You can enjoy spectacular views along Japan’s seashore by boat, but the best way to get up close and personal with the wonders of the coastline is by sea kayak.
In the narrow, closed boat, you can explore caves, paddle among fascinating rock formations, watch schools of fish and see birds diving into the water to catch them. If you are lucky, you might even encounter bigger marine creatures such as dolphins and sharks.
No certification is required to paddle a kayak, but you should learn the basic techniques from a professional, since lightweight kayaks can easily be carried away by high winds or tidal surges.
Although sea kayaking is a relatively new sport in Japan, there are several schools and tour-guide services available on the Izu Peninsula alone.
Most of them offer half-day or single-day expeditions, but some have options combining kayaking with other activities such as camping, fishing, scuba diving and dolphin watching. The fee differs depending on the course you choose.
Spring is the ideal season for kayaking; you won’t be able to paddle long in the summer heat. In spring, all you need to wear is a T-shirt (preferably in a quick-drying synthetic fiber) and leggings over a bathing suit. If you still feel chilly you can wear a paddling jacket, but an ordinary waterproof windbreaker will also do.
The secret to enjoying kayaking lies in proper technique. While in some cases you need power (if you’re racing, surfing or paddling against a strong wind, for example), usually a good paddling technique is all that is required.
Toshiyuki Nagaoke, a sea kayak instructor who runs Paddlers’ Inn Kaito, in Shimoda, Shizuoka Prefecture, on the tip of the Izu Peninsula, points out that beginners tend to paddle only with their arms and burn out in an hour or two. He advises planting the paddle as far forward as possible and rotating your torso while keeping your elbow almost straight. To stroke more powerfully, you need to push your feet on the foot-braces while pulling the paddle.
If you master the proper paddling technique, you’ll be able to paddle all day without burning out.
Sea kayaking centers:
Paddlers’ Inn Kaito: 2639 Shirahama, Shimoda-shi, Shizuoka, (0558) 22-6779. 22,000 yen for two half-day lessons including food and lodging. See www.izu.co.jp/~kaitoinn
Zen: 1114 Yokosuka, Kamogawa-shi, Chiba, (0470) 92-0478. A half-day lesson is 7,000 yen for beginners, 8,000 yen for intermediates.
Nishi-Izu Coastal Kayaks: 323-5 Matsuzaki, Matsuzaki-cho, Kamo-gun, Shizuoka, (0558) 42-0898. 10,000 yen for an introductory course.
Hyogo Prefectural Maruyamagawa Koen: 1163 Kojima, Toyooka-shi, Hyogo, (0796) 28-3085. 9,600 yen for a one-day lesson.