11 Jul 2019 in Food Culture
Experience the Kyoto summer tradition of eating while suspended over cooling water.
Kyoto can get hot in the summer. The city is set in a valley, and the surrounding Tamba highlands trap in the heat and humidity. This means one of the great pleasures of the summer – al fresco dining – can be a sticky experience. Fortunately, the locals have come up with an ingenious way to cool down during meal time: they dine in the middle of the river!
From May to September, many Kyoto restaurants set up dining areas on top of the river. The natural coolness of the water can reduce the temperature by several degrees, while the sound of the flowing river underneath provides a serene soundtrack during your meal.
And, during July and August, you can enjoy more waterside relaxation at HOSHINOYA Kyoto.
This luxury ryokan, set among forested hills in the west of the city, is organizing a special program to help you unwind while beating the heat, offering everything from floating terrace seats in the garden to meditation sessions by the water.
Kamo river platforms
This year, around 100 Kyoto restaurants are expected to mount water-top terraces known as noryoyuka (“cool breeze platform”) or kawadoko (“floor on the river”). The practice is strictly controlled and requires a permit. Most kawadoko are temporary wooden terraces or decks mounted above the river. Traditionally, the floor is made of tatami mats.
The main showcase for kawadoko is the mile-and-a-half stretch along the Kamo river between the Nijo and Gojo bridges. While the terraces were originally reserved for traditional Japanese restaurants, you can now enjoy noryoyuka dining in almost any style of international cuisine.
Even if you don’t eat in one of the Kamo river kawadoko, it’s worth taking a stroll in the area after nightfall: with the terraces lit up, the atmosphere is lively and entertaining.
Closer to nature
If you’re looking for an authentic kawadoko experience out of the city, head to Kibune in the north. Set in a verdant valley, this small mountain town is a 30-minute train ride from central Kyoto, with some local restaurants running free shuttle buses from the station.
The town is reputed for its spectacular kawadoko perched above the Kibune river. Many of the terraces are dramatically situated above or below frothing waterfalls and the river is so close, you can bend down and touch it. Even on Kyoto’s hottest days, the temperature on Kibune’s kawadoko is a reliable 23 to 24 degrees, making it well worth the trip out of town.
Most restaurants in Kibune are upscale and serve local Japanese cuisine. At Kibunesou, you can treat yourself to freshly salted and grilled ayu (sweetfish) or to hotpots such as sukiyaki and shabu-shabu.
Hirobun restaurant is a good option for nagashi somen. The staff will even offer you a fan to cool yourself down while you wait for a table.
Noryoyuka at your ryokan
For the full kawadoko experience, book yourself into HOSHINOYA Kyoto. This riverside ryokan, set on the outskirts of the historic district of Arashiyama, is organizing a special program of waterside experiences inspired by kawadoko.
The ryokan’s traditional Japanese garden features a waterfall and pond – and during July and August, you can relax on the water thanks to tatami platforms positioned in the pond and accessible via stepping stones.
With the cool pond underfoot and cascading falls behind you, you’ll feel like you’re floating on water, fully immersed in the ryokan’s natural surroundings.
To add to the mood of tranquil contemplation, a number of original wind chimes (furin) have been dotted around the terrace, crafted by local artists.
And in the evening, the platforms transform into a stage to host a concert of traditional Japanese music. What better way to enjoy a warm summer evening than by listening to the ethereal plucking of the shamisen against a backdrop of trickling water and chirping cicadas? To complete the experience, you just need a drink in your hand.
The ryokan’s pop-up Noryo bar serves a range of Japanese whiskeys and original cocktails inspired by the summer.
Before you head to your room, why not join the ryokan’s stretching and breathing activity?
At the end of the session, you’ll meditate quietly in front of the pond, contemplating the shimmering image of 400-year-old maples reflected in the water.