The Hozugawa River Boat Tour is a fantastic way to experience Kyoto’s nature. While Kyoto is most famous for its beautiful temples and well preserved historic neighborhoods, surrounding it is some truly spectacular nature with mountains, rivers, and forests. One of these green lungs is the western mountains surrounding the Hozugawa River.
Going on a boat trip is a very relaxing way to see another side of Kyoto, and to enjoy the silence of nature, without even having to break a sweat.
With long poles made of bamboo, boatmen steer the flat-bottom wooden boats down the Hozu-gawa River. The river takes you through steep mountain canyons surrounded by lush forests of pine, cherry, and maple trees that turn into a sea of beautiful colors during spring and autumn.
We took this boat trip in November, and the autumn leaves made the surrounding landscape into a painting of orange, red, yellow, and brown. Such a beautiful sight!
The scenery is also extraordinarily beautiful during Cherry Blossom Season in spring (March/April) when the hillsides get covered in a pink and white sea of cherry trees in bloom.
Guide To Hozugawa River Boat Ride In Kyoto
The Scenic River Boat Trip Down Hozugawa River
The map above: The 16 km (2 hours) boat trip along Hozugawa River in Kyoto – from Kameoka to Arashiyama
The 2-hour Hozugawa River Cruise starts in Kameoka in west Kyoto, 30 km west of Kyoto Station. The wooden riverboat will take you to through the scenic Hozu-kyo Ravine and to the Arashiyama area of Kyoto, home to the famous Arashiyama Bamboo Forest.
Check out our recommended 3-day Kyoto Itinerary for tips on what to see in the Arashiyama area of Kyoto, where the riverboat will drop you off.
It is also popular to combine the Hozugawa River Boat Ride with the Sagano Romantic Train Trip, as they both run in the same area. You can take the Sagano Romantic Train one way and the Hozugawa River Boat Trip back, or vise versa.
Click here for the latest prices on the combined ticket (Hozugawa River Boat Ride & Sagano Romantic Train)
The Hozugawa River Boat Ride starts in Kameoka (west Kyoto). To get there take the JR Sagano/ San-in Line from Kyoto Station to Kameoka Station (a 27-minute train ride).
You can use your JR Railway Pass if you have one, or pay for a single ticket which is 420 Yen = US$ 4. The train departs every 20 minutes from Kyoto Station.
The boat trip covers 16 km of the Hozu-Gawa River, which is mostly broad and calm, but some places the river narrows, and you can experience some choppy water. But don’t worry, it is not dangerous, and you are in good hands with the experienced boatsmen.
The boatsmen are super professional and also quite funny! They will tell fun and interesting stories along the way, make jokes and do a bit of play acting on the choppy sections (which are not scary at all, just thrilling).
We has a great time our boat trip, and it was cool to see another side of Kyoto besides temples, shrines, shopping streets, and nightlife.
The boat rides run no matter the wheather, rain or snow included. We had some rain at the beginning of the boat trip, but the boats have a plastic roof and detachable rain covers along the sides of the boat. We did not get wet at all.
And don’t worry if you are like me and get hungry during the 2-hour boat trip. A super cool floating cafe boat will pull up along your boat. You can buy all sorts of food and drinks from the kiosk boat, also hot food like hot dogs, dumplings, and grilled meat.
I loved the little boat kiosk, and it saved my day as I was starving! We bought some Matarashi Dango (Japanese rice dumplings) that were delicious, and some Pocky chocolate snacks and hot tea.
You can also bring your own food on the boat ride. There is a kiosk at the ticket office center/ waiting room selling bento boxes and other kinds of food and snacks. You are even allowed to bring alcohol on board, but smoking is prohibited.
Hozu River, or Hozugawa, as it is called in Japanese, is a big river that runs through Kyoto city. The river originates in the Tanba Mountain range west of Tokyo, not that far from Mt Fuji. Hozugawa River runs through the mountains from Sonobe on the west coast of Japan, and through Kyoto city.
The river is also popular for fishing, and even the Seiwa Emperor (850-880) used to come to Hozugawa River to fish as a part of his medical treatment prescripted by his doctor. I guess this means fishing is healthy then? I love fishing, so this is good news for me. 🙂
The river has some big pools where it widens out and runs slow. The deepest pools are over actually 10 meters deep (!) and are home to huge carp fish, some over 1 meter long!
The scenery and landscape that unfolds as you silently glide and get carried along the river stream, pushed and navigated by the long poles of the boatsmen, is stunning!
All the way, you will be surrounded by tall forest-covered mountains. The highest one is Mt Atago (924 m). You will see massive rock formations, lots of different trees like cherry trees and maple trees, birds, fish, bridges, and trains passing by on the hillsides.
The scenery changes during the four seasons, and it is particularly breathtaking during the Sakura cherry blossom season in spring (March/ April) and autumn foliage in November.
If you go during winter, spring and autumn, bring a warm jacket as it can be a bit chilly as you sit still in the open boat for the entire 2-hour trip. During winter, the seats are heated.
History Of Hozugawa River Boat Ride
Hozugawa – The Old Main Transport Vein To Kyoto
Hozu-gawa River has been used for transport for decades, ever since before Heian-kyō (now named Kyoto) became the capital of Japan back in 794. The capital city of Japan is at all times where the Emperor lives. Back then, Nagaoka-kyō functioned as the capital as the Emperor Kanmu lived in Nagaoka Palace in Nagaoka-kyō from 784 to 794.
The Emperor moved to Heian Palace in Heian-kyō/ Kyoto in 794 making Kyoto the capital city of Japan. Kyoto remained the capital until 1868 when the Emperor moved to Tokyo, where he still lives.
They first started to use the big Hozu-gawa River to transport logs from Tanba to build the new capital city Kyoto. The woods were bound together into big rafts and then sent downstream on the river. Logs were in high demand back then. Rinsen-ji Temple, Osaka Castle, and Fushimi Castle were all built by timber transported on the Hozugawa River.
Also, food and other goods were transported on the Hozugawa River, like rice, wheat, firewood, charcoal. The river soon became a vital transport vein to Kyoto and a lucrative and thriving business.
A wealthy merchant, Ryoi Suminokura, also called the “River Lord”, opened up the Hozu-kyo Ravine for boat transports in 1606. The development and excavation of the Hozu-gawa River so that it could be used for transportation were very difficult and dangerous since they did not have machines, and everything had to be done by hand. Huge rocks had to be removed, and the whole process not only cost a lot of money but also cost quite a few lives.
You can see a monument of the waterway founder Ryoi when your riverboat approaches its end stop at Saga-Arashiyama. Here you can also see Daihikaku Senko-ji Temple, built by Ryoi to honor the people who lost their lives in the excavation of Hozugawa River.
Ryoi made good money on the river all up to 1895 when the current JR Sanin Railway Line opened and effectively put a stop to the Hozugawa River being the main transport vain into Kyoto.
Hozugawa River Boat Sightseeing Tour
In 1895 the first sightseeing riverboats floated down the Hozugawa River, and it soon became trendy both among locals but also tourists from both Japan and abroad. Several famous writers and poets have written about this river trip, which made it even more popular, especially during the Taisho Period (1912- 1926) and Showa Period (1926-1989).
Even some royals have taken the Hozugawa Riverboat cruise, like the Prince of Romania in 1920, the Prince of Wales in 1922, the Duke of Gloucester in 1929, Princess Alexandra, and Princess Margaret. The Emperor of Japan and his family have done the riverboat trip several times over the years.
Transportation of logs on the river stopped completely from around 1945, and nowadays, all timber and other goods are transported by train and trucks. The river is only used for sightseeing riverboats these days and is hugely popular! About 300 000 tourists make the 16 km riverboat trip from Kameoka to Arashiyama every year.
After the boat trip, the wooden boats have to be transported back to Kameoka. In the old days, until 1949, the boatsmen pulled the heavy boats back upstream! They used long hemp ropes and walked along the shore of the river, this was called “hikifune” (pulling the boat back upstream with ropes by manpower). Wow, they must have been super strong and fit back then! They used about four hours to pull the boat back up the river. You can even see rope marks on many of the rocks along the riverside from the boat pulling.
Nowadays, however, the boats are driven back to Kameoka on trucks.
If boat rides are not your thing, another great way to see the beautiful nature in Kyoto is by the Sagano Romantic Train, called “Sagano Torokko Ressha” in Japanese. It is a sightseeing train where the railway cars are antique and runs on a narrow railway track from the 19th century.
We have not done the Sagano Romantic Train ride yet, but the train passed us several times when we were on the riverboat. It looks so cool and cute!
The Sagano Romantic Train runs in the same area as the Hozugawa River Boat Ride, between Saga-Arashiyama and Kameoka in Kyoto, along the Hozugawa River. So you will see the same landscape, although warm, comfortable, and dry from a train car instead of a boat. Of course, you miss out on the excitement of the rafting experience.
The Sagano Romantic Train is especially popular during Sakura Cherry Blossom (March/ April) and autumn foliage season (November).
The most popular route on the Sagano Romantic Train is the 25-min train ride from Saga Torokko Station to Kameoka Torokko Station (both in western Kyoto).
You can also combine these two transport means, and do the Sagano Romantic Train one way and the Hozugawa River Boat Ride back.
Then you can, for instance, do the Sagano Romantic Train first. The Sagano Romantic Train starts from Saga Torokko Station (right next to JR Saga-Arashiyama Station, which is easily reached from Kyoto Station, a 17-min train ride). When the Sagano Romantic Train arrives at its stop at Kameoka Torokko Station, you just go outside the station and jump on one of the shuttle buses from Kaemoka Trokko Station that transfers you to the boat departure boat on the Hoguawa River Boat Tour. The Hoguawa Boat Ride will take you back to Arashiyama, the same area where you boarded the Sagano Romantic Train earlier.
- Opening time and departure times Sagano Scenic Railway:
The Sagano Scenic Railway is closed during winter and only operates from the 1st of March until the 29th of December. There is no service from the 30th of December until the end of February. The Sagano Scenic Railway is usually closed on Wednesdays but is open if the Wednesday falls on a national holiday and during peak season (spring, summer, and autumn).
From Saga Torokko Station, eight train rides depart every hour from 09:07 to 16:07. Return trains depart from Kameoka every hour from 09:35 to 16:35.
- Ticket prices Sagano Scenic Railway:
Adult One-way ticket: 620 Yen = US$ 6
Children One-way ticket: 310 Yen = US$ 3
All seats are reserved only, except for the open car (Car No. 5), which can be bought on the same day. You can also buy standing tickets if the seats are fully booked. The Sagano Scenic Railway is very popular during spring and autumn, so it is a good idea to reserve tickets in advance.
⇒ Click here for the latest prices on tickets for both the Sagano Romantic Train and Hozugawa River Boat Ride
- Sagano Romantic Train’s Official Webpage
Information & Ticket Prices Hozugawa River Boat Ride
- Opening hours/ Boarding Times:
Spring/ Summer: 10th of March – 30th of November: Seven times a day: 09:00, 10:00, 11:00, 12:00, 13:00 am, 14:00, and 15:30
Winter: 1st – 9th of December: Six times a day: 9:00, 10:00, 11:00, 12:00, 13:00, and 14:30
Winter: 10th of December – 9th of March: Four times a day: 10:00, 11:30, 13:00, 14:30
Closed: 29th of December – 4th of January
Irregular times during weekends and holidays
You can also hire a private boat and go whenever you want
- Ticket price:
4100 Yen = US$ 39 adult, 2700 Yen = US$ 25 child (4-12 years old)
Private charters (max 17 people): 82000 Yen = US$ 771
They do not accept credit cards, so bring cash
- How To Get To The Start Of The Hozugawa River Trip In Kameoka:
From Kyoto Station, take the JR Sagano/ San-in Line to Kameoka Station, a 27-minute train ride. You can use your JR Railway Pass if you have one, or pay for a single ticket which is 420 Yen = US$ 4. The train departs about every 20 minutes.
- Hozu-gawa River Boat Ride’s Official Webpage
Where To Stay In Kyoto
Century Hotel Kyoto
We highly recommend this hotel, as we loved it! The best hotel we stayed at throughout our entire Japan trip!
The rooms are big and beautiful decorated, with huge comfortable beds. Great service from the staff and excellent location just next to Kyoto Train Station (100 m walk). You will love this hotel!
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Hotel Mystays Kyoto Shijo
We stayed at Hotel Mystays in Tokyo and it was fantastic! Hotel Mystays is a business hotel chain. The rooms are not the biggest but have everything you need and more (even slippers!).
The location of Mystays Kyoto is perfect, close to Maruyama park and many shrines, and very close to a subway station (300 m) and bus stops. There is a good selection of restaurants nearby and there is a supermarket next to the hotel. It is a quiet hotel, and all rooms have good wifi. There is a laundry room with washing machines and a dryer and a coffee machine in the lobby that you can use for free.
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Karasuma Kyoto Hotel
A nice budget hotel centrally located with plenty of eating places within a short walk. It is within walking distance to the Gion area and to Nishiki market. Reasonably sized rooms (big for Japan) and have a small fridge and coffee/tea maker. The breakfast is delicious. The bathroom is fully equipped with all the necessary toiletries.
There is a Starbucks next to the hotel, and the hotel is close to a big supermarket, many restaurants, as well as bus stops and a subway station (2 stops from Kyoto Station). Take subway Karasuma Line to Shijo Station (exit 6).
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There you have it, everything you need to know about the Hozugawa River Boat Ride. We loved this scenic riverboat trip! You should put Hozugawa River Boat Ride on your list if you are heading to Kyoto. It is a brilliant way to see some of the beautiful nature that this famous city also has, and not only its famous temples and shrines.
Check out what else you should not miss when going to Kyoto on our recommended 3-day Kyoto Itinerary. In our Kyoto Itinerary, you will also find our recommended walking route of the Arashiyama (where the Hozugawa River Boat Ride ends) – what sights to visit in Arashiyama, including the famous Bamboo Forest.
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Will you put Hozugawa River Trip on your to-do-list when going to Kyoto? If you have already made this riverboat trip, what do you think of it? Do you have any questions about this boat trip? We would love to hear from you in the comment area below! Thanks!
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