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    • Spring
      • Eating Wild in Japan

        Eating Wild in Japan

        Winifred Bird's latest book is an introduction to the world of sansai (mountain vegetables) and foraging in Japan.
        Niseko flying Hokkaido

        Bird’s Eye View of Hokkaido

        Get a bird's eye view of Hokkaido with Ben Kerr, a Niseko-based pilot.

        Northern Tohoku’s Top 5 Spring Hikes

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        Haga Farm Spring Glamping in Tochigi

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    • Summer
      • Washi Papermaking Kochi Shikoku Outdoor Japan

        Following the Paper Trail in Kochi

        Discover the traditional art of washi papermaking in Kochi with artist Rogier Uitenboogaart.
        Climbing Mt. Fuji Outdoor Japan

        Peaking in 2021: Climbing Mt. Fuji

        Thinking of climbing Mt. Fuji this summer? We talk to Mt. Fuji guides on best practices for scaling Japan's highest mountain.

        Japan Camping Guide

        Check out our picks all the way from Hokkaido to the Okinawa Islands and then plot your perfect Japan camping adventure.
        Japan's Digital Nomads Van Life in Japan

        Japan’s Digital Nomads

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        Iriomote Yamaneko Outdoor Japan

        Iriomote’s Endangered Wildcats

        Iriomote Island, one of Japan's last untouched wild places, is home to the endangered yamaneko wildcat.
    • Autumn
      • Pow Bar Founder Megumi Scott

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        An interview with Megumi Scott, the founder of Niseko brand Pow Bar.
        Churamura Okinawa Sea Turtle Marine Conservation

        Churamura: Footprints in the Sand

        Churamura, an NPO in Okinawa, work to conserve marine life and protect endangered sea turtles in Japan's southernmost prefecture.
        Kawazu

        Fall in Love with Kawazu

        Enjoy waterfall hikes and hot springs, beautiful beaches and delicious seafood in Kawazu on the western coast of Izu Peninsula.
    • Winter
      • Early Bird 2021-22 Japan Ski

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        Don't miss out on these early bird season pass and lift package deals for Japan's ski resorts.

        Pacific Solo

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    • Near Tokyo
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    • Ocean and Beach
      • Churamura Okinawa Sea Turtle Marine Conservation

        Churamura: Footprints in the Sand

        Churamura, an NPO in Okinawa, work to conserve marine life and protect endangered sea turtles in Japan's southernmost prefecture.
        Kawazu

        Fall in Love with Kawazu

        Enjoy waterfall hikes and hot springs, beautiful beaches and delicious seafood in Kawazu on the western coast of Izu Peninsula.
        Kaiyu Kochi Shikoku Outdoor Japan

        Snorkeling, Surfing and Sustainability in Koch...

        Enjoy the clear waters of Kochi by snorkeling and surfing while staying at a refurbished hotel committed to sustainability.
        Outdoor Japan Shimoda

        Blue Waves and Black Ships in Shimoda

        Shimoda may be famous for its white sandy beaches and surfing, but it also played a major role in shaping the Japan we know today.
    • River and Lake
      • Iriomote Yamaneko Outdoor Japan

        Iriomote’s Endanger...

        Iriomote Island, one of Japan's last untouched wild places, is home to the endangered yamaneko wildcat.
        Iriomote Outdoor Japan

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        Niseko flying Hokkaido

        Bird’s Eye View of Hokkai...

        Get a bird's eye view of Hokkaido with Ben Kerr, a Niseko-based pilot.

        Spring Escapes: Outdoor A...

        Check out these spring escapes this season and enjoy outdoor activities throughout Japan.
        video

        Shikoku Road Trip: Kochi ...

        Mountainous forests and coastal towns dominate most of the prefecture, where visitors will find enterprising locals and nature guides working to revitalize their communities. Shikoku’s winding roads are best explored by car.
    • Mountain and Land
    • Sky
    • Snow and Ice
      • Matagi Akita Tohoku Sustainable Living

        Tracking Akita’s Matagi Hunters

        Akita in the northern Tohoku region is home to the Matagi, hunters who follow an ancient and sustainable way of hunting, foraging and life.
        Early Bird 2021-22 Japan Ski

        Early Bird Ski Deals for 2021-2022

        Don't miss out on these early bird season pass and lift package deals for Japan's ski resorts.
    • Travel
      • Churamura Okinawa Sea Turtle Marine Conservation

        Churamura: Footprints in the Sand

        Churamura, an NPO in Okinawa, work to conserve marine life and protect endangered sea turtles in Japan's southernmost prefecture.
        Kawazu

        Fall in Love with Kawazu

        Enjoy waterfall hikes and hot springs, beautiful beaches and delicious seafood in Kawazu on the western coast of Izu Peninsula.
        Matagi Akita Tohoku Sustainable Living

        Tracking Akita’s Matagi Hunters

        Akita in the northern Tohoku region is home to the Matagi, hunters who follow an ancient and sustainable way of hunting, foraging and life.
        Washi Papermaking Kochi Shikoku Outdoor Japan

        Following the Paper Trail in Kochi

        Discover the traditional art of washi papermaking in Kochi with artist Rogier Uitenboogaart.
        Kaiyu Kochi Shikoku Outdoor Japan

        Snorkeling, Surfing and Sustainability in Koch...

        Enjoy the clear waters of Kochi by snorkeling and surfing while staying at a refurbished hotel committed to sustainability.
    • Food and Drinks
      • Churamura Okinawa Sea Turtle Marine Conservation

        Churamura: Footprints in the Sand

        Churamura, an NPO in Okinawa, work to conserve marine life and protect endangered sea turtles in Japan's southernmost prefecture.
        Kawazu

        Fall in Love with Kawazu

        Enjoy waterfall hikes and hot springs, beautiful beaches and delicious seafood in Kawazu on the western coast of Izu Peninsula.
        Matagi Akita Tohoku Sustainable Living

        Tracking Akita’s Matagi Hunters

        Akita in the northern Tohoku region is home to the Matagi, hunters who follow an ancient and sustainable way of hunting, foraging and life.
        Washi Papermaking Kochi Shikoku Outdoor Japan

        Following the Paper Trail in Kochi

        Discover the traditional art of washi papermaking in Kochi with artist Rogier Uitenboogaart.
        Kaiyu Kochi Shikoku Outdoor Japan

        Snorkeling, Surfing and Sustainability in Koch...

        Enjoy the clear waters of Kochi by snorkeling and surfing while staying at a refurbished hotel committed to sustainability.
    • Races and Events
      • Yuji Hirayama Urban Base Camp

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        One of Japan's top rock climbers Yuji Hirayama has opened Urban Base Camp, a new bouldering gym in the heart of Tokyo.
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        2021 Summer Music Festivals in Japan

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        Summer Events Fireworks Festivals in Japan

        2021 Fireworks Festivals in Japan

        Enjoy these fireworks festivals held throughout Japan this summer and autumn.
        Summer Festivals in Japan

        2021 Summer Festivals in Japan

        Enjoy these traditional matsuri festivals throughout Japan this summer.

The Mad Men of Tenpukutai

The 15 members of Tenpukutai are not your average salarymen. They work tireless hours like their gray-suited brethren, yet that’s where the stereotype ends. These mad men of Japan’s advertising world work hard and play even harder.

Take a moment to consider the plight of the Japanese salaryman. Long hours in soulless offices; the surrender of self to a commitment to the company; a slow progression up the corporate escalator; accepting golf as the amusement of choice (especially if it’s a smooth ride up the escalator), which inevitably leads to phantom club- swinging on train platforms — or even while still riding the train.

After decades of toiling for the greater good, retirement earns him a return to a house he hardly knows and no particular hobbies or interests on which to fall back. This is, of course, a stereotype, but if you spend any time in Japan’s major cities, you have known this creature well, or perhaps you have become one yourself.

Then there is Tenpukutai™. The name roughly translates to “Capsizing Crew,” an alliterative to the original, and tells what they like to do — get outside and paddle and flip over some boats. All 15 members are salarymen.“It was just me and a few friends at Dentsu when I started it 25 years ago,” says Tenpukutai taicho (leader) Ryo Honda. “We didn’t know a thing about paddling, but we thought it sounded like fun, so we decided to give it a try.

“We started paddling in jeans,” he laughs, “and carried our stuff in garbage bags. Later, we found out about dry bags, we got more experienced, and we started to get more ambitious.”

Ambitious, and also — for a bunch of salarymen —unexpectedly quirky. Over the past 25 years, Honda says, the group has run some 50 rivers in Japan and abroad. Tenpukutai has ventured to Alaska, Canada, the Amazon, Kamchatka, Mongolia, New Zealand and Madagascar.

“We’ve done some of the same rivers in Japan, but it’s a Tenpukutai rule that we never go down the same river twice the same way,” he explains. “Groups usually go to a river with which they are familiar, but we always try to go somewhere new. If it’s a place we’ve been before, we’ll start from a different place or do it in a different style. I doubt if there’s any other group quite like us in Japan.”

Yuzo “Mario” Nishihashi, one of the founding members, agrees. “We have got to be one of the craziest, worst kayaking groups in Japan,” he says with what can only be called a giggle. “We’ve done a lot of stuff that should have gotten somebody killed. We didn’t really know about ocean currents until we tried to cross the 45 kilometers or so from Honshu to Sado Island, but we learned quickly.

“We like bakanakoto (stupid things),” he continues, “like playing too much, drinking too much, eating too much, night boating. We’re trying to do something to make an un-genki Japan a lot more genki. Nothing as big as Yuichiro Miura climbing Everest; we just want to do what most people won’t.”

They do take a lot of pride in their crashes, but more about that later. The group’s rules, available at their Web site (www.tenpukutai.com) are likewise a bit eccentric.

The group size is limited to 15 people.

Women are not allowed.

Golfers will be excommunicated.

Seconds on ramen are strictly forbidden.

Although many people have tried to enter the Tenpukutai ranks, it’s no easy task since the number of members doesn’t change.

“Lots of people want to join, but 15 is the best on a river,” Honda says. “More than that and it just gets too stressful. As far as women…yes, we’re a discriminatory organization,” he says with a laugh. “Ninety percent of the members are married, and we’re all kind of like those awkward, un-sporty kids who happened to grow up.”

They hint that most women probably wouldn’t want to hang out with these big boys anyway.

“Golf is an unnatural way to have fun,” he says. “Several of the members are salespeople, so of course they get invited to play golf. They used to say, ‘I’m in Tenpukutai, so I can’t,’ but now, at least at Dentsu, the others have just given up, and say, ‘Oh, yeah, he’s Tenpukutai, so shoganai!’”

It’s not clear how the ramen restriction came about, but they do seem to eat well otherwise on their forays into the wild.

The adventures aren’t only on rivers. “We’re a sogo autodoa group,” Honda says. That translates roughly to “a comprehensive outdoor organization.”

“Basically we go out about five times a year; it’s pretty much wherever I feel like going,” he laughs.

The group climbs up mountains and canyons, and on bicycles. The common theme seems to be finding ways to do things the hard way.

“I was in the mountain climbing club in college,” Honda says, “but in Tenpukutai we don’t do normal climbing.”

Instead they might carry their bikes with them, as they did to the top of Mt. Fuji, before riding down.

“We’ve done that on lots of peaks,” Honda says with some delight.

They also have taken on several challenges on the humble mamachari —the simple bicycles used by urban women to deliver kids and pick up groceries. One such multiple-stage trip followed the sacred Buddhist pilgrimage route on Shikoku Island. The quirky adventure took one year covering 1,200 kilometers, on these one-speed bikes, while wearing the conical straw hats and white vests of devoted pilgrims.

They also bicycled in costume and on mamachari, in the heat of summer from Tokyo to the famous Nebuta Matsuri in Aomori. This year has seen the start of a three-year mamachari adventure, again in stages, on the Oku no Hosomichi, the route made famous by the celebrated poet Matsuo Basho in the “Narrow Road to the Deep North.”

We’re all salarymen, so time is limited,” says Nishihashi, also a Dentsu man. “We can only go out for a few nights at a time, so we can cover about 300 kilometers on each trip. Three years might be a bit overly ambitious,” he jokes.

Honda no longer works at Dentsu, Japan’s largest ad agency, having gone full-time freelance a few years ago. About half the current members are from Dentsu, half from elsewhere, although there still is an advertising connection for most.

Honda has recently been doing more work on photography, manga and books, such as his “Mamachari wo Henro 1,200 km.” (1,200-Kilometer Pilgrimage by Mamachari), chronicling the Shikoku expedition. With outdoor magazine Be-Pal (Shogakukan), he has also produced an outdoor cookbook, “Tenpukutai Takibi Ryori” (Tenpukutai Campfire Cooking).

The book gives some insight into the group. The recipes are excellent and perfect for anyone who enjoys outdoor cooking, but while there are beautiful photos of the finished dishes, the main photos are always of a boat in some form of distress — overturned, with the paddler in the water; kayaks wrapped around rocks, broken, never to float down the river again. The faces are smiling in defeat — wet, shivering, holding battered bits of boat, and loving it.

A DVD of the group, also produced with Be-Pal, shows it even more vividly. These guys are far from the best paddlers in the world. They take inordinate pleasure in recalling tales of being attacked by hordes of mosquitoes, packs of half-wild South American dogs or just barely getting up the rocks of a backwater canyon. Maybe that’s the whole idea.

The group’s enthusiasm is contagious and inviting, even though no one has much chance at becoming a Tenpukutai member. Their books and videos are fun to watch and clever (they are ad men, after all). It doesn’t feel exclusionary — if anything, it makes you think, “Hey, I could do that too.”

Hopefully people pick up on the message, and more salarymen might get out of the city, into the wild and gleefully throw themselves into some crazy adventure.

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