“I stopped paddling. The boat glided in perfect silence. I strained
hard, scanning the depths. There was something down there. And it was moving. Deep down, just on the very limits of visibility, a large, dark form glided beneath me.”
— from “For Fukui’s Sake — Two years in rural Japan” by Sam Baldwin.
At Sea Eagle, we hear regularly from all kinds of boaters from weekend warriors to those dedicated souls best described as “adventurers.” We spoke recently with hiker, backpacker, author, and boater, Sam Baldwin, about his kayaking adventures in his Sea Eagle 330 in the wilds of backcountry Japan.
Where bears prowl
“Welcome to a Japan where snakes slither down school corridors, where bears prowl dark forests and where Westerners are still regarded as curious creatures. Welcome to the world of the inaka– the Japanese countryside.
Saying sayonara to laboratory life in the UK, I took a job as an English teacher in a small, rural Japanese town that no one – the Japanese included – has ever heard of.
Arriving in Fukui Prefecture, where the guidebook says there’s ‘little reason to linger,’ I at first wondered why I left England. But as I slowly settled into my unfamiliar new home, I discovered the secrets of a Japan still clutching its pastoral past and explored a landscape of, rice fields, lush mountain forests….and lonely lakes where SOMETHING lurks…
I love the beauty and escape of the great outdoors. As a kid it was all about fishing, then I got into cycling, and in my late teens I went on my first snowboarding trip to the tiny country of Andorra in the Pyrenees. There’s something I love about being in majestic surroundings.
Most people think of Japan as a sprawling, neon-soaked, overcrowded mega-city. I wanted to experience a Japan that few people think of. When I first took my Japanese friend Yuko kayaking in beautiful Lake Kuzuryu, she said it was ‘spooky’ rather than attractive due to the lack of human development and lack of other people around — the exact reasons I found it such an amazing place.
I’ve done numerous bits of boating over the years in various craft, from canal narrow boats in Ireland, to small sailing dinghies in England, to larger yachts in Greece, and various day trips in canoes and kayaks all over. But my Japanese kayaking adventures in my Sea Eagle were the most rewarding so far.
The most magnificent lake I’d ever seen…and no boats
High up in the mountain folds in Fukui Prefecture, there sits a lonely lake. Clear, blue-green and contained by steep, forested slopes, Lake Kuzuryu is one of the most magnificent I had ever seen. It was impossible to hire a boat locally, so I started thinking about how else I could explore these lakes in the Japanese mountains. I was so taken by their beauty that I knew I had to get on the water, so started looking online, reading forums and magazine articles.
At first I was looking at hard shell kayaks, but as I began to read more about inflatables, I realized that they would be a far more practical solution. I could store an inflatable kayak in my apartment, and transport it far more easily than a hard shell.
I did a lot of research before buying. I kept on reading good things about Sea Eagle. I really liked the website and the general feel to the brand. The boats seemed like really good value for money. I settled on a Sea Eagle 330, Sea Eagle’s most basic craft but exactly what I needed for my adventures.
Living in a fairly small Japanese apartment, there would have been nowhere to store a hard shell, so the fact that I could stash my Sea Eagle in the cupboard was a huge selling point. Also, not having to worry about car racks and trailers was another massive plus point. And the fact that it can be pumped up and on the water in under ten minutes means the Sea Eagle is perfect for my needs.
My original goal was pure exploration in Fukui Prefecture on the main island of Honshu. I also went to another lake in Fukui called Lake Manahime. Several times I took it to Fukui’s coastline and explored small islands near to shore. I also took it on a long road trip to the northern island of Hokkaido, where I went kayaking in Lake Shikotsu, a beautiful body of water edged by smoldering volcanoes.
Easy to sell
My Sea Eagle had many admirers in Japan so when it was time for me to return to the UK, I had no trouble selling it to my Japanese friend Yoshi who took it down the Kuzuryu River and had a great time.
When I got back to the UK, I bought another Sea Eagle to help me explore some of the many lochs in Scotland. I’ve found some really beautiful ones, great for camping/kayaking trips.
Thanks for making such an excellent product that is well priced, and makes it so much easier to get out and enjoy the water. I learned that if you take a chance, exit your comfort zone, and follow your heart, doors that you never even knew existed will open. Without my Sea Eagle, I would never have been able to explore those lakes up in the Japanese mountains, and I never would have seen the monkeys, the giant hornets, or the creatures of the deep that I got to write about.”
And just what were Sam’s Creatures of Kuzuryu? We won’t spoil Sam’s story. Read it for yourself in “For Fukui’s Sake — Two years in rural Japan”
Sam Baldwin is an English writer living in Scotland. His travel articles have appeared in numerous magazines, guidebooks, and online travel sites. Sam founded SnowSphere.com, a website for snow travelers. His recent book, For Fukui’s Sake – Two years in rural Japan, chronicles his adventures in a little-known Japan.