Kamogawa River Wildlife

June 29, 2015

by Koudai Kobayashi & Akari Mihashi

KamogawaThe Kamogawa River is the fourth longest river in Kyoto, with a length of 31 km. The source of the Kamogawa is Sajikigadake, which is located in the northern part of Kyoto prefecture. The water from the Kamogawa is mostly used for agriculture. In addition, there are five famous bridges crossing the Kamogawa, lots of beautiful views, and many kinds of animals living there.  Furthermore, if you stroll along the banks of the Kamogawa, you can feel the spirit of traditional Japan, not only in its scenery, but also in its atmosphere.

Animals of the Kamogawa

Many kinds of animals inhabit the Kamogawa River. There are not only fish, birds, but also, surprisingly, mammals. For example, from any bridge over the water, you can see various types of fish swimming below, such as ayu and the Japaense Catfish (zacco platypus). You can also see birds almost anywhere along the river. In addition, there are several species of rare wildlife that you seldom see in Kamogawa River. Now, we will introduce some rare wild animals.


There are many fish in Kamogawa River, for example, the Pale Chub (zacco platypus) the Japanese Catfish. The adult of the Pale Chub grows to about 15 cm in length. And on the spawning male, you can see a beautiful design along the length of their bodies. The female is slightly smaller, and the color of their bodies is silver and silver-white. There are many Pale Chub in the Kamogawa, so you can see schools of them in the shallows. In the winter, Pale Chub are targeted by fishermen for their tasty meat, which is usually grilled. It is very delicious. However, we recommend that you just watch them and enjoy the nature.

In case of the Japanese catfish, the length of their body ranges around 40 cm.  They are good eaters, so they gobble up any food you give them.  Japanese catfish can’t be usually seen, so you should try to observe them when you have an opportunity to go to the Kamogawa.

Pale Chub (zacco platypus)

Zacco playpus

Japanese Catfish (Silurus asotus)



There are also many fish in Kamogawa River, for example, the Great Cormorant (Phalacrocorax carbo) and the Grey-headed Lapwing (Venellus cinereus). The Great Cormorant is a bird, which has recently increased in number. The adult of Phalacrocorax carbo grows to about 80 to 85 cm in length, and their wing span is about 31 to 34 cm. The female is slightly smaller, but it’s hard to make out the difference. It look blacks on the surface, but basically its color is emerald green.

The Grey-headed Lapwing is as big as a pigeon and it has long feet. The color of its head is a mottled grey and their beak is bark-colored. When they are flapping, we can see the beautiful contrast of black and white. In Japan, they make their habitat around the Kinki area.

The Great Cormorant
The Grey-headed Lapwing

The Giant Salamander

Giant salamanders can be seen in the Kamogawa sometimes. The length of their body ranges from 50 to 60 cm. They have many bumps on their head and slimy skin. When they are irritated, they excrete a sticky liquid, which has a peculiar smell. They appear in the upper stream of the Kamogawa and are registered as a nationally protected species. Originally, giant salamanders didn’t exist in this river. The reason why they inhabit the river now is because someone introduced giant salamanders from China. Originally they were brought over for food, but now they are getting wilder. Moreover, the genetic crossing between Japanese giant salamanders and their Chinese counterparts has become a big problem. So in the Kamogawa, there are now three kinds of giant salamander: those indigenous to Japan, those that came from China, and genetic crosses between the two.

However, now almost all giant salamanders are mixed breeds, because their genes are strong. According to a recent survey, of 11 recently captured giant salamanders, 13% were of Chinese origin, while 44% were mixed breeds. So the problem is the decreasing the number of giant salamanders of purely Japanese origin. Japanese giant salamanders are conserved and displayed in the Kyoto aquarium, and there you can experience the true character of a giant salamander.

Giant salamander

Black-headed gull

Along the Kamogawa you can find black-headed gulls during certain times of the year. The length of their body is around 40 cm, while their maximum wind span reaches 100 cm.  They have a red beak and red feet. Interestingly, their heads change to a blackish brown color when summer comes. However, their heads turn white when winter comes. That’s their peculiar characteristic. Black-headed gulls arrive to the Kamogawa at the end of October, and they stay to the beginning of May. They are famous as seasonal tradition. Usually we can’t see black-headed gulls, but you occasionally see them when winter comes. But long ago, we could only see at most 10 black-headed gulls along the Kamogawa River. Nowadays, we can see over 5,000 black-headed gulls. That’s a rapid increase. The food shortage in the winter is a big threat for migratory birds. However, because of urbanization the birds are now fed in the winter by Kyoto residents. That’s why black-headed gulls have increased along the Kamogawa River recently.

Black-haded gull


Nutria are similar to beavers. The difference between nutria and beavers is the size of the tail. Nutria’s tail is rounder and not as flat as beaver tail. In fact, nutria seem to be more like big rats than beavers. The length of their body is around 80 cm. They are mammals, who are good at swimming. They can hold their breath under water for over 5 minutes. They have orange-colored front teeth and small ears. That’s how you can distinguish between a nutria, beaver, and muskrat. Recently, the number of nutria has been increasing. It is in fact an invasive species. So since 2014, in a strategy of capturing nutrias had started in earnest.



As you can see, in addition to its beautiful views, there are also different types of wildlife inhabiting the Kamogawa River. When you come to Kyoto, you will be satisfied with seeing just the Kamogawa River itself. But we recommend that you try to observe some of its rare birds, mammals, and other nationally protected species with your own eyes. That would be a fantastic experience, and one that you will enjoy for sure. Come to see what kind of animals inhabit the Kamogawa River by all means.



by Shiho Tanaka and Keita Matsui

Live Fugu

Fugu in a tank

Fugu is a fish known as ‘blowfish’ in English.  There are about 120 types, but we can eat only Torafugu and Mafugu.  However, they have poisons in different parts of their bodies, so people who don’t know about this may have health problems if they eat it.  Fugu is usually caught in winter, but now the technology for freezing and cultivation is very good, so it is possible to eat fugu in every season.

History of Fugu

Fugu has been eaten in Japan since about B.C 10,000, but people didn’t really know how to cook it in this era. This means they probably ate the dangerous parts of the fish when they broiled or boiled it back then.  From about 1570, after a fair number of people had died from eating fugu, General Hideyoshi Toyotomi, a great leader of the time, banned consumption of the fish.  It wasn’t until around 1870 that people started to eat it widely again, and it then became a real delicacy or high-class food.

Names of Fugu

In Japan, there are different names for fugu depending on the area.  In Kyushu, for instance, it is called ‘Fuku’, and in Osaka, it is known as ‘Teppo’.  Teppo means gun in English, which obviously refers to the deadly nature of fugu and the many people killed by its poison long ago.  In Nagasaki prefecture, people call it ‘Ganba’, and there is also ‘Nagoyafugu.

Fugu sashimi

How to Eat Fugu

People eat this fish in a variety of interesting ways, but the most popular way is as sashimi.  Sashimi is sliced, raw fish, and in the case of fugu it is widely known as ‘Fugusashi’.  Raw fugu is sliced thinner than usual sashimi, because the flesh is harder than that of other fish.  Another famous way to eat it is in ‘Nabe’.  Nabe is a dish in which a variety of ingredients are boiled together in a communal style pot.  In Japan, there are lots of types of nabe, for example, Kimuchi, giblets, vegetable, and fugu. ‘Fugunabe’ includes vegetables, shiitake mushrooms, and of course, fillets of fugu.  There are other names for Fugunabe, too, such as ‘Techiri’ and ‘Fuguchiri’.  Fugu flesh can also be eaten fried, along with some of the internal organs of the fish, and the texture is rather creamy and quite delicious.  However, eating these parts can be quite dangerous, as there are certain toxins or poisons present, which can cause serious health problems for the diner, especially when eating the liver.  Therefore, it is not advisable for a layperson to try and cook the fish themselves, but rather they should visit a restaurant that has qualified chefs up to the task.  Not all restaurants are able to offer this, so one should be careful when selecting a place.  This is what makes fugu dining a high class or gourmet event, and sometimes quite expensive.

Fugu nabe

Deep fried fugu

High Class Fugu Restaurants

There are a number of high-class Japanese style Fugu restaurants in Kyoto, and we would like to introduce two here.  The first is “Fukushin” (http://fukushin.cc/).  This restaurant was established in 1947, and uses natural and high quality fugu.  The lunchtime menu is relatively cheap, so this might be the best time to visit.  Also, “Suehiro” (http://kyoto-suehiro.com/12.html) is another good choice.  This place has a 63-year history and is located in a thriving and happening area of Kyoto.  If you want to go here, the best time of year is between October and March, when the fish is of the best and freshest quality.

Revolving Sushi Bar

by Miki Yamanaka, Yukari Shimono and Saya Ninai

History of the kaitenzushi bar

Sushi is one of the traditional Japanese dishes. In the old days, sushi was not so expensive. However, since fish and rice were perishable, cooks made sushi that would keep for a whole day by using vinegar or salt. Japanese ate sushi as often as Americans today eat hamburgers. Around the 1950s, however, the price of sushi was getting high. That’s one reason why refrigerators became popular and the techniques of the fishing industry improved. Therefore, fishermen could catch rare fish and sell them for a large amount of money at wholesale markets. That is when sushi became an expensive food.

In the 1950s, one sushi chef who managed a standing style sushi restaurant was an opponent of the high prices. He was wondering how to cut down the costs and offer sushi cheaply. How could he offer sushi efficiently and cheaply to many customers? Around that time, he happened to visit a beer factory at which bottles lined up on a conveyer belt were filled with beer and closed tightly with stoppers. He adapted what he saw there to make a revolving sushi bar and opened the first such seated restaurant in 1958. This was the beginning of the revolving sushi bar, known as kaitenzushi in Japan.

How to eat sushi

When you sit down at a table in a revolving sushi shop, you will see a hot-water tap and a container of powdered green tea. If you put a spoonful of the powder into the teacup and push the tap, you can make tea by yourself. Now it’s time to eat sushi! You can choose any kinds you want to eat. There may be a transparent cover over each plate of sushi, so you will pull over the dish and lift the cover. You will pour a bit of regular soy sauce or slightly sweet soy sauce (which ever you like better) over the sushi. Soy sauce matches low fish like tuna and salmon. Slightly sweet soy sauce matches sea eel, eel and octopus. These are already steamed or boiled. You will put “wasabi” which is kind of horseradish on the sushi. It is spicy, but wasabi kills germs and prevents food poisoning. If you are used to it, you may not be able to eat sushi without it. If you want to eat tuna, but it won’t come readily to your table, you can order it by using a touchscreen. Your sushi will come soon through another conveyer belt. After eating, you will insert the plates one by one into a slot. A machine inside will automatically count how many plates of sushi you ate and it’s easy to pay. If you put 5 or more plates into the slot, you will be challenged to play “bikkurapon,” which is a little game. If you win it, you will get a plastic toy shaped like sushi. When you are full and have finished eating, you will touch oaiso on the touchscreen, and then a shop assistant will come and give you the bill. You will then go to the cash register with your bill and pay.

Ingredients for sushi

What kind of ingredients do foreigners like?

The most popular ingredient for sushi among foreigners at one popular chain of inexpensive kaitenzushi restaurants is tuna, called maguro in Japanese. This is one of the most famous and common types of fish for sushi. Most Japanese people like it and they often order maguro at a sushi restaurant.  The second one is salmon. We also sometimes call it “salmon” in Japanese — but also sake (sah-kay) or shake (sha-kay). Salmon is loved in northern Europe, too, so a lot of foreigners order it when they visit Japan. However, since it is not the custom to eat raw fish in most other countries, some foreigners hesitate to eat these foods in Japan. Sushi and raw fish are very tasty, so you should try them both!

Recommended type of sushi

Many foreigners still need to try yellowtail, called hamachi in Japanese.  It is said that yellowtail tastes more natural than other types of fish used for sushi.  Furthermore, farmed yellow tail tastes better than wild fish of the same type. Yellowtail has different Japanese names according to its stage of growth.  People call medium-sized yellowtail hamachi, but when it grows over 80 centimeters, it is recognized as buri. You will be able to try buri at a sushi restaurant, too.

Safety of sushi


Food safety is a priority for kaitenzushi chains lately. Many are careful to buy food that is free of chemical additives, so they can advertise their products as additive-free. Also, they ensure the safety of their food by putting into practice the freshness managerial system of time restrictions. Four major additives - chemical seasoning, artificial sweetener, artificial coloring and artificial preservative - are not used. Having their own factory allows kaitenzushi chains to enforce these strict standards. They can check the quality control every day. Moreover, the processing of fish is performed in a central kitchen with thorough supervision of hygiene. Every fish is delivered to a franchise store as the fillet that is finally used for sushi. The information of the place of origin is also usually released to emphasize the safety of sea products. Also the sources of native seafood — octopus, shrimp, scallop, yellowtail and bream, etc. — are written concretely. This is classified by prefecture. In the case of imports from overseas, all the countries of origin containing seafood, vegetables and grain are shown clearly.

The Japanese kaitenzushi industry wants foreigners to enjoy safe sushi in their own countries. Unfortunately, there is no custom of eating raw fish in many other countries. Also, since these automated shops have few waiters, foreigners distrust the shops in which sushi is only turning on a conveyor belt. When people overseas know about safety of sushi, kaitenzushi will spread more. By putting quality control into practice, kaitenzushi chains offer safety as well as enjoyment.