Located at an altitude of 1,731m lies Sugenuma, the clearest fresh water lake on the mainland of Japan. Bluebird Canoe offers the ultimate adventure of canoeing, kayaking and stand up paddling in these waters. Our guide, Kuwano-san, with a big smile and some drops of water on his face, says: “everyone turns into a child at Sugenuma!”
Two active and energetic men run this Sugenuma experience in the summer. Kuwano-san is the owner of Bluebird Canoe and Numano-san has his company called High Five Mountain Works. Due to the altitude and hence the cooler weather the season only lasts from August to September.
So besides working at the lake, they are also hiking guides in the Gunma prefecture and in the winter you will find them snowboarding on Katashina’s ski slopes. Kuwano-san is also a professional photographer – he especially enjoys taking shots of snowboarders. So together they have traveled through Europe snowboarding & documenting their winter adventures. The two friends love nature and outdoor activities – hence, Katashina with all its diversity is the place where they settled down.
As Aya & I arrive, Numano-san and his second oldest daughter happily greet us. I recognize Numano-san’s face, realizing that he was my guide during the hike up to the peak of Mt. Hotaka. They lead us to the shore of the lake to feel the water temperature. A little cold, around 14 degrees Celsius, so I am very happy when Numano-san tells me to go and try on the wetsuit he had already picked out for me.
A little later, we see Kuwano-san running towards us. He had picked up a hitchhiker along the way and apologizes for being late. After a brief introductory session we finally get into the water – Kuwano-san in a Canoe, Aya san and another tourist in Kayaks and Numano-san, his daughter & I on stand up paddle boards.
It is the first time I am trying stand up paddle boarding – so I start off on my knees. However, shortly after I stand up on my feet and try to improve my paddling while following Numano-san’s tips. He waves his hand towards me, telling me to paddle closer to the shore – I quickly realize why. As I stand on my board, silently paddling on the calm lake it is very easy to spot several large rainbow trout swimming next to me in the clear water.
Sugenuma is split into 3 parts/lakes that are connected: Shimizu-numa, Benten-numa and Kita-mata-numa. As we reach the second part of the lake, Numano-san points to a perfectly ‘laid out’ deer skeleton on the bottom of the lake. It is amazing how crystal clear these waters are. As we reach the centre of Benten-numa, Numano-san’s daughter jumps off her board and into the water. The water here is a lot warmer than the first part of the lake, around 19 degrees Celsius. The fresh spring water enters the lake at Shimizu-numa, causing the first part a lot colder. Feeling adventurous, I ask Numano-san if he has ever tried jumping around on the board. He nods and jumps 4 times to do a full round on his board. I copy him successfully and then try to do a 180 degree jump – splash… laughter.
We continue paddling to the third part of the lake, Kita-mata-numa, and stop at their private white sand beach. Numano-san’s daughter gets out her snorkel and starts hunting for small fish and shrimp, whereas I stay on my board and practice my jumping – I even make it to a 270 degrees jump!
Numano-san shows me a SUP Yoga trick of his. He kneels on his board and in a few seconds I see him making a handstand on his board. I don’t try to copy him because I can’t even do a handstand on dry land. So instead I try a different yoga-move, while the board wobbles underneath me – the bridge.
As I happily float in the water with my life vest on, I spot a small lobster at the ground of the lake quickly waddling around. Aya does not believe me, but Kuwano-san and Numano-san come over to see this rarity – but I had sadly lost it out of my sight already.
As the others enjoy the view while sitting on the beach I go for a short test ride on Numano-san’s faster board and in the kayak. When I come back, Numano-san & Kuwano-san point to a rope in the distance – “It’s a Tarzan swing. Inga let’s go!” Together we eagerly paddle over to the rope that is tied onto a tree. Yelling like Tarzan we splash into the clear blue water. Kuwano-san dares to climb up to the top of the tree and jumps into the water. It is so fun to splash and play around freely – really just like kids!
Numano-san and his daughter stay at the beach, while the rest of us make our way back. We paddle through the lake surrounded by the mountains covered in lush forests as heavy fog softly creeps over the peaks. The rain doesn’t bother us, it is still so pretty. This place has something mystical and spiritual – I love it!
Bluebird Canoe & High Five Mountain Works
Kuwano-san & Numano-san speak basic English and are always in for a laugh. Kuwano-san and his Bluebird Canoe offer Canoe and Kayaking trips, he can take up to 16 people. Numano-san with High Five Mountain Works takes care of SUPs (Stand Up Paddling boards) – taking a maximum of 4 people in a group. They organize half a day trips and 1 day trips. In addition, to finish off a great adventurous day they also offer barbecues at their private sand beach. You always go with a guide because the weather can sometimes be a bit unpredictable and dangerous. However, apparently you are allowed to enter the privately-owned lake with your own kayak as well.
Reserve at least 1 day before you want to go. Half a day (9:00 – 12:00, you will have to be there at 8:30 to get ready before) costs 7,000 yen and a full day (10:00 – 16:00) costs 13,000 yen. You can rent a wetsuit and boots for an extra 3,000 yen.
High Five Mountain Works:
This adventurous and fun experience is definitely worth its money –
Explore for yourself & turn back into a kid at Sugenuma!