Many international travelers visit Kyoto for its historical and cultural sites and Japanese culinary delights. But apart from the famous Kiyomizu-dera, Fushimi Inari shrine, Kyoto Tower and geisha-spot Gion and Ponto-cho Districts, you will be pleasantly surprised that Kyoto is a nature-lover’s paradise and has a lot to offer when it comes to greenery and outdoor adventure.
The Hozugawa Boat Ride ( 保津川下り, Hozugawa Kudari) is a highly recommended experience outside of the city, especially for those who have a few days in Kyoto or have been to Kyoto more than once. Here, not only you will experience the scenic boat ride along Hozugawa or Hozu River, you will get a glimpse of the history of the bustling and thriving water transport culture, prevailing Japan over a thousand year ago.
In the olden days, the Hozugawa River was once used by the logging industry to transport logs that were used to build many of Kyoto’s important temples. Slowly, modern roads and train tracks replace this inland waterway transport and eventually made river transport unnecessary, and operations ceased after several hundred years of use. However, the boats were brought back and became popular as a sightseeing attraction until today.
The course of the ride passes through ruins of Kameyama castle, Uketa shrine, several funny-shaped rocks and eventually arrives in Arashiyama, a few hundred meters upstream from the Togetsukyo Bridge. Along the way, you will be able to spot Mount Ushimatsu (630 meters in height) and Mount Atago (924 meters in height), the tallest peak in Kyoto.
The service is available all-year round with the exceptions of a few days during the New Year period, heavy rain and natural disaster. Though the ride is probably the most popular during the changing leaves period in autumn and the Sukara cherry blossom in spring, we did this ride in July in the middle of summer with a light drizzle and we loved it. The lush and green forest was very relaxing to the eyes. Each season offers different sceneries and atmospheres. Summer, when there is abundance of rain water, the forest thrives best. During this time of the year, Kyoto’s number of international tourists drops, making it the best time to avoid the crowd. Winter clear blue sky and crisp air allows you to enjoy the stillness and tranquility.
The cruises utilize traditional style, flat bottomed boats piloted by boatmen who guide the craft with oars and bamboo poles. Three boatmen manned the boat, with two men in front being responsible for rowing and navigating and the other at the back steering. Not only they are highly skillful at this, but they are also such great candid entertainers. The atmosphere was convivial and they did a great job breaking the ice for everyone. Despite their limited English, the personality and creativity shine through and suddenly language is not a barrier. The jokes on the boat are an icing on the cake. We had a great laugh along with everybody on board.
Towards the end before arriving to Togetsukyo bridge in Arashiyama, a food-selling boat approaches and sells Dango (grilled rice ball snack with sweet and salty sauce), Oden, grilled squid, drinks including alcohol and Amazake (the traditional Japanese fermented rice drink).
During the ride, we recommend sitting in silence and listening to the relaxing sound of birds and flowing water. Though the boat can be full with tourists, try to pay attention to your thoughts and take deep mindful breaths. Here is your opportunity to practice silence and to be awareness of your surrounding without judging. Forest bathing or shinrin yoku is possible when you breathe in the fresh air from the forest, run your fingers in the cool refreshing river water, feel the warmth of the sunlight and mindfully bask in the nature around you. This is possible for a good half an hour towards the end of the trip.
If you start the boat ride in the morning, you will reach Arashima by lunch time. We recommend tying this experience with a Zen vegan temple-food set lunch or Shojin Ryori at Shigetsu Zen Vegetarian restaurant, followed by a mindful walk in Tenryu-ji Temple, a UNESCO’s world heritage site.
Duration: 1.5 – 2 hours, depending on the water level
How to get there from Kyoto Station: Take the JR train from Kyoto Station and get off at JR Kameoka station. The train journey takes approximately 30-40 minutes and from JR Kameoka it is a 12-15 minutes walk to the cruise departure point.
Timetable and ticket: Reservation is taken for a group of 10 or more people. Ticket is JPY 4,100 and can be purchased at the boat departure point. For timetable, please click here.
Visit Hozugawa Kudari’s official website for more information and updates.