Date: 21 November 2017
The plan for the day was to go on the Hozugawa River Cruise (after failing to back in April 2016 thanks to grim clouds) first thing in the morning. As I stepped out from the hostel, it was drizzling. Seriously, not again.
So I headed to Jizo-in first, then only to Arashiyama hoping that the weather will get better later in the day. And it did, well not super clear and bright like I’d hoped, but better. So after admiring the beautiful autumn leaves in Hogon-in and a quick lunch, I headed to Kameoka where the boat departs.
The Hozugawa River Cruise / Hozugawa Kudari (保津川下り) is a 2-hour, 16km traditional boat ride on the Hozugawa River which takes you from Kameoka to Arashiyama. Two boatmen use bamboo poles while one uses the oar to navigate the boat. The boatmen take turns to tell you stories about the history of the boat ride, though this will be in Japanese.
In the older days, the river is used to transport logs from Tanba which were used to built the many temples and castles of Kyoto and Osaka. Suminokura Ryoi, a wealthy merchant famously called the “River Lord” started the boat transport back in 1606 to not only transport logs but other necessities such as rice, firewood, and grains.
The water route was previously blocked by many huge rocks, but he initiated the excavation of these obstacles to make the boat transport possible. Many lives were lost in the process, and they are mourned in Daihikaku Senko-ji, a temple built by Suminokura, which can be seen near the arrival point in Arashiyama.
The boatmen had to pull the boat back via walking trails called tsunamichi as there were no trains or trucks in the past, which takes 4 hours (this practice was continued until 1949). Now, the boat is carried via a truck back to Kameoka, while the boatmen takes the train.
The advancement of transportation, with the opening of JR Sanin Line in 1895 and the introduction of trucks declined the need for river transportation and it soon became obsolete around after the second world war. It was not until hundred years later that the boat ride was brought back as a sightseeing activity in Arashiyama.
The cruise is operated all year, even during winter where the boat will be heated. Even in light rain, a plastic sheet is used to cover the boat and will still run as usual. As with other water transportation, the cruise is halted in bad weather or if the water level of the river is much higher than usual.
You can see sakura in spring, greenery in summer, autumn leaves, and snow covered trees in winter.
Along the boat ride you will see various rock formations and go through few rapids. Yes, though there is a plastic cover for you to use when going through the rapids, you can get wet. I was lucky to be in the first row, so picture-taking was easier, though getting wet was also inevitable.
Ducks can also be seen along the boat ride. They were also telling us about the suzumebachi (Japanese giant hornet) hives found during summer (gasp).
The ravine is especially beautiful in autumn, around mid to late November where the autumn leaves in Arashiyama is at its best. Autumn was pretty early in 2017 thanks to the colder than usual weather, so the colors were not as bright as I’d hoped.
You can also see the Sagano Romantic Train during the boat ride.
A little before arriving Arashiyama, the boat will draw close to another boat selling snacks and beverages for passengers to purchase.
Arriving in Arashiyama, you will see a lot of other sightseeing boats – I have seen the rental prices, they are cheaper, but I guess you do not go as far as this river cruise.
I enjoyed this river cruise very much, thanks to the lively boatmen and their jokes. The price of 4,100 yen may seem daunting but I assure you that for a 2 hour boat ride, it is an experience not to be missed.
The boat pier is 10 minutes away from JR Kameoka Station (20-30 minutes from Kyoto Station), just follow the 保津川下り sign and you will soon see the ticket office. After purchasing your boarding ticket, you will be given a number which will be called when it is time to board the boat. The seating arrangements will be known when you are boarding the boat. The boat ride is 2 hour long and arrives at Arashiyama, near the Togetsukyo Bridge.
- 9:00 to 15:30 (March 10 to November 30, hourly departures)
- 9:00 to 14:30 (December 1 to 10, hourly departure)
- 10:00 to 14:30 (December 11 to March 9, departure every 90 minutes)
Depending on the demand, the boat will depart as and when there are enough passengers for a boat (max 24, 16 for winter), usually on Saturday, Sundays, holidays, and during autumn.
It is possible to charter a boat, however only on weekdays outside Winter. In Winter, you can charter a boat on any days.
Close: December 29 to January 4 and during bad weather / irregular water levels
- 4,100 yen for adults
- 2,700 yen for children between age 4 to 12
- 82,000 yen for private charter, with max of 17 passengers
It is only possible to make reservations for a large group of people, and discounts of 5% are given for groups of 35 passengers or more, and 10% for groups of 100 passengers or more.