Rickshaw in the Arashiyama and Sagano Areas

April 16, 2004

by Kai Kasumi

The Arashiyama and Sagano areas are popular and highly recommended for tourists, because there are a lot of famous temples and shrines there. Visitors can also enjoy beautiful autumn leaves, and cherry blossoms in the spring. The area is dotted with historical sites, some quite a distance apart, so it can be tough on the sightseer’s feet. Some people take trains or buses, which are quite easy, but the downside of this is that the visitor cannot stop and see things at their leisure. Hiring a rental bicycle is a good way, but only for those who have enough physical strength. There is, however, another means which overcomes the drawbacks of the rest. That is the rickshaw, a unique mode of transport with two big wheels and a man to pull it.

You will find rickshaw parked up near the Togetsukyo Bridge in Arashiyama. Rickshaw drivers do not only take passengers to their destination like a taxi, but also give tours of temples and shrines with a detailed explanation and enjoyable chitchat.The most appealing thing about riding rickshaws is the people who pull them. I interviewed some of these special guides and would now like to relate to you something of their considerable charm.

I first asked them why they became rickshaw drivers, and they all agreed that it was to take up the challenging work of helping tourists enjoy Kyoto.They work as hard as they can to put a smile on their customers’ faces.One special thing they do is give out information about temples and shrines which often does not appear in guide books.How do they know so much about temples and shrines? One driver said,”When we first start doing this work, we are taught just the basic facts about these places, but we soon find it is not enough. Personally,I visit many spots in this area on my day off to improve my knowledge of the place.” I think it is great that the drivers voluntarily study to flesh out the information they have, and make their own guides.
They always take good care of their passengers, and are very considerate.That is, they often do things that they feel passengers want them to do before they are asked. There is no manual. They themselves are always thinking about what they can do to please their passengers.For example, when the sunshine is strong, they pull down the top so that the sun does not dazzle the passenger’s eyes.

Though this may seem like a small thing, passengers really do appreciate it. When the season to view beautiful autumn leaves comes around, they are very busy and can run up to 30 kilometers in a day. When the red leaves are past their peak, visitors to the area decrease, but they still have to run about 20 kilometers a day. Although everyone has confidence in their physical strength, it must be hard to run for 30 kilometers pulling a rickshaw. They say that the happy faces of their passengers keeps them going and spurs them on.They often carry visitors from foreign countries, so some drivers can speak English, but most of them do not. However, they do make foreign visitors feel very welcome. They try to make themselves understood with a lot of gestures and a smattering of English words. In order to really enjoy Kyoto, I recommend you ride a rickshaw if you get the chance. On a final note, please take a look at these messages from the drivers to prospective foreign visitors:

“In order to appreciate Kyoto, please ride our rickshaws!”

“If you see us, please talk to us, and ask about Kyoto.”

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