Jun. 29, 2018 UPDATE
Kawadoko in Kyoto: an outstanding summer dining experience
Part 1

About kawadoko and yuka and their differences

Kyoto is in a basin surrounded by mountains on three directions, so the summers of Kyoto are everything but windy and have always been, and to this day are, very hot. And not only is it hot in Kyoto, but it’s also very humid. This sauna-like weather makes many people feel irritated.

How do you think the people of Kyoto got through this strenuous time of the year? One of the ways they did it is by kawayuka – riverside dining. Kawayuka is sometimes said to be the most important summer tradition in Kyoto.

In traditional kawayuka, you sit on tatami mats by or on the river and enjoy the cooling breeze as you enjoy your food. Enjoy the susurration of the river and the refreshing wind. Forget everything about mundane things like the hot weather, arguments, and stress, and enjoy the luxurious, open atmosphere of kawayuka.

The superb atmosphere of kawayuka is made possible not only by the cooling river and wind, but also by the preparations.

Many events take place during the kawayuka season, like Gion Matsuri, Bon Festival, and Tsukimi (moon-viewing).

Each restaurant leaves no room for improvement with their preparations for the kawayuka dining, so everything is planned perfectly, like the flower arrangements and the lanterns lit up at night.

The nice kawayuka-atmosphere is made possible by the preparations and dedication of each of the restaurants offering this riverside dining option – thus making it possible for you to truly enjoy the elegance of Kyoto.

In addition, most of the kawayuka-dining platforms are set in such a way that you have a lot of space for yourself, so you can enjoy the food and scenery at your leisure.

Different names

The riverside dining is called different names in different parts of Kyoto. In Kibune, the surrounded by nature dining platforms are called kawadoko, as they’re also in Takao, an area in Kyoto famous for autumn leaves. By the Kamo River, however, the dining platforms are known as kawayuka or noryoyuka. You can feel the historical atmosphere of Kyoto at each of these places, so they’re all very popular.
What do the people of Kyoto think of kawayuka?
What do the people of Kyoto think of kawayuka?
Kawayuka is a special thing to the people of Kyoto. Nowadays young people and foreigners can also go enjoy kawayuka, but before, not everyone could enjoy kawayuka. Getting to enjoy kawayuka was thought to be a kind of status, and many people yearned for it. When the people walking by saw others enjoying dining by the light of the lanterns on kawayuka, they told themselves that they would work extra-hard to someday make it to kawayuka.

The history of kawayuka is not without its twist and turns. The Second World War signaled an end to this tradition.

And everything was not smooth sailing after the Second World War had ended: a restaurant by the Kamo River had their dining platform made into a yakatabune-boat shaped lacquered thing that was so ludicrous the kawayuka dining was canceled for a time. After a lot of effort, the kawayuka could be opened again, and an organization called Kyoto Kamogawa Noryoyuka Co-up was formed to keep the traditions intact. Because of these historical reasons, we can enjoy the present scenery of the Kamo River being lined up with beautiful, traditional kawayuka dining platforms.

One of the greatest things about kawayuka is that you can enjoy the atmosphere and scenery of Kyoto like it used to be. So for the people of Kyoto, kawayuka is an opportunity to enjoy the same scenery and dishes their grandparents once had. In these tumultuous times, it’s not an easy feat to keep something intact without changing it. You can feel the pride and passion the people of Kyoto have toward kawayuka when you enjoy the dishes and the moon-viewing as they were tens of years ago.
How to enjoy kawayuka
How to enjoy kawayuka
Enjoying with five senses

The greatest charm of kawayuka has to be that you’re surrounded by nature.

It’s pretty rare to be able to enjoy dining surrounded by nature, up close. The Japanese tatami seats fit beautifully into the natural scenery, and you can enjoy the breeze coming from the river and the susurration of it, not forgetting the scrumptious food and sake, all the while you gaze at the clouds and the stars. This is the essence of kawayuka.

Keep manners in mind while enjoying kawayuka

The people enjoying kawayuka don’t shout at each other but enjoy their meal in quiet.

The atmosphere of kawayuka is upheld because of this, especially since there are no walls separating the tables, and even the distance to the next restaurant’s riverside dining platform can be very close. So listen quietly to the susurration of the river, the whispering sounds of the trees, and feel the relaxing sense of unity of kawayuka. The feeling of unity and sharing at kawayuka is born out of each person having good manners.

Enjoy the changing color of the sky

You can enjoy the turning of the day into the night while you dine, as you see the sky turn to rose madder; then to deep blues, before turning into dark black. Enjoy the slowly changing color of the sky, while the gentle river breezes blow by, as you enjoy talking merrily with your dinner partner. And when it’s completely dark, the lanterns, both andon and chochin, lead you to a world that is a step in the mysterious and unknown direction. This is what coolness in Koyto looks like.

Enjoy the changing seasons

Kawayuka used to begin on the 1st of June, and end on the last day of August, but as the “Golden Week” holidays of April became a thing and many people said that they wanted to do moon-viewing from kawayuka, the new dates of the riverside dining event became April 1st to September 30.

The green leaves of spring are beautiful in April, and you can experience the vividness of the atmosphere. From June onward, it gets hotter and hotter and the true kawayuka season begins, as people start looking for cooler places. In September you can enjoy the sound the bugs by the dining platforms make while you gaze at the moon. One of the ways to enjoy kawayuka is to enjoy the differences different seasons bring.
Future of kawayuka
Future of kawayuka
As time goes by, kawayuka has been transformed from a place reserved for the elite in Kyoto to something that is more easily approached; nowadays there is room for diversity in the kawayuka culture. Not only can you get Japanese cuisine, but you can also find Italian, French, and Chinese cuisine, and not all of the restaurants are long-established Japanese restaurants, you can even find bars and cafes with kawayuka.

Although kawayuka has become more diverse, it hasn’t lost its dignity. The way the kawayuka riverside dining platforms look is as they were a hundred years ago, and the beautiful atmosphere is kept intact. This is because the Kyoto Kamogawa Noryoyuka Co-up has kept the traditions alive and made rules governing the dining platforms, making sure that they are both beautiful and traditional. As long as the pride and passion the people of Kyoto have toward kawayuka are passed on, the tradition of kawayuka, although it may change, will not cease.

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