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Hozugawa Kudari: Scenic Kyoto River Cruise Down One of the Area's Most Picturesque Valleys!

Hozugawa Kudari: Scenic Kyoto River Cruise Down One of the Area's Most Picturesque Valleys!

Date published: 11 September 2019
Last updated: 19 November 2020

While visiting Kyoto, you can't miss the Arashiyama area, which is home to the bamboo forest and one of the area's most scenic Kyoto river cruises. The Hozugawa River Boat Ride (Hozugawa Kudari) is a popular 2-hour, 16km cruise past cherry blossoms in spring and stunning autumn foliage in fall.

The Hozugawa River Boat Ride's 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 the Hozugawa River Boat Ride.

▲The boarding area located near Hozugawa equipped with 100 free parking spaces

The history of the Hozugawa River Boat Ride is old. In 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 have changed; however, the Hozugawa Kudari continues in the form of a tourist attraction for people to enjoy the beautiful valley throughout the four seasons.

▲Image of lumber combined into a raft for transportation during the Taisho period (Kyoto Institute, Library and Archives)

For the Hozugawa Kudari, they use a 16 passenger flatboat. On the Hozugawa River Boat Ride, a three-person crew navigates the boat through the river with rapids and big rocks. Watching the team skillfully navigate the ship with long bamboo sticks is one of the highlights.

▲Some areas along the way have lots of water splashing
▲Boatman Hiroshi Kawarabayashi, a 20 year veteran

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 ten 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 essential task for the boatmen. Also, with an increase of foreign customers, they have been studying English and Chinese.

▲Hozu Valley, where the river flows between steep mountain sides

During the spring, with its cherry blossoms in bloom, and autumn, 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.”

▲Going downstream through Hozu Vally looking at the autumn foliage
▲Enclosed, heated and floor seat boats are used from mid-December to March 9th. The snow-covered view has its own unique beauty.

Going to Arashiyama!

Hozugawa River Boat Rides start from 9:00 AM and costs 4,100 yen for adults and 2,700 yen for children four 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.

▲Map of Hozugawa Kudari. The boat ride starts at Shin-Hozu Ohashi Bridge, top left side of the map

Get on the boat from the bottom of Shin-Hozu Ohashi Bridge, and it’s time to go! The boat has six bench-style seats that fit 3-4 people per row. This time there were a total of 16 passengers. On both sides of the craft, there are sheets to block water. We are excited to see how wet we will get.

The Hozugawa River Boat Ride boarding area is located in Kameoka Valley and the river is wide with a moderate flow.

▲Specialized words describe crew positions: The boatman to the left is called ‘sao-sashi’ and the one on the right is ‘kai-hiki’

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.

▲Uketa Shrine by the river bank where the Hozu no Aki Matsuri Festival is held in October

The Kyoto river cruise crew humorously introduces the method of operating the boat, history of Hozugawa Kudari, and areas to see, and the experience was filled with a friendly atmosphere.

▲Imagining what the big rocks and strangely shaped rocks look like is one of the highlights. The crew will point out many things during the ride.
▲The rock in the center called eboshi-iwa (eboshi – traditional Heian period head gear, iwa – rock) has been long familiar to the locals

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 boat crews cheerfully wave at the trolley passengers.

▲The trolley train running along the Hozu River (Sagano Scenic Railway)

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.

▲Boatmen keep their balance even when the boat goes up and down

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).

▲Water splashing in going over a big current

If it weren’t for the teamwork of the three-person crew and skillful maneuvering with the pole, the boat would not be able to navigate the narrow paths between rocks. At moments like this, the cheerful team put on their serious faces, which lets you know that you are in good hands.

▲Once the current is calm again they change roles

During the Kyoto river 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.

▲Back to rapids. Going through the area Futamata no Se (Futamata Rapids) and Asahino no Se (Asahi Rapids)
▲It’s quite amazing how they can control the boat through rapids with the pole

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.

▲In front is the Torokko Hodukyo Station and the suspension bridge over the river

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.

▲Magoroku Iwa is about 8km downstream from the boarding area, if you see this rock you know you are at the halfway point.

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.

▲At times the boat gets very close to the rocks

Going under the final bridge.

▲The trolley train appears again. For people who left their vehicles at the boarding area, you can take the trolley back to Kameoka.

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.

▲The final rapids, Oose
▲Exhilarating feeling with the boat going fast!

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.

▲Oden with egg, konjac, raddish and others ingredients cost 500 yen, 3 mitarashi dango on a plate is 300 yen (both include tax).

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.

  • Hozugawa Kudari (Hozugawa Yusen Sightseeing Boat Association)
    • Address 2 Shimo-Nakajima Hozu-cho Kameoka, Kyoto Prefecture
    • Phone Number 0771-22-5846
    • Hours: March 10th – November 30th 9:00AM – 3:30PM (final scheduled departure time)
      December 1st – early December 9:00AM – 2:30PM (final scheduled departure time)
      Mid-December – March 9th (winter period heated floor seat boat) 10:00AM – 2:30PM (final scheduled departure time)
      Closed: End of the year and New Year’s Holiday (other, closed on safety inspection days) *Irregular operation during Saturday and Sunday during March 10th – December 9th
      Price: Adult 4,100 yen, 4 years of age – elementary school students 2,700 yen (both include tax)

*This information is from the time of this article's publication.
*Prices and options mentioned are subject to change.
*Unless stated otherwise, all prices include tax.

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