This Golden Week, I took a trip down the Hozu River in Kyoto in a long boat powered by 3 men with bamboo poles.
The Hozugawa Kudari (保津川下り) takes off from their ticket office near JR Kameoka Station (亀岡). Tickets cost 4,100 yen per person. On the day that I went, it was raining, but there was a tarp over the boat, so it was dry and cozy inside. Unfortunately, the tarp blocked the view a bit, but it was still gorgeous.
The trip down the river took about 2 hours. There were 3 crew members: one man at the back steering, one at the front rowing, and one more at the front using a long bamboo pole to push off rocks and the riverbed. Before we set off, the other two crew members laughingly told us that the man at the front had just started the job 2 months ago, and that it took about 5 years to become good at it. Sure enough, he fell down a few times, let go of the pole twice (the man at the back caught it both times–impressive!), and generally struggled and looked exhausted. The other crew spent the ride laughing at and chiding him, while giving him instructions and helping him to learn the ropes. Apparently, there are very specific spots where the pushers need to place their poles. Some of the rocks along the way even had holes worn in them from 400 years (!) of bamboo poles hitting them.
During the trip, the men rowing at the front and steering at the back gave a running commentary of what we were seeing. Some of the highlights included a rock that looked like Snoopy, the biggest mountain in Kyoto, a rock that looked like a lion, some of Arashiyama’s famous monkeys, a rock that looked like a seal, several types of beautiful river fowl, and lots of damage caused by the typhoon that hit Arashiyama hard in 2013, including trees that were growing slanted after having been submerged, and a huge rock in the middle of the river that was carried there by the typhoon.
There were a lot of rocks.
In several places, the boat passes through rapids, and the ride gets a little bumpy and exciting. The guides made it sound worse than it was: at one point, they warned us that we were about to fall two meters. I freaked out a bit thinking that we were about to go over a waterfall or something, but it was actually over in a few bumps, with no noticeable drop. Another rapid took us around a sudden curve, and they had everybody scootch to the left so as to avoid getting splashed.
The air and water were beautiful and clean, and the ride was both relaxing and thrilling. At the very end of the trip, as we pulled into port near Arashiyama’s Togetsukyo Bridge (渡月橋), a boat selling snacks and drinks came and attached itself to our boat, and we finished the ride propelled by that boat’s engine while our guides took a rest. The new guy manning the front pole was drenched in rain and sweat and generally looked exhausted. Good luck, new guy!
If you’re in the Arashiyama (嵐山) area, I highly recommend the Hozugawa Kudari.