August 16, 2008
by Takuro Yoshida
When the weather gets sultry in summer, Kyoto people like to dine outdoors by the cool running rivers. This style of al fresco dining is called kawadoko. The word ‘kawadoko’ means ‘riverbed’, and beautiful Kibune, located in the rural, forested northern part of Kyoto city, is a fine place to enjoy a meal kawadoko-style. In Kibune you can dine directly over a riverbed, with refreshingly clear water flowing just below, and waterfalls all around you. The dining platforms that are suspended over the river are usually called yuka, which simply means ‘floor’ in Japanese. Let me introduce you to kawadoko through some good pictures to help you understand easily.
Food that goes with the seasons
When you enjoy kawadoko in Kibune in the summertime, you can eat foods that help you feel cool. For example, there is
“nagashi somen” or “flowing somen.” Somen are very thin white wheat noodles. In nagashi somen the noodles are sent flowing down a narrow “river” that is actually a long, clean bamboo gutter. Diners catch the noodles with their chopsticks and then dip them into a cool, tasty broth before eating them. The noodles that have come through the bamboo “river” are so cool that you feel comfortably revived. By the way, whatever the time of year, you can feel the Japanese seasons through food! In wintertime in Kibune, for instance, we can eat a “hotpot” of boiled wild boar that is named botan nabe. “Botan” is the Japanese word for peony flower, and the dish is so named because the sliced wild boar meat is arranged on the plate (prior to cooking) like the petals of a peony.
There are many clear rivers and streams in Kibune, and the sounds that the riverine landscape produces are also reinvigorating: water rushing over boulders, breezes blowing through the cedar trees, and the songs of birds and whirring of cicadas. The water in Kibune is very clear, and people often drink the “goshinsui” (“sacred water”) that 1500-year-old Kibune Shrine serves. There is an amazing story about this spring water. Kibune Shrine took a test of the water ’ s quality three years ago. Surprisingly, there were no impurities, and no discoloration. Can you imagine how clear this water is?
Comfortable dining in lower temperatures
If you visit Kyoto in the summer, you will have to experience a fierce climate that seems unique to this city. Kyoto is located in a basin, and surrounded on three sides by mountains, so you may be irritated by the high humidity in summer (and feel frozen in winter, too!). To escape from the muggy heat and to have a rest, visitors go up to the mountainous village of Kibune for kawadoko . I went wearing just a T -shirt in summer and I actually felt a little cold on the river because Kibune is a far cooler place than the city center!
A bit of history
Next, I want to introduce some history. Kawadoko in Kibune was started within about the last 50 years. How, you may wonder, could restaurants that are located in deep forests keep their businesses going? The key words are “temple and shrines.” Please look at the next picture.
Many people pay homage or worship at Kurama-dera Temple. This Buddhist temple is especially famous for having sheltered an agile and legendary samurai general, Minamoto no Yoshitune (1159-89) during a time of great danger. To see the famous temple, people usually use Kuramaguchi Station (blue point on the map) and also go to many shrines or historical places (red points). Of course, it takes a lot of time and these visitors get tired. Therefore, kawadoko in nearby Kibune was started to provide them with a rest stop, delicious food and comfort. That’s why kaawdoko in Kibune (green point on the map) became famous.
Personally, when I went to enjoy kawadoko in Kibune at Hirobun restaurant (this link is to its Japanese-only website) I found many people, including Japanese and foreigners, enjoying themselves on the yuka over the riverbed. There were many elders and young people and lots of families. I realized that kawadoko is loved by all of the generations. When you come to Kyoto, I would like you to try kawadoko, which so many people enjoy!
See also “Kurama and Kibune” on our own website. Photo of Kurama-dera Temple courtesy of Japanese Wikipedia.