Shiribeshi-Toshibetsu Overnight Canoeing

後志利別川 | Tu-us-pet

Posted on Sep 12, 2019
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Posted on Sep 12, 2019

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38 2
Reading time: 2 min
51.4km

Distance

2 day(s)

Time

2.7 mpk

Gradient

4/5

Water clarity

Class I

Difficulty

Jun-Nov

Best season

NOTE: Unless the dam is releasing more than around 20m³/s of water (check levels here), there will be very little water from the dam to 5km downstream. In this case, we recommend putting in at the bridge just upstream of the hydro outlet (here).

The pristine Shiribeshi-Toshibetsu River (後志利別川) flows east to west across the Oshima Peninsula, about 50km north of Hakodate in southern Hokkaido. It's been judged the cleanest river in Japan dozens of years in the past. With only one Class 1+ rapid to speak of, it is well-known as a family- and beginner-friendly river for canoeing and kayaking. This overnight route starts just below the Pirika Dam, and follows the river 50km to the sea.

Thanks to Dan and El from CycleEarth for joining us on this trip.

Route Map

Need to know details

Difficulty

Overall difficulty: Intermediate (6/10)

Remoteness: 2/5
Number of portages: 3
Longest portage: 150m
Total portage distance: 250m
Overall portage difficulty: 2/5

River Details

This route is on Shiribeshi-Toshibetsu River (後志利別川), or Tu-us-pet in the Ainu indigenous language. The river is a Class A (一級河川) river, 80km in total length. This section of the river is between 15m and 60m wide , with a normal flow rate of around 0.5m/s to 1.5m/s. The gradient for this section of river is 2.7 mpk (14.26 FPM).

Weather: Windy.com weather forecast for Shiribeshi-Toshibetsu River

Water level: 24.75m and stable. No river level warnings issued. Last updated 2019/10/23 18:30 (Source).

Location

This 51km downriver trip is on the Shiribeshi-Toshibetsu River in southern Hokkaido, about 50km north of Hakodate. There are a couple of options for put-in location. If the Pirika Dam is letting out at least 20m³/s (see levels here) then putting in right below the dam (here) is feasible. The 5km from the dam to the hydro outlet is a classic pool-and-drop section of river – here’s what it looks like when the dam is letting out around 45m³/s: http://hokkaicamp.com/canoe/river/05tosibetu.htm. When we did the trip the dam was letting out 6.29m³/s, and we spent five hours lugging boats and gear down each drop. There just wasn’t enough water to paddle down, or even line the canoes down. It is likely that under most normal conditions, the Hanaishi Bridge (花石橋, here) just upstream from the hydro outlet is going to be the most feasible put in location.

For taking out at the end of the trip, there is a convenient sandy parking area atop the stopbanks at the river mouth, here. Canoes and gear will need to be portaged for about 50m from the sandy river mouth beach.

General notes

The Shiribeshi-Toshibetsu River’s claim to fame is it has been selected as Japan’s cleanest river more times than any other Class A river in Japan. We can see why – the river is extraordinarily clean for the first 15km or so from the dam, and beyond this, the river stays quite clear for a good decent 20km or so. The bird-life is amazing on the river, with more kawazemi and yamazemi kingfishers we’ve ever seen in Hokkaido, as well as more tsuru cranes we’ve ever seen anywhere. The upper 5km section just below the dam is teeming with fish too.

That said, the river has seen it’s fair share of human intervention. Take a look at this PDF to see how much the river has been straightened out. While this may discourage paddlers from paddling the full length to the river mouth, we heartily recommend going the full distance. The lower 10km or so to the river mouth is teeming with bird life, and despite being very close to farmland, you’d not know it – the banks are shrouded in thick trees. The river mouth itself is a gorgeous freshwater lagoon.

This route is billed as suitable for families and beginners in many guidebooks we have on hand, but this probably assumes some level of ability and confidence in keeping a canoe or kayak in a straight line – those with very little moving water experience may be surprised at the upper Class I rapids along the route, as well as a couple of nasty strainer-corners that might be best lined down. On our trip, one of our canoes didn’t quite clear one particular low-lying branch, and capsized. Luckily everyone got out mostly unscathed, but for some bumps and bruises, and some wet clothes.

As mentioned above, the most fool-proof option for putting in on this route is just upstream from the dam outflow at the Hanaishi Bridge, about 5km downstream from the dam itself. Check the dam flow here. We paddled (and dragged and hauled) the 5km from the dam to the hydro outlet at 6.29m³/s outflow from the dam. We’d recommend at least another 10m³/s outflow from the dam to make the upper 5km section feasible, and at least 25m at Sumiyoshi Bridge to avoid too much bottoming out on many of the more interesting looking rapids.

Route description

Broadly speaking, the Shiribeshi-Toshibetsu River can be split into three sections

  • Pirika Dam to the hydro outlet | 5km, 4.3mpk | This is an absolutely gorgeous, pristine section of river. Amazing fish life. At anything less than 10m³/s outflow from the dam, however, this section would best be walked without a canoe, just to enjoy the scenery. At below 10m³/s from the dam, you’ll be lining and dragging your boat most of the way anyway (as we ended up doing).
  • Hydro outlet to Imakane Town | 30km, 2.2mpk | Beyond the hydro outlet, there’s more water in the river, so it’s much more fun in a canoe. There are easy swifts, one Class 1+ rapid, and gorgeous high cliffs. The most kingfishers we’ve ever seen in Hokkaido. Of course, keep vigilant of classic Hokkaido river hazards – namely weirs and downed-tree strainers. Ideally you’d want to run this section in water levels of 25m or more, as measured at the Sumiyoshi Bridge (water levels here). We ran it in 24.85m, and were wishing for at least another 20cm or so. Our canoe bottoms got a beating – gelcoat repairs required. There are two portages required on this section, both with steep take-outs and put-ins.
    • Nakasato Weir (中里頭首工, location): This weir is not always raised – it may be possible to paddle straight through. If it is raised, then a portage is needed, with less-than-ideal access to the river banks. It’s a steep haul of the canoes up to a grassy access area on the left side, about 75m from the weir itself. This area is fenced off with a 1m-high fence, but the fence sections seem to be moveable – we were able to drop one to the ground (not sure if they were designed to do that or not). We camped in this area. To put the canoes back into the river on the other side of the weir, carry them 200m to the end of the fencing. From there it’s again a bush-bashing steep slope down to the river.
    • Sumiyoshi Weir (住吉頭首工, location): This weir is also open sometimes. It wasn’t when we were there, requiring a steep scrambly portage around the left side. The take out is about 20m from the weir itself – just keep edging along the left side till you get to the concrete, and you’ll see a steep concrete ‘ramp’ (here). Put back in just past the weir (here), after clambering down the bank. This is about 100m of portage.
  • Imakane Town to river mouth at Setana | 16km, 0.7mpk | With a stiff headwind at times, we managed to knock this section out in about 3.5 hours. This section has the most birdlife, and the river mouth lagoon is stunning. Most of the river banks are man-made, but they’re enveloped in bushy trees. There’s one river-wide weir-like man-made drop (here) that could be run if water levels were high enough – this is used as a river-wide salmon fishing installment later in the year. When the salmon nets are up, you’ll need to portage around the right-hand side.
Route Timing
Day 1: 6hrs 0min
Day 2: 4hrs 0min

Route timing is tough on this one. It took us 5 hours to cover the 5km from the dam to the dam outlet – although two in our group were in bare feet as we dragged and pulled canoes and gear across rocky drops and shallow pools. In any case, give yourself plenty of time if the dam flow rate is anything less than 15m³/s. Once past the dam outlet, the going can be slow if the water level is anything less than around 25m at the Sumiyoshi Bridge (住吉橋) (water level station data here), as canoes will need to be lined down some of the rapids.

Transport

Public transport:

Pirika Onsen (ピリカ温泉) is accessible by public bus from the Setana-kawajiri bus stop (瀬棚川尻バス停, location) from near the takeout location at the coast. The bus runs 4-5 times per day, and will take about 1.5hrs, costing 970yen one-way (Suica and other e-money cards can be used). See the timetable here on Google: https://goo.gl/maps/bDfmFC8fEq1WFix59. Hanaishi Bridge – the preferred put-in location under most water level conditions – is also accessible by bus from the coast (timetable/route to Hanaishi Bus stop (花石バス停) here).

By car: 

The put in (Pirika Dam and Hanaishi Bridge) and take-out location are accessible by car, with plenty of parking.

Physical maps
Official Topo Map: Pirika (美利河) – map no. NK-54-21-14-1
Official Topo Map 2: Rekotsu-dake (レコツ岳) – map no. NK-54-21-14-2
Official Topo Map 3: Yatsuka (八束) – map no. NK-54-21-14-4
Official Topo Map 4: Imakane (今金) – map no. NK-54-21-14-3
Official Topo Map 5: Kitahiyama (北檜山) – map no. NK-54-27-2-2
Official Topo Map 6: Futoro (太櫓) – map no. NK-54-27-2-4

NOTE: The official 1/25000 topo map(s) above can be purchased for 350yen from Kinokuniya bookstore next to Sapporo Station or online (in Japanese).

route safety

This route is not particularly remote, in the sense that a main road is not far away at any point. However, apart from the odd gold panner, you’ll be the only ones on the river. Paddlers need to be self-sufficient. As always, be vigilant of classic Hokkaido river hazards including downed tree strainers on the outside of river bends.

Weather forecast

Windy.com weather forecast for Shiribeshi-Toshibetsu River

CampSites

Pirika Campground (ピリカキャンプ場)
The Pirika Campground had a make-over in 2017, so it is one of Hokkaido’s more well-kept campgrounds. Just next door is the Pirika Onsen, which has a shop and restaurant. For 2,500yen, you can rent a BBQ with premium wagyu beef included. They offer a full camping set rental for 8,000yen to 10,000yen per night, to accommodate four people (onsen fee included). Location: 42.46956 N / 140.20314 E | 1000 yen per person | Open: Apr-Oct | Staff hours: 7:00am till 10:00pm.
Closest Onsen: Pirika Onsen (ピリカ温泉) | 500yen | 0.1km from campground
Nakasato Weir (中里頭首工)
This wild camp spot on the Shiribeshi-Toshibetsu River is suitable in a pinch, if absolutely required. Depending on the season, you’ll need to haul your canoes up and around the weir anyway. Consists of a hard-packed gravel parking area and a raised platform. Location: 42.38642 N / 140.10387 E | Free
Closest Onsen: None
Meppu River Confluence (メップ川合流点)
This wild camp spot is on a 2m raised gravel bar at the confluence of the Meppu River into the Shiribeshi-toshibetsu River. If you really want to get away from it all, it would be a nice secluded spot to have a quiet camp on your way down the Shiribeshi-toshibetsu River. One guidebook mentions an abundance of dry driftwood. Location: 42.41765 N / 140.05259 E | Free
Closest Onsen: Tanekawa Onsen (種川温泉) | 440yen | 1.3km from campground
Imakane Riverside (今金河川敷)
This riverside wild campspot is within easy reach of the Imakane village, where you’ll find a Lawson convenience store and the Imakane Onsen hotsprings. The campsite itself doesn’t have water or toilets, but there’s a public fountain about 250m away (here), and clean public toilets 200m away (here). When we were there in August 2019 there was also a nice shady spot under a couple of small trees. Location: 42.42142 N / 140.01158 E | Free
Closest Onsen: Imakane Onsen (今金温泉) | 450yen | 0.75km from campground
Onsen nearby

There are three onsen along the way. Tanekawa Onsen (種川温泉, location, 440yen), Imakane Onsen (あったかランド今金, location, 450yen), and Kitahiyama Onsen (北檜山温泉, location, 400yen). The latter two have restaurants attached.

Extra Resources
  • Hokkaido Canoe Touring Book by Tamata (1993), p. 94-97
  • Yamakei River Touring Map by Yamato (2005), p. 54-55

Photo Gallery

Show Full Route Notes Close Route Notes

Route Trip Notes

Distance: 0km | ↓ GPX file

This is a two-day down-river trip, but I’m adding this extra day here because realistically, it took us the better part of a day getting from Sapporo to Pirika Dam, dropping the canoes off, getting the car to the end point, and busing back to the dam. I was impressed with the bus service from the Setana-kawajiri (瀬棚川尻) bus stop (here), there were buses heading for the dam at 5:47am, 6:21am, 7:53am, 9:31am, 11:35am, 2:24pm, 4:07pm, and 6:34pm. Important: you need to tell the driver you want to go to Pirika Onsen. If you don’t the bus won’t go there, as it is a bit of a detour.

Onsen: Pirika Onsen (ピリカ温泉) | 400yen | 1.3km from accommodation

Shiribeshi-Toshibetsu River Canoe Overnight Trip (Hokkaido, Japa

Distance: 19.5km | Gradient: 2.8mpk (14.78 FPM) | ↓ GPX file

In the blog post, I describe amazing pristine water, discussions with gold panners, some exciting swifts, a capsize, and unexpected weirs. All in all an exciting and at times very taxing first day on the water. We took a gamble today and opted to put in just below the Pirika Dam. This was a gamble because a few old guidebooks said there is very little water for 5km between the dam and the hydro outlet. As those guidebook promised, there was very little water. We spent five hours to cover 5km. Unless the dam is releasing more than 15m³/s, we’d recommend putting in at the Hanaishi Bridge instead.

Onsen: None

Shiribeshi-Toshibetsu River Canoe Overnight Trip (Hokkaido, Japa

Distance: 32km | Gradient: 1.4mpk (7.39 FPM) | ↓ GPX file

Today we made it to the sea. Immense bird life, a portage around a weir, some lining of shallow swifts, and an early retirement for one half of our entourage. Overall, we still suffered the effects of low water levels, but the final section below Imakane Town was really quite spectacular for its rich bird life.

Shiribeshi-Toshibetsu River Canoe Overnight Trip (Hokkaido, Japa

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Comments | Queries | Reports

Done this route to Shiribeshi-Toshibetsu River, or other waterways nearby? Thinking of doing it? Please post any feedback, reports, or queries here. Thanks!

2 thoughts on “Shiribeshi-Toshibetsu Overnight Canoeing”

  1. Love reading your reports and seeing the gorgeous photographs – such detail too! Thankyou for adding a wealth of info to the Hokkaido-exploring online materials…..wow……but the portage treks sound hard on this one.

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