Saturday, 21 May 2011

Riding the Hazugawa River

With the weather warming up, Jules and I were keen to take Dave and Cara out of the big cities to see some of the wonderful countryside in the surrounding mountains of Kyoto. We had heard that one of the best ways to experience Japan’s natural beauty was to take a two-hour boat ride down the Hozugawa River that flows from Kameoka to Arishiyama. After a relatively quick train journey from Osaka, our momentum was somewhat halted when buying our tickets as we learnt that we would have to wait an hour and a half for our boat. Being ‘Golden Week’, a consecutive run of three public holidays in Japan and probably the busiest time of the year for tourist destinations, it wasn’t totally surprising. However eventually, an announcement over the loud speaker (in English) heralded that our boat was finally ready and that we should all hop on board. The lovely thing about this journey is that the boats are of traditional wooden design with the crew of three all taking turns in rowing, punting and steering the boat down river, much as they have done for centuries. There are no motors here and all that can be heard is the creaking of the wooden oar on every stroke as we move gently through the still waters to enter some wonderfully picturesque gorges. We pass scores of turtles lazing on the rocks as we quietly move along leaving civilization behind. The silence is briefly interrupted by a colourful wooden train (referred to as the ‘Romantic Train’), scooting by as it hugs the edge of the steep slopes that line the river. It is full of waving holidaymakers who have opted to see the same scenery using a slightly quicker form of transport. It is soon quiet again, but the pace of our journey increases as we approach our first set of rapids. We notice small groups in rubber dingies who are clearly here to experience the thrill of white water rafting. However, our experienced crew expertly dodge the larger boulders and avoid the more challenging waters, ensuring that we experience a few splashes without being in too much danger. The short burst of excitement livens up the passengers and sparks plenty of banter (in Japanese of course) from the crew, who go on to point out the various heights of the river over the years and the names given by the boatmen to many of the passing rocks. Our heads are craned upward, as we admire the spectacular scenery and gaze at the occasional bridge crossing high overhead. There are several more small rapid runs, but eventually the river slows and we notice a boat heading up stream. It eventually pulls up along side, to serve all manner of cooked food and drinks; it’s a unique touch on the final leg of our journey. Soon we started to notice other smaller boats obviously hired from down stream, so we knew that we had arrived at our destination. The time had passed quickly and in the end we all agreed the ride was a fun way to experience the wooded mountains of Kyoto and the beautiful waters of the Hozugawa River.

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