When people think of Kyoto, temples and shrines usually come to mind. It is after all the old capital of Japan, and it is full of culture and history. Have you ever even heard of the Hozugawa River. I hadn’t.
The Hozugawa River boat tour is just what you need when it is time to escape Kyoto. The tour takes you through the Tanba Mountain range and ends at the popular Arashiyama area in Kyoto. You pass through ravines and rocks and under train rails. There are a few sections of small “rapids,” but the water is mostly calm.
The scenery along the Hozugawa River is welcoming, and you will feel relaxed and relieved to get away from the crowds of tourists in Kyoto, if only for a few hours.
The loading dock is a bit outside of the city, so when I went, I double checked with the tourist counter whether there were any more tours today. She made a phone call, and they had one more boat leaving at 3:30. It was 2:30 now, so I would be able to make it if I hurried. I hopped on the train, and thirty minutes later I was at the Hozugawa River.
Time was getting tight, so I speed walked toward the river where I bought a ticket and waited until we were called for boarding. The boat staff double checked our tickets, we sat down, strapped on some red safety ropes, and were soon on our way.
There are three skilled boat people (oarsmen? oarspeople?)who keep things under control during the tour. It was all well choreographed the way they worked together. One person rows a single oar by using his whole body to push the oar. A second person stands on the front of the boat, and with a long bamboo pole, he jams it into the ground and uses it to push the boat forward. Third, there is someone at the back controlling the rudder and making sure we don’t hit any rock. His job requires the least amount of physical effort.
The man pushing the oar was doing a bit of explaining about the river and the area. The man behind me chimed in once a while too. I can understand some Japanese, but when the conditions are poor, it’s difficult for me. In this case, the conditions were poor: two people speaking at the same time, one of them at the front of the boat, speaking too quickly, and sometimes drowned out by the sounds of water splashes. And another man behind me speaking at the same time. Oh well. I understood a little though.
The scenery could be appreciated even without understanding the guides.
We paddled past a few turtles sunning themselves on the rocks and banks of the river. And the boat people pointed out different types of birds. We passed a few large rocks and rock formations that were named because they looked like things: wild boar, books, Snoopy. And there was a hiking trail to the left. The mountains were green and quiet, and there was even a group of people cliff jumping into the river.
Read: Kyoto Imperial Palace
The boat people showed us a beehive underneath a train bridge, and toward the end we had our picture taken in case someone wants to buy it. The same as when you get your picture taken on the final drop of a roller coaster.
The Hozugawa River Boat Ride course is 16 km long. It takes about 1.5 to 2 hours, depending on the water levels.
I didn’t check the time, but I think it was around 5:00 when we arrived at Arashiyama. I think it is tiring for the boat people, so at two points during the ride they stopped and switched places so the main rower could take a break.
Finally, as we were coming to the end of the boat ride on the Hozugawa River, our boat pulled up to another boat. The two boars were quickly tied together, and I saw that it was a food stall boat with three people selling rice balls, fried squid, beer, and other drinks.
A few minutes later we arrived at Arashiyama, and after unloading I spent some time walking around. I’ve been here twice before, but it was too late to go to Monkey Park. The shrines were all closed too. But after exploring the little shops for a few minutes, I went into the famous bamboo forest. I wanted to save it until the end of the day because I know it gets very busy. It was almost dark when I went, but it was still bright enough to take photos. And there were only a few people here and there, so it was pretty great. I recommend going closer to the end of the day..
When I had seen enough, I walked back to the train station, back to Kyoto, picked up a couple yatsuhashi, jumped on the Bullet Train, and headed back to Nagoya.
How to get to Hozugawa River Boat Ride
From Kyoto Station take the JR Sagano Line to Kameoka Station for ¥410. The boat loading area is about 10 minutes walk away. A boat ticket costs ¥4100. Check here for the tour website. After the boat drops you off in Arashiyama, take the JR Sagano Line back to Kyoto Station from the Saga-Arashiyama Station.
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Is it worth it?
Yes! It’s a bit expensive and outside of the city, but I think it is worth it. You can get away from the crowds of tourists but also get dropped off in Arashiyama, where you can walk through the famous bamboo forest.
What do you think? Does the Hozugawa River Boat Ride look like something you would like to do?