Running through the breath-taking hillsides to the west of Kyoto and to the north of Osaka is the beautiful Hozu River, a must-see spot if you’re planning to go to Kyoto. With its unforgettable scenery, the Hozu River is best experienced by both rail and boat in the area between Arashiyama and Kameoka. With countless temples and interesting museums to see, the Hozu River attractions are something different from what you might find in the rest of Kyoto. If you’re a nature-lover or just want to get some fresh air, take the opportunity and go.
The unforgettable view from the train
Kyoto is an amazing destination for so many reasons. It is known as the cultural capital of Japan with over 2000 temples and seventeen UNESCO World Heritage Sites, it should absolutely be a part of your itinerary.
Your journey will begin at the Saga Torokko Station, which is located right outside of the JR Saga-Arashiyama Station (15 minutes from Kyoto Staion, cost: 240 JPY ($1.93 USD)). At the station you can purchase the Sagano Romantic Train ticket for just 620 JPY ($4.99 USD) for adults and 310 JPY ($2.50 USD) for children.
The trains run every hour and leave 7 minutes after each hour. The first train leaves 9:07 AM and the last one at 5:07 PM. If you happen to miss the train, the station has a gift shop and a nice place to sit down and get a bite to eat while you wait for the next train.
Enjoy the open-air ride along the river
Each train has four enclosed cars with windows that can be opened and one completely open car. Try to get the open-air car if tickets are still available when you get there. The open-air car is car No. 5. You will be able to take better photos and enjoy a more open view in this car.
The train slowly makes its way around the edges of the hillside with numerous opportunities to take photos and breath deep the fresh air. You will soon know why it is called the Sagano Romantic Train. The scenery is incredible and unbelievably peaceful. It’s a wonderful opportunity to enjoy the natural beauty that Japan has to offer its visitors.
After about 20 minutes, the train will make its way to the end of the line and passengers will exit at the Torokko Kameoka Station. You can return to Arashiyama via the Sagano Romantic Train or walk five minutes to Umahori Station and catch a JR train back. You can also take the train all the way back to Kyoto Station from here. However, most people choose to take the Hozugawa River Cruise back. A bus connects the train station to the river cruise port and can be found right outside the station.
Traditional wooden boats take you back in time
The Hozugawa River originates up in the Tanba Mountains and snakes its way through narrow ravines before it reaches Arashiyama. Throughout history, the river has played an important role in transporting goods and materials to construct the Japanese capitals of Nagaokakyo City and Kyoto respectively. The beauty of the ravine and river became so popular that in 1895, sightseeing boats were introduced for tourists.
The boats are about 8 meters in length and hold around 27 passengers and 3 crew. The crew takes turns steering and rowing using a massive wooden oar and a long wooden stirring stick just as it was done hundreds of years ago. You’ll be able to listen to the flowing water and hear the wildlife without the piercing sound of a motor polluting the air.
The river cruise can take anywhere from one to two hours depending on the water levels and the time of year. When the water levels are low, the trip will take the longest. The water levels are the highest during the tsuyu, or rainy season. In Kyoto, the rainy season runs from June 6-July 9.
Floating down at a relaxing pace, you can truly enjoy the blossoming flowers, amazing forests, massive boulders, beautiful water, and some wildlife. Besides fish and turtles, you may be lucky enough to spot deer on the banks of the river.
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Enjoy the great outdoors
The crewmembers are incredibly friendly and welcoming. However, there is a possibility that they will not speak English. If you have Japanese friends who don’t mind coming along for the ride, they might be able help you translate. If you find yourself lost in translation, I wouldn’t worry too much. You may miss some information and facts and history of the river, but words can’t begin to describe the incredible scenery. The Hozugawa River Cruise is a perfect excuse to zone out and take a break from the world.
Boulders the size of small houses line the river and there are a few spots of mild whitewater. Be careful with your camera, phones, and other electronics when going over these areas. People seated near the edge of the boat did get wet. It wouldn’t be a bad idea to bring a waterproof bag to keep your valuables in.
Floating vendors for when you get hungry
Towards the middle of the journey, your boat will pass a couple of floating vendors. They pull up along your boat and offer soda, water, beer and various snacks in case you get a little hungry. I recommend the barbecued squid or the kushi dango, rice mochi balls on a stick covered in sweet and salty mitarashi sauce. They are both fresh and tasty. You will not be disappointed. The prices are all very reasonable and it’s the only time during the entire experience that may feel slight “touristy”. There are no other shops or vendors selling goods or merchandise and these vendors are there to offer anything if you want or need it. You will not feel pressured to buy anything if you don’t want to.
An epic train ride
Your trip will finally end back at Arashiyama. The day was great but it certainly does not have to be over. Arashiyama’s iconic Togetsukyo Bridge lies just down the river. Great cafes and restaurants line the streets where you disembark from the boat and there are plenty of shops to browse around and enjoy. The bamboo grove is another landmark just 5 minutes away from the port that you will not want to miss.
The train is especially popular during the autumn months of November and early December when the leaves are changing color. The train is closed from December 31 to the end of February. If you time your visit right and go during the spring, you can see beautiful cherry blossoms along the riverbanks and up the hillsides.
If you are looking to escape the hustle and bustle of the city, or just get experience some breathtaking natural beauty, the Sagano Romantic Train and the Hozugawa River Cruise should be at the top of your list. Kyoto, as Japan’s cultural capital, has so much to offer. Take the short journey from the center of Kyoto and relax the day away.
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