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Kyoto Experiences: Hozugawa-Kudari – Scenic Cruise Down One of Kyoto’s Most Picturesque Valleys!
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Hozugawa-kudari and 400 Years of History
Ruled by Akechi Mitsuhide, the former mountain castle town of Kameoka is located to the northwest of Kyoto. About an 8-minute walk from JR Kameoka Station is the boarding area for Hozugawa-kudari.
The history of Hozugawa-kudari is old. In early Edo period Keicho 11 (1606) it was developed as an industrial waterway by a wealthy merchant of Kyoto, Suminokura Ryoi. It was used to deliver goods such as lumber, firewood and charcoal to the capital from Tanba Province.
After the invention of railways and cars the delivery methods has changed, however the Hozugawa-kudari continues in the form of a tourist attraction for people to enjoy the beautiful valley throughout the four seasons.
For Hozugawa-kudari they use a 16 passenger flatboat. On the boat a 3 person crew navigates the boat through the river with rapids and big rocks. Watching the crew navigate the ship with long bamboo sticks skillfully is one of the highlights.
Kameoka local, boatman Hiroshi Kawarabayashi said “I wanted to work at a place with history in my hometown” and quit his office job and to join his current trade. He is a veteran now with more than 20 years of experience, however he is still a mid-level boatman.
He explained that “to become a fully-fledged boatman it takes about 10 years of experience not only handling the ship but learning the river and its changes throughout the seasons.”
Conserving and repairing the river and riverbank is an important task for the boatmen. Also with an increase of foreign customers, they have been studying English and Chinese.
During the spring season, with its cherry blossoms, and autumn season, with its gorgeous colored leaves, there are days when over 100 boats embark and it all requires a lot of endurance. Mr. Kawarabayashi told us “surrounded by nature and 400 years of history, it is our duty as boatman to ensure that everyone on the boat is enjoying the whole experience.”
The boat rides start from 9:00AM and costs 4,100 yen for adults and 2,700 yen for children 4 years of age to elementary school students (tax included for both prices). We arrived first thing in the morning, but there was already a crowd of tourists waiting for their boats.
Get on the boat from the bottom of Shin-Hozu Ohashi Bridge and it’s time to go!
The boat has 6 bench style seats that fit 3-4 people per row. This time there were a total of 16 passengers. On both sides of the boat there are sheets to block water. Excited to see how wet we will get.
The boarding area is located in Kameoka Valley and the river is wide with a moderate flow.
The three crew have their own roles, the boat person at the bow is the sao-sashi, and their job is to use the long pole and push the boat forward and adjust the direction. The kai-hiki uses the oar and acts as the engine. At the stern of the boat is the kaji-tori who operates the rudder to navigate the ship. The most important thing is for the three person crew to work as one.
The crew humorously introduces the method of operating the boat, history of Hozugawa-kudari and areas to see, and the boat was filled with a friendly atmosphere.
There is a trolley train that connects Kameoka and Arashiyama along the Hozu River and at times you will be going down the river alongside it. If you look up many trolley passengers will wave at the boats. Also the boats crews cheerfully wave at the trolley passengers.
Rapids, Splash and Full of Thrill!
For a while the current is calm, however about 20 minutes in you will enter the first section of rapids.
This area is called Ko-ayu no Taki (Sweetfish Falls) and is the only place on Hozu River with a waterfall in its name. There is a difference in elevation of about 2m and was named ‘Sweetfish Falls’ because the sweetfish can’t go upstream. Among the boatmen they say that the sound of Ko-ayu no Taki has changed to Kowai no Taki (Fearsome Falls).
If it wasn’t for the teamwork of the three-person crew and skillful maneuvering with the pole, the boat would not be able navigate the narrow paths between rocks. At moments like this the cheerful crew put on their serious faces, which lets you know that you are in good hands.
During the cruise you will go under 5 JR San’in Honsen (JR San’in Main Line) bridges and one trolley train bridge. The bridges go in a straight line, so that means the river winds through the valley. On your way down you will see Mt. Atago, which is known as Hibuse no Kami (God of Fire Protection) to the left, then to your front, after a while you start to get confused which way you are facing.
Through repeated use of the pole the hard rocks have dents. It is proof that many boatmen have been transporting goods and people since the Edo period.
The giant rock Magoroku Iwa covered in moss is around the halfway point of the course. When Suminokura Ryoi was developing the waterway, this was considered one of the most hazardous areas. The large rock was broken by the stone smith Magoroku, hence the name, also this was done in an era without heavy machinery. There is also a tragic story behind the name, when Magoroku dealt the final blow to the rock in the rapid current he also lost his life.
If you look behind the rock, you can see that it was carved by hand. With so much time passing with moss on the rock and trees in the area, you can imagine the struggle of our predecessors.
Going under the final bridge.
The final rapids are the Oose – Large Rapids. The river width is wide here, but a rocky area with whitecaps lasts for a while.
Every time when the boat encounters a bumpy area the boatman will call out “ready the sheets!” thanks to this we didn’t get so wet. Of course you can always leave the sheets down and get soaked.
Past Oose, and when the current calms again, there is a boat with paper lanterns and pleasant aroma coming from it.
It is the famous concession boat of Hozu River. The boat slowly gets side-by-side and you are able to buy warm oden (Japanese pot dish with different ingredients) and mitarashi dango (skewered sweet soy sauce glazed dango).
Money and goods will go between guests for the people on the other side of the concession boat. After the 2 hour ride screaming through rapids and laughing, the boat becomes one. It is amazing how the boat is filled with a warm atmosphere.
After leaving the concession boat, you can see Togetsu-bashi past the boatmen. At this point the river is filled with yakatabune (home-style boat) touring Arashiyama and boats transporting customers to their inns.
You will part ways with the other guests at little bit upstream from Togetsu-bashi.
After waving goodbye to the boatmen at the dock, Arashiyama is downstream filled with tourists. It is still before noon after the boat ride, and you can explore the area for half a day!
A boat trip that is full of thrill, nature and photogenic spots. A warm experience with cheerful boat crew will be something to remember.