June 26, 2012
by Mirai Ikei
A Special River in Kyoto
The Kamogawa River is the fourth longest river in Kyoto and its source is the 895.8 meter high Mount Sajigatake (located in the northern part of Kyoto). It runs from north-eastern Kyoto and flows down south-west to Katsuragawa River. It is about 33 kilometers long and the basin is about 208 square meters in area. The water is used for both agriculture and industry. A section of the water flows into Kamigamo-Jinja Shrine and is turned into sacred water. People in Kyoto have used the water from the Kamogawa River for a long time.
Five Bridges on the Kamogawa River
In this article, you will find out about five special bridges: Marutamachi-bashi Bridge, Nijo Ohashi Bridge, Sanjo Ohashi Bridge, Shijo Ohashi Bridge and Nanajo Ohashi Bridge, on the Kamogawa River. Can you imagine that you are now walking beside the Kamogawa River in fine weather, such as warm sunshine and soft breezes? The goal will be Nanajo Ohashi Bridge, near KyotoTower.
We are starting off from Marutamachi-bashi Bridge. The Kamogawa River was known for flooding repeatedly in olden times. In those times it was called ‘Abare-Gawa’. Here, on the site of of today’s Marutamachi-bashi Bridge, people built a wooden bridge and crossed the overflowing river. Walking down from Marutamachi-bashi Bridge, you will see Kyoto Gyoen National Garden, which includes court nobles’ houses and gardens, lots of trees, and many people having a rest in such a peaceful place.
Go down from Marutamachi-bashi Bridge for about 500m, and you will see the next bridge, Nijo-Ohashi Bridge. The Misosogigawa is an artificial watercourse which is located to the west of Nijo Ohashi Bridge. Famous cooling off places along the way are ‘Noryo Yuka’, which are wooden terraces connected to restaurants, where you can eat traditional dishes. People can go there and enjoy their meal in a little more luxury than usual during the summertime. (They are open from the beginning of May to the end of September.) Apart from the Noryo Yuka, let’s have a closer look at Nijo Ohashi Bridge.
In the past, there was no bridge at Nijo Ohashi. The place was once the site of a battle. A defeated general had his head cut off and his neck was kept on public display with a bulletin board. (The victor was making an impact on people by doing this.) This place is also known for a famous notice board which was written by people who complained about the chaotic government. There are stepping stones across the river. The stones are shaped as plovers, turtles or ships. It is fun to try to cross the river by hopping on the stones.
Now we pass Oike Ohashi Bridge and onto the next bridge, Sanjo Ohashi Bridge. Beloved by Kyoto people, it was built by Hideyoshi Toyotomi (a famous general in the Sengoku era [16th century]). Have you ever read the funny story ‘Tokaidochu Hizakurige’ written by Jippensha Ikku? The Sanjo Ohashi Bridge is the start point of the western part of Tokaido Gojusantsugi which are the 53 post stations of the Tokaido. (The Tokaido was one of the five highways in the Edo era [1600-])
There are two statues of Yaji-san, and Kita-san who are the main characters from ‘Tokaidochu Hizakurige’ near the bridge. Besides these ‘Yaji-Kita Statues’, there is a stone, called ‘Nade Ishi’. People who stroke the stone will find good fortune. Let’s walk across the bridge and experience the feeling of standing at the crossroads of people’s lives in old Kyoto city.
The fourth bridge is called Shijo Ohashi Bridge. Everyone must have walked across this bridge when they visited Kyoto. It functions as an entrance to downtown Shijo Kawaramachi. There is one practice hall for Maiko and Geiko at Pontocho Street. In May, the event ‘Kamogawa Odori’ (traditional dance performance by Maiko and Geiko) is held. Their performance is so beautiful, like a dream. If you walk down east a little more, you will see Yasaka Jinja Shrine. It is a major sacred place of the Gion Matsuri which is a famous festival held every July. Yasaka Jinja Shrine is also famous as a place which is used for other important rituals - people grieved here and held memorial services for those who had died of plague because of the repeated floods. We could say that Shijo Ohashi is a bridge that connects people who are alive and the spirits of people passed away.
Nanajo Ohashi.. and five more
Finally, we will talk about the last bridge, Nanajo Ohashi Bridge. Before starting this, I want to tell you, briefly, about five more bridges which we have been skipping.
Oike Ohashi: built in 1964
Oike-dori is the street which connects Shinsen-en Temple. In the past, the pond of Shinsen-en Temple never ran dry so people called it Oike. (In Japanese, Oike means a ‘Great-pond’.)
Donguribashi: built in 1963
This bridge’s name originates from a big chestnut (a chestnut means ‘donguri’) tree. The Ayu-fishing begins in July.
Matsubara-bashi: built in 1959
Originally, here was the ‘Gojo Ohashi’ which was moved south by Hideyoshi Toyotomi. In the Heian-Era (about A.C.794-1192), it was called Gojo Dori where the Matsubara-bashi is located today.
Gojo Ohashi: built in 1959
The place of the famous episode of Ushiwakamaru (Yoshitsune Minamoto’s childhood name) and Benkei (followed Yoshitsune after this battle)
Shomen-bashi: built in 1952
The name came from the street, Shomen Dori, which is located in front of the Daibutsu-den (Great Buddha Hall) of Hoko-ji Temple. (By Hideyoshi Toyotomi)
*all of the years indicate the latest year of rebuilding
Shall we go back to the story of Nanajo Ohashi Bridge? Nanajo Ohashi is the oldest of all of the bridges on the Kamogawa River. It dates from 1913. It has been renewed once and the design of the handrail is based on Sanjusangen-do Temple’s first ‘bow-pulling’ of the year. If you walk down south a bit more from here, you will see Kyoto Tower, one of the most popular tourist spots in Kyoto.
Now, we have talked to you mostly about our favorite bridges. Thank you for reading to the end. Lastly, we have a few suggestions for you before you start your own exploring. Here you go:
- Please look at the nature beside the river.
- Get some background information before going. It will make your walk more fun!
- Mind black kites, the birds flying over your head. They might snatch your lunch from you. One of us lost his lunch after just one bite.