Along the Kamogawa (鴨川)

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Our first encounter with the Kamo River in Kyoto was on honeymoon in 2009. On a hot, sunny day, we headed east from our apartment to visit some temples and wander round Gion. We walked along Marutamachi-dori, past the Imperial Palace gardens, until we reached the Kamogawa. Standing on Marutamachi-bashi, we watched a kettle of black kites swooping down to pick up food from the river, menacing passersby and a lone heron as they went. It was both beautiful and slightly frightening.

The picture above is the first one I took of the Kamogawa. We are looking north towards Kojin-bashi, one of twelve bridges that cross the river today.

As I understand it from this guide to the bridges across the Kamo, Marutamachi-bashi is the site of the first bridge built to cross the Kamo. Before its banks began to be reinforced by concrete, the river was prone to severe flooding, and a wooden bridge was constructed to enable people to cross over.

The kamo in Kamogawa is currently written with the kanji for wild duck (鴨), but the river is named for the Kamo clan that used to live in the area. They spelled their name 賀茂, and in older texts about the former Japanese capital, the same kanji is used in the name of the river. Two shrines close to the river also share the Kamo name – Kamigamo and Shimogamo-jinja. We’ve yet to visit these shrines, but with our next trip less than three weeks away, I might put them on the itinerary.

We’ve spent more time wandering along the Kamo on other trips to Japan. In 2013, we stayed near Toyokuni-jinja and joined the river at Shomen-bashi to walk north to Gojo-dori. We were there in April, and it was a perfect time to enjoy some late cherry blossom along the river.

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There’s also usually plenty of wildlife to see as you stroll along the river bank. In 2013, we saw some pretty birds, but in 2015 we saw a coypu close to Gojo Ohashi and a crane close to Kamo Ohashi.

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Later on the 2105 trip, we spent more time walking along a stretch of the river to the north of the city. We had been to a festival at Kami Goryo-jinja and walked north to find somewhere to eat. Kami Goryo-jinja is west of the Takano river, which we also walked along.

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We ate at Mamezen and then rejoined the Kamogawa at Kita-Oji, walking south until we reached the point where the Kamogawa joins the Takanogawa close to Shimogamo-jinja. Here the rivers can be crossed by the Kamo Ohashi bridge or by using the turtle stepping stones.

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Further downtown, between Sanjo and Shijo-dori, there are clusters of restaurants that front onto the river. Some of them form part of Pontocho. In the summer, large wooden platforms called yuka are built to extend the restaurants out towards the river.

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It must be lovely to sit out in the evening, enjoying the cooling air coming up from the river, seeing the lights across the river in the hanamachi of Gion and Miyagawacho.

You never know what you might find when crossing one of the bridges over the Kamogawa, either. On our 2015 trip, we encountered a mikan leaning against one of the finials of the Shichijo Ohashi.

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Back in 2013, at Shijo Ohashi, we came upon the statue of Izumo no Okuni, former shrine maiden and later influence on kabuki theatre.

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I really want to walk more along the Kamo river. There’s a walk in the Deep Kyoto book that I fancy doing. Or maybe I should just go for a wander and look around at what goes on down by the river. Autumn might be an interesting time to do that.

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