What we strongly recommend for tourists who will visit Kyoto this coming season is “kawadoko/kawayuka”.
It is a unique Japanese culture of building tatami floors on the river to enjoy dining.
Kawadoko/kawayuka are very famous touristic places in Kyoto, and are popular with tourists from overseas these days as well; it’s not even rare to see some tourists who visit Japan to fully enjoy kawadoko/kawayuka in Kyoto.
In Kyoto, kawadoko/kawayuka can be divided in two areas; the Kibune area and the Kamogawa area. It is written as “川床 (literally translates to “river floor”)” in Japanese kanji, and this can be pronounced in two different ways.
We call the places where dining can be enjoyed right above the river, mainly in Kibune, “kawadoko” and call the places in Kamogawa and such “kawayuka” where the floors are located high above to look down on the river to enjoy dining.
Kawayuka in Kamogawa
There used to be only long-established restaurants which serve Kyoto cuisine at kawayuka in Kamogawa, but recently restaurants serving worldly cuisines such as Italian or Thai also opened and have become very popular.
The fact that a famous Starbucks shop opened in Kamogawa has become the talk of the town as well.
As seen above, one of the characteristics of kawayuka in Kamogawa is that it is lined with many reasonable and casual shops.
There are many places at kawayuka in Kamogawa where you can stop by to have a little break after shopping in Kawaramachi in Kyoto, which is great.
Tourists from overseas, along with Japanese, enjoy the combination of Japanese and Western styles and the dressed-up moment in yukata.
Of course, there are various restaurants which serve authentic and traditional Kyoto cuisine too.
You will love that there are many options to choose from!
Kawadoko in Kibune
At kawadoko in Kibune, various genuine Kyoto cuisine restaurants are lined up.
The main characteristic of this place is the tatami floors built to cover the river. Since the floor is right above the river, it feels very cool even in hot summer.
The usual price for kaiseki cuisine course is approximately from 5,000 yen to 10,000 yen.
There are many restaurants where you can have the course of nagashi somen (flowing somen noodles) too, at kawadoko in Kibune. It is a traditional Japanese cuisine, and a fun summer tradition of catching somen noodles (thin, white noodles made of wheat) racing by in a bamboo pipe with flowing water. It is very popular among Japanese as well as foreigners.
This nagashi somen can be enjoyed at a comparatively reasonable price.
For those who want to visit kawadoko in Kibune but feel that authentic cuisines might be a bit too much, nagashi somen is definitely recommended!
Restaurants at kawadoko in Kibune sometimes offer a pickup service by bus from Eizan Train Kibuneguchi station. You can get to a restaurant without worrying about getting lost.
You can see how kawayuka in Kamogawa and kawadoko in Kibune offer different services and there are slightly different ways to enjoy them. We recommend you visit the place which suits your style; choose Kibune if you want the genuine kawadoko experience, and visit Kamogawa if you wish to enjoy casual kawayuka.
The history of kawadoko/kawayuka
There are many hypotheses on how kawadoko/kawayuka started, but it is often said that it started in the era of Hideyoshi Toyotomi (1590-) by prosperous merchants who created the floor (something like a dining table) along Kamogawa in Kyoto, crowded with many shows and shops, to entertain guests who visited them from faraway places.
Summer in Kyoto is very humid, and feels extremely hot for those who are not used to it. That is why dining at the cool riverbed was called “kawara no suzumi (cooling down at the riverbed)” and became very popular. The fantastic culture which continues to this day was the remains of the idea of our predecessors who lived in the era without electricity, not to mention an air conditioner.
Important points on kawadoko/kawayuka
〇Do not to forget to reserve a table!
Kawadoko/kawayuka in summer in Kyoto is an extremely popular place swarming with tourists. When you try to dine without a reservation, there is a good chance that they will not let you in, for there is not an available seat. Be careful to reserve a table beforehand.
If it’s a date, a reservation is especially a must.
〇Be careful about weather!
The great thing about kawadoko/kawayuka is the fact that you can dine al fresco. However, that also means the experience depends on the weather. There are places with a roof, but kawadoko/kawayuka can be cancelled in heavy rainfall and you might be seated inside the restaurant. We recommend you check the weather before visiting. There is a chance that there would be a sudden shower in summer in Kyoto. It might be better to carry an umbrella or a raincoat with you even if it’s forecasted to be sunny.
〇Do not make a noise!
Kawadoko/kawayuka is also a place where sake or alcohol can be enjoyed along with food. But do not drink too much and do not get noisy even though it is a rare experience. Many people visit these places to quietly listen to the sound of a stream; refrain from making a noise and causing people around you trouble. It is a place with a chic atmosphere. Be hannari (Kyoto dialect for “gracefully”), nice and quiet to enjoy this cool experience.
Let’s go to a kawadoko/kawayuka!
Do try wearing yukata for the coming season, and enjoy dining while watching the fantastic view and the river in Kyoto.
By the way, my personal recommendation is kawadoko in Kibune for lunch, and kawayuka in Kamogawa for dinner.
The floor at kawadoko in Kibune is located close to the river, so it feels cool and breezy even in a hot afternoon!
The night view from kawayuka in Kamogawa is very beautiful with a unique atmosphere, and it’s impressive.
Visit kawadoko/kawayuka which suits your travel plan!