Jun. 27, 2018 UPDATE
Kawadoko in Kyoto: an outstanding summer dining experience
Part 3

Kyoto-style kaiseki lunch on top of the Kibune River

In Kyoto, you often hear talk of riverside dining or waterfront dining. So you get to sit on a platform that is by a river, and you get to enjoy the views. This is a very nice way of enjoying the hot summers of Kyoto, though there is a place where you get to eat on top of a river, not by it, and it’s in Kibune. This way of dining (or often having lunch) is called kawadoko in Kibune, so it’s not called yuka like those dining platforms by the Kamo River.

Kibune is an area famous for Kifune Shrine and probably named after the shrine too. Close by you can also find Kurama Temple and Kurama Onsen, one of the most popular hot spring resorts in Kyoto.

The easiest way of getting to Kibune is to take Keihan to Demachiyanagi Station, where you’ll need to continue the trip on the Eizan Electric Railway, usually shortened to Eiden in Kyoto. This small private railway will take you to Kibuneguchi Station, the starting point of your journey to the more refreshing side of Kyoto’s summers.
Kibuneguchi Station
Kibuneguchi Station is a small one, but already from the station building, you’ll notice right away that you’re not in the busy city center anymore. Everything around you is green; that is unless you’re visiting Kibune for the autumn leaves, but that is a completely another story. You can either take a bus from the station to the area where the restaurants are located, or you can walk there. The walk to the restaurant area is around 20 minutes and surrounded by beautiful scenery, so unless you’re feeling very tired I’d recommend going for the walk.
Casual but authentic style at Toriichaya Shinshinan
Toriichaya Shinshinan
Whether you take a bus or walk, you could easily find Toriichaya Shinshinan. It’s only a few minutes away from the Kibune bus stop and you’ll find their kawadoko as you walk up to the shrine. The scarlet Nodatekasa (a type of umbrellas for outdoor tea ceremony) by the river is a guide mark for it. Shinshinan is open only during the summer season for kawadoko and the Toriichaya main building is located 200 meter-north from the Shinsinan.

The ceiling of maple leaves makes a shade that you could avoid the direct summer sunlight, so it’s perfect for a cool-down after walking up for a bit. The gentle breeze eases you down and makes you realize you’ve come to be away from the hectic city center.
Kyo-kaiseki cuisine
Here seasonal Kyo-kaiseki cuisine is served, which means their courses are traditional and exquisitely presented. In the season of Nagoshinoharae (a Shinto festival held on June 30th for good health for next 6 months), the appetizer is presented, imitating the Chinowa (an essential and symbolic object for Nagoshinoharae) with seasonal flowers. Even though you aren’t familiar with those events and customs in Kyoto, their plating ideas and techniques are just beautiful to be as they are.
course
If you’re not a heavy eater, don’t worry. Their dish is served one by one like a French course, so you can eat at your own pace. Listening to the voice of kajika frogs and the sound of the stream, enjoy the natural beauty and their well-thought kaiseki cuisine at kawadoko. It’ll be unforgettable as part of a trip.
Hirobun and noodles on top of River Kibune
kawadoko
There are many great restaurants offering kawadoko cuisine by the river, which you will follow as you make your way up to Kifune Shrine and the restaurants on the way leading up to it. The most famous one is probably Hirobun: this restaurant is known for its nagashi somen, which are thin white noodles, served cold. The name nagashi somen means flowing noodles in Japanese, and it describes the noodle-experience pretty well.

There is a long bamboo flute in the restaurant. There is ice-cold water flowing on the flume, and the somen noodles are placed onto this flume by the staff, and then they’re carried to you by the stream. So nagashi somen is also a test on your chopstick skills, as you need to catch the noodles as they come to you on the flume. If you manage to catch some noodles, you then get to dip them into a thin soup called mentsuyu, which is made from sake, mirin, soy sauce, and dashi stock.

As this the nagashi somen is not only a scrumptious noodle lunch but also quite an experience, it’s something very popular. You can’t make a reservation and will have to line up for anything from half an hour to three hours to get to eat the delicious noodles.
kaiseki cuisine
But don’t worry; there is a way you can circumvent the lines. It’s by making a reservation at Hirobun for some kaiseki cuisine and enjoying a full course on the river. This is a more luxurious and leisurely way of enjoying kawadoko, and something easy to recommend to those who are not too fond of lining up.
sweetfish
With kaiseki, the dishes are, of course, ultra-seasonal, so it’s hard to say what you’re going to get on the day you decide to pop in, but if it’s early summer, you’re probably going to get to enjoy ayu sweetfish, which is eaten whole. The fish is said to have sweetness in its taste, so it’s cooked with its innards, which make the taste rather bitter. There is something quite special about the taste of ayu, and it’s said that getting to eat ayu in Kyoto means that summer has officially begun.
Luxury at Hyoue
Luxury at Hyoue
If you keep walking on from Hirobun toward the inner sanctum of Kifune Shrine, Oku no In, you’ll get to Hyoue, a ryokan with only eight rooms. But the ryokan not only offers you traditional kaiseki cuisine on top of the river, they also have a café. And if you’re ready to pay a 500 cover charge, you’ll get to enjoy your coffee on top of the river. This is actually one of the cheapest ways one can get to enjoy kawadoko in Kibune, so take note if you’re a budget, conscious traveler.
traditional cuisine
However, if you want to enjoy kawadoko to the max, you should make a reservation beforehand and enjoy their kaiseki cuisine on top of the river. The cuisine here is very traditional, but also very beautifully presented: everything is thought out carefully. When I had lunch here, the star of the show was again ayu sweetfish, served grilled in a bamboo container, so you also get a bit of a show with your order. I also got to enjoy ayu in hitsumabushi-style, a dish in which you enjoy ayu and rice in three different ways, first by themselves, then with some spices, and lastly with dashi broth.
kifune shrine
After enjoying your kaiseki cuisine, and the Japanese dessert that follows, you’ll get to continue on your merry way to the inner sanctum of Kifune Shrine. From there you can backtrack to the main part of the shrine and ask for the water god’s blessing for your trip to Kyoto.
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