Nikko is a popular tourist hot spot just two hours away from Tokyo that's chock-full of World Heritage sites, historical landscapes, verdant nature, and relaxing hot springs. If you travel further into Nikko from its urban center, you'll find yourself in the Oku Nikko area, where one of Nikko's must-visit places of interest, Lake Chūzenji - a natural lake located at a higher altitude than most lakes in Japan - awaits.
In view of the upcoming season, joining a kayaking session at Lake Chūzenji is definitely something worth considering! To ensure that you get all the details needed before heading down, we personally signed up for this water sport and compiled our experience in this report for your reference!
What is Lake Chuzenji?
As mentioned at the outset, Lake Chūzenji is located in Oku Nikko, which is about 40 minutes by car from Nikko Station. This is Japan's largest and highest elevated natural lake, and it is well-known as a scenic spot for fall foliage in Japan.
Kayaking Experience Tour: A great way to fully explore Nikko's nature!
What would it feel like to kayak surrounded on all sides by such a beautiful environment? We signed up for this recommended summer activity to see if it lives up to the hype!
We went with Nikko Nasu Outdoor Service for our kayak experience this time, a company that provides services for water activities such as kayaking or rafting in the Lake Chūzenji and Kinugawa areas. One of the reasons why we recommend going with them is because they have English-speaking staff on hand who can take you through the experience in English if you like! That's one less barrier to your overall enjoyment!
This is Mr. Rai, the company's English-speaking Nepalese staff. For our experience, however, we'll be under the care of Mr. Yabu, a Japanese guide.
If you can spot tents and canoes, you're on the right track! The staff will be waiting for you here.
Get your pre-booked experience tour right away!
First of all, everyone will need to register for the activity and pay the stipulated fee. What's an experience without a photograph or two, right? But since this is a water sport, the chances of your phone or camera becoming lost to the depths of the lake are pretty high... Well, fret not! For a separate fee of 1,000 yen, a staff member will take as many photographs as you like using waterproof cameras and send all the data to you after the activity as a souvenir!
The staff will also kindly make adjustments to your gear for you, according to the weather conditions at the time of your experience. When the wind is strong, the lake surface can get rather chilly, but when you're paddling hard, your body will heat up quite a bit as well, so having the right gear is critical for an enjoyable experience! On the day we went, the weather was cool and crisp, so we were given windbreakers to go along with our wetsuits. During summer, however, just a T-shirt and a pair of beach shorts will be completely fine!
After changing, we start off with some warmup exercises on land.
The staff teaches us three basic ways to paddle. The instructions are clear and detailed, making it easy for even first-timers to the activity to pick up. Once our guide has ascertained that we've adequately practiced our strokes, we take our oars and head down to the lake with great excitement.
The guide's detailed instructions allows even first-timers to learn quickly!
Our guide reassures us these kayaks have been designed to be steady and difficult to overturn. To ensure this, when sitting down, we are advised to keep to our legs turned out and let the soles of our feet, knees, and waist line up flush against the kayak. By so doing, there is little room for the body to shift during the activity, which reduces the likelihood of any actions that may cause the kayak to flip.
The guide also reminds us not to make any sudden actions to the left or right because of wanting to take in the scenery more fully, as it will shift the head's axis away from the center of the kayak, which is very likely to cause the kayak to overturn. Hopefully his good advice doesn't make us overly conscious of our posture, as that may have the opposite effect instead!
Once everything is ready, we finally start leaving the lake's shore behind!
We are reminded that it's really all about putting what we'd been practicing on land into use in the water. As we lower our oars slowly into the water and do just that, we slowly start making our way around through the water of the lake.
Drops of water fall onto our arms as we lift the oars out from the water. Maybe we're just really bad at this? Our guide reassures us otherwise. Having water splash on our arms is apparently clear evidence that we're paddling our oars correctly! Although none of us seem to be in danger of overturning our kayaks, the waves at the lake are quite a bit stronger than we had anticipated - it almost feels like we're at an actual sea!
The highlight of this kayaking session is being able to take in the scenic surroundings right from the water!
Depending on the time of visit, you may even get to see fish jumping out from the water surface, or catch a glimpse of campers by the lake side on weekends.
Kayaking is a great way to see the highlights of Nikko!
After paddling to the center of the lake, we turn around and there, looming over us is the symbol of Nikko in its full glory - Mount Nantai. To see Mount Nantai on a kayak, you'll need to at least paddle out to the bay area. On the day we were there, the mountain peak was obscured by clouds, and this is apparently a common occurrence. Nevertheless, the clouds here tend to move quickly as well, so even if the peak is obscured at a certain time, there's always a possibility that you can see it later when the clouds float away!
In case you're interested, this is what the mountain looks like on a clear day!
The feeling of freedom you get as you gaze at the natural surroundings from the center of the lake must be experienced personally to be fully understood, and it's an experience you can only get from atop a kayak!
Since Lake Chūzenji is best known as Nikko's top spot for autumn foliage viewing, you can be sure that kayaking in the lake during fall season will be an incredible experience that's like no other. The leaves around Lake Chūzenji unconventionally turn into all shades of red and yellow during autumn, making the landscape prettier than usual - a scene you can only see in Nikko.
Mr. Yabu warns us that many visitors drop by the lake during fall for precisely this reason, so traffic jams are common. If you intend to join the kayaking tour during autumn, therefore, be sure to plan a lot of leeway into your schedule, just in case!
The guides know the most scenic spots of the lake no matter the day or condition of the lake!
To our surprise, our guide actually recommends kayaking on a rainy day! His reasoning is that while clear days are great for kayaking, you can get quite hot paddling around with no shade at all. The wind and waves can also get quite strong. On rainy days, however, the breeze is lighter and there won't be much waves on the surface, which in turn makes the water easier for you to paddle through!
It's slightly cloudy on the day of our experience. As the mountain range peeked out from behind a veil of thick clouds, it exuded an air of mystique that is uniquely Nikko as well. The clouds here move at a rapid speed, so the backdrop to kayaking sessions will keep changing, keeping the surroundings fresh and exciting!
How far you can paddle and what sights you get to see really depends on your stamina, the wind and weather that day, and the condition of the lake's surface. Not to worry, though - that's what your helpful guide is there for! Kayak tours are held from the end of April to the end of November every year. Each season has different things to offer: Summer allows you to cool down and admire new foliage, whereas autumn lets you relish the stunning sight of autumn leaves painting the mountains over with warm hues of yellow and red.
Time flies as we admire the landscape from the water surface, and we finish our two-hour kayaking tour in the blink of an eye. The experience of physically exercising our bodies while taking in clean and fresh air surrounded by nature has been both exhilarating and refreshing at the same time.
Post-tour commemorative photographs! (These were our two guides for today!)
If you're going to Lake Chuzenji, give the kayak tour a go!
Designed to be easy to pick up for participants of all levels of proficiency, the Lake Chūzenji Kayak Tour will make you feel much closer to Nikko's nature and we highly recommend it as a fun-filled outdoor activity when you're in the area!
Facility Info / Reservation Info
NOS Nikko Nasu Outdoor Service
・Tours are conducted twice a day
Morning 10:30 a.m. / Afternoon 1:00 p.m.
*During autumn leaves season (first Saturday of October to November 4): Morning 9:00 a.m. / Afternoon 12 noon
(Payment made in advance)
Adults: 7,700 yen
Children: 6,200 yen
*Children 10 and above are required to take a 1-person kayak.
2-Person Kayak (for adults and children)
Two persons: 12,400 yen
Adult: 8,000 yen
Children: 6,500 yen
Two persons: 13,000 yen
*All prices are inclusive of lesson fee, kayak rental, gear rental, and consumption tax)
・How to apply
Through the application form or email
Deadline: At least 20 hours before meetup time
・Foreign languages supported: English, Nepalese, Hindi
Written by: Miyuki Yajima. English translation by: Huimin Pan.
*Prices and options mentioned are subject to change.
*Unless stated otherwise, all prices include tax.
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