August 28, 2016
by Erica Wada, Yumika Fujii & Konomi Shinbashi
Kyoto is one of the most popular prefectures in Japan these days because it has a lot of famous places. The length of Kamogawa River is 31 kilometers, and it is home to such wildlife as great salamanders, black-headed gulls, sweetfish, and so on. In this article, we are going to introduce four traditions related to the Kamogawa: kawadoko, kyoyuzen, kabuki, and couples sitting on the riverbank.
One of these traditions takes place in the summer season, and is called noryodoko (納涼床) or kawadoko (川床). Noryodoko or kawadoko is basically an outdoor wooden deck that is made on the river to offer food to customers for a limited time, between May to September. There are 96 restaurants in just 2 kilometers between Nijo bridge in the north and Gojo bridge in the south. People can enjoy eating and drinking on the noryodoko belonging to each restaurant. The entire region of restaurants is divided into four areas: Kamikiyamachi, Pontocho, Nishiishigaki, and Shimokiyamachi. The restaurants are not only Kyo-ryori (Kyoto cuisine) restaurants, but also other kinds of restaurants, such as Chinese, French, Italian, Korean and so on. There is even a kawadoko in front of Starbucks facing the river, so tourists can enjoy drinking coffee outdoors while seeing the beautiful views. Tourists from foreign countries can enjoy their food at these kinds of restaurants, too.
Another tradition that is associated with the Kamogawa River is kyoyuzen. (京友禅) Kyoyuzen is the dyeing that was devised by Miyazaki Yuzensai in the Genroku period, and it is one of the traditional craftwork products of Kyoto. People once did yuzen nagashi (友禅流し) which they soaked kyoyuzen in the Kamogawa River, but that tradition had stopped because people thought it might cause water pollution.
In addition, the part of the river near Shijo bridge is said to be the birthplace of kabuki. Kabuki is the theater peculiar to Japan, and it is one of the Japanese traditional performing arts. Kabuki odori (Kabuki performance) which is the origin of Kabuki, spread in popularity because the female entertainer, Izumono Okuni, performed on the riverbank of Kamogawa River. Today, tourists can see a bronze statue of Izumono Okuni near Shijo bridge, where her first dances were done.
Couples Sitting on the Riverbank
The last tradition that we want to introduce is the phenomenon of multiple couples sitting along the riverbank of the Kamogawa. On weekends particularly, there are a lot of people sitting there, especially from early in the afternoon to the night because the riverbed between the Sanjo bridge and Shigo bridge is so close to downtown. The spaces between the couples are always regular, so the phenomenon is called “The law of the regular intervals” in Japanese. What is interesting is that the spaces between couples or groups are always at the same intervals, even if the number of people sitting beside Kamogawa increases. The number of couples starts to increase at about 3:00 pm, and then the spaces get smaller and smaller because the couples or groups gather beside the river in order to rest, drink some coffee, and so on. Couples sit together in regular intervals because they do not need to care about nearby people. They simply enjoy talking with their boyfriend or girlfriend, or other friends. Each group of people has their own personal-space. This is why couples or groups sit together in regular intervals. In addition, Kyoto natives say they care about others more than people from other prefectures, so that is also a reason why they sit together beside the Kamogawa River in regular intervals, too.
This phenomenon of couples sitting in intervals has been happening in Kyoto from the early 1970s. There are various rumors as to why this happens. One of them is that there are ghosts or spirits that existed many years ago. They fought in a big terrible war, and a lot of people died. And now those people exist in-between couples sitting on the Kamogawa as ghosts or spirits, so it is said one of the reasons why people are sitting in the regular intervals.
We conducted a simple survey of university students about sitting on the Kamogawa. About 57% of the respondents said they have never sat beside Kamogawa River. We asked the respondents who answered to the question “Who did you sit together with?” 40% of the respondents answered “With boyfriend or girlfriend.” 60% of the respondents answered “With friends.” It means that sitting beside the Kamogawa is not only for couples, but also for groups of friends.
It also seems that the way people sit is changing these days. Then we asked the respondents the question about “What did you do while sitting beside the Kamogawa?” They reported that they sit to rest, drink some Starbucks coffee, and especially to talk with girlfriend/boyfriend, friends, or others. We also asked them “Why did you sit beside the Kamogawa?” Someone said, “There are no particular reasons, but it is just a nice space where I can sit down and get some fresh air.” Another person said, “The Kamogawa River is a sightseeing spot in Kyoto, so I can take good and memorable pictures.”
As you can see, there are four traditions which are related to the Kamogawa in Kyoto. Not only are these Kyoto traditions popular amongst Japanese people, but they are also becoming more and more popular amongst foreigners. If you visit Kyoto, why don’t you experience these Kyoto traditions through the Kamogawa river?