On a bridge looking downstream (Photo: Bridget Ye)

Following the Kamo to Gion

This river will take you places even if you're not lost

On a bridge looking downstream (Photo: Bridget Ye)
Bridget Ye   - 3 min read

If you are looking for that classic Japanese riverbank setting found in some anime shows or Japanese films, then a stroll along the Kamo River while you are in Kyoto will satisfy your desires. The Kamo River (鴨川 Kamo-gawa) flows through eastern Kyoto, and has its source in the Mount Sajikigatake area. In accordance with the ‘kamo’ in its name, the Kamo River plays host to quite a few ducks, as well as cranes and other avian.

I both loathe and forgive myself for forgetting to set my alarm and consequently sleeping past noon today. Loathe because there went my entire morning, yet forgive because I decided to explore the vicinity, as all the attractions were most likely to be crowded at that hour. The guesthouse I am staying at is a short walk away from the Kamo River so I chose to travel along the river’s pathway north to the Gion district.

On the way to the river, I passed by a local shrine, Takinoo-jinja, whose chozuya, a small pavilion containing a basin with water for purifying yourself before entering the shrine, had quite the sustainable technology. The chozuya was equipped with motion-sensing technology so that the basin only supplies water when a visitor comes to pay their respects.

Along the eastern bank of the Kamo River runs the Shidan Highway and the Keihan underground trains, and JR local and Shinkansen trains rumble by every few minutes on the bridges crossing over the river between Kujo and Shiokoji.

Kyoto is famous for its abundance of elegant shrines and zen temples, for its ancient cobble-stoned streets, and for keeping alive the mysteries of the lantern-lit hanamachi world in which geisha exist. But aside from these frequented tourist hot spots, Kyoto has much to offer outside and away from the hustle and bustle. The Kamo River is a venue for both settings.

Where I began my walk south of Gion, the riverbanks were quiet, disturbed only by the sound of the flowing river and nearby highway traffic. Only a few locals were taking leisurely strolls, jogging or biking until I walked further upstream, where more people, families with children, and elderly couples were enjoying the riverside. Some foreigners, too, came to read or have a snack by the river. By the time I reached Shijo Ohashi bridge, the river was lined with locals and foreigners alike sitting in the afternoon sun. Restaurant terraces extended out onto the river’s pathway, the traffic volume increased overhead, and there was the familiar city atmosphere.

Relax in peacefulness and indulge in a breath of fresh air from the constant city commotion, or head upstream to experience the cityscape with its lights, movement, and activity. A little exploring around the neighborhoods near the river will also give you the chance to witness local life and culture. The Kamo River of Kyoto provides a setting for all age groups and for all different moods. So, when you are in need of a break from being a tourist, why not share the river pathway with some of the locals just doing their everyday activities.

For information on shrine and temple etiquette, please refer to this guide.

Bridget Ye

Bridget Ye @bridget.ye