Kyoto is a city surrounded by mountains, and from these mountains a number of rivers and streams flow, bringing water through the city. Currently the area around these rivers, primarily Kamogawa and Katsura, serve as a vital park and relaxation space for residents. In the past, however, they were important routes for transporting goods, especially timber, into the city. For hundreds of years, the boats of the Hozugawa river served such a function, though rather than lumber, today they annually take thousands of tourists on a scenic and thrilling ride through the mountains and forests and into the city.
Hozugawa River Boat Ride
The Hozugawa tourist boat rides have been running for more than 100 years, and are one of the best ways to experience Kyoto’s surrounding nature and escape the crowds for a few hours. It is especially recommended for people who are not physically able to hike through the mountains.
The boat ride starts in the outskirts of Kameoka, a city on Kyoto’s west flank. The wooden boats seat about 20 people, and are headed by three boatmen, who guide the boat away from rocks with long bamboo poles as they float down the river.
Much of the river is calm and slow, allowing people to relax, enjoy the view and to talk to friends. At times though, the river speeds up, and flows through rapids and amongst large rocks, providing a great mix of relaxation and excitement. You will see some deep forests, great rocks, steep and high hills and cliffs, and many types of birds. It is a fantastic way to experience the different seasons of Kyoto, from the Autumn foliage of November-December, to the snow of winter, and the newly-budding greenery of May. In April you may also see some mountain cherry trees, the more ‘wild’ cousin of the sumiyoshi cherry tree that you will find throughout the city.
After about a two hour 16 km ride, you will arrive at Arashiyama, passing a number of temples and restaurants in the hills and along the river-banks.
Arashiyama and the Torokko scenic train
Arashiyama, in the west-end of Kyoto, is itself one of the best areas in Japan for sightseeing. Make sure you walk through the bamboo forest, see the World Heritage listed Tenryuji temple, and try one of the great ice-cream shops in the area (also, see my article on Rakushisha, Saga-Arashiyama and the bamboo forest, as well as the article on the hidden temple on the Katsura river). Along with the Hozugawa river cruise, a walk around Arashiyama makes a great day of sightseeing. So go check out this other side of Kyoto, you won’t regret it!
I can also recommend the Torokko scenic train, which follows a similar route along the mountain valleys to the boats, and likewise offers visitors a great opportunity to experience the beautiful mountains on the outskirts of the city.
Directions: The boat departs from Kameoka, which can be reached by JR Kameoka station (about 20 min from Kyoto station, 230Y). From JR Kameoka station, it is about an 8 minute walk to the river-port.
JR Saga-Arashiyama is about an 8 minute trip from Kyoto station by train, and the sightseeing area is about a 10 minute walk from this station. Please follow the maps.
The Torokko scenic train departs from a station directly next to the JR Saga-Arashiyama station.
Prices: The regularity of boat rides changes throughout the year, so please check the timetable online. From March 10 to November 30 they depart approximately once an hour. They cost 3,900Y for adults, 2,500Y for children.
The Torokko train runs throughout the year (apart from most of December) and costs 600Y for adults and 300Y for children. You can get back to Kyoto from the JR Umahori Station, which is about a 10 minute walk from the destination (Torokko Kameoka Station).
It is possible to take the Torokko train to Kameoka, and the boat back to Arashiyama, as you can take a bus from the Torokko Kameoka Station to the boat port.