawa is a river running along Kadena Air Base’s north side. You may have crossed the river before while driving between Kadena and Torii Station.

The river is one of the biggest on Okinawa’s main island with a 50 km2 basin area, according to the Okinawa Prefectural Government. The riverhead is near Okinawa Zoo and Museum, runs a total of 13.4 kilometers and feeds into the ocean near Kadena’s Gate 4.

Hijagawa is a great place to cool off and enjoy kayaking along calm waters and is known for being home to many crabs, gobies and a few mangrove trees.

Safety first

To start my kayaking adventure, I headed to the Kadena Fishing Port to join a tour with Okinawa Umiashibi.

After donning a life jacket and joining 10 others, we received a safety briefing from our instructor, Ami Ida, covering skills like how to use an oar to go forward or backward or make a turn.

It was my first time in a while to pick up a paddle, so I was a bit anxious, not sure if I could paddle without losing my balance. Once I got in a kayak, however, I soon felt at home. There were tourists from foreign countries among us, but Ida gave instructions in English as well, so all participants were soon on the water without difficulty.

It was shortly past 11 a.m. when we launched, and the waters were calm. There were some currents in the water that turned my kayak left and right, and it took several strokes of the paddle to get me back on the right track.

(Photo courtesy of Umiashibi)

(Photo by Shoji Kudaka)

Enjoying nature

Shortly after we departed from the port, we went under Hijagawabashi, a red bridge that I have crossed many times to go back and forth between Kadena Air Base and Torii Station. Looking up at it from water level for the first time, I realized that the bridge was beautiful. The red color stood out among the green shrubs and water that spread underneath.

There was also a riverbank underneath the bridge where some families, possibly residents of apartments nearby, were enjoying the cool breeze near the water.

Enjoying nature while still being close to the familiar local neighborhood felt very relaxing.

Once past the gate, we were welcomed by mangroves. Although they were not as thick as you might find in other parts of Okinawa, they still made me feel like I was an explorer in uncharted wilderness. Some of the people in the tour struggled to maneuver their kayak around the trees’ knotted roots, but that was part of the fun.

(Photo by Shoji Kudaka)

(Photo by Shoji Kudaka)

(Photo by Shoji Kudaka)

Indiana Jones

At one point, there was also a big Gajumaru banyan tree on the riverbank. Going through a gap in the curtains of vines hanging from branches overhead, we posed like Indiana Jones for a photo. The tree also provided shade to temporarily escape from the strong sunshine.

Up to this point we’d kayaked for over an hour, so taking time in the shade under the banyan vines was a nice break. After this, we made a U-turn and headed back to the dock.

This time, we were following the current going toward the mouth of the river. It felt much easier than paddling upstream. When we got back at the port around 1 p.m., my feet were burning after being exposed to the sunshine for more than two hours. I was a little sad that I could not find any crabs or gobies that the river is known for, but it was still a good, safe trip.

Though Okukubigawa near Camp Hansen or Gesashigawa up in the northern part of the island are other great kayaking spots on the main island, Hijagawa is a wonderful option near Kadena for a fun-filled adventure. Check it out!

(Photo by Shoji Kudaka)

(Photo by Shoji Kudaka)

Mangrove Kayak Tour 

Fee: 5,800 yen for ages 15 and over, 4,800 yen for ages 2 to 14 and under. 

*Several discounts are available, including a 500-yen discount during summer vacation (through August 31) and a 300-yen discount for online reservations.

Point of departure: Kadena Fishing Port (26.361760, 127.747210)

*Participants of kayak tours are advised to park their cars on the side of a road nearby, not in the fishing port.

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