As we head out of summer and into Autumn in Japan- we wanted to share a post about a wonderful Kyoto tradition and restaurant that you can add to your 2022 bucket list when travel resumes to Japan!
A few months after moving from Sapporo to Kyoto in 2015, people told me about Kawadoko:*1 the wooden decks adjoining restaurants situated close to Kamogawa’s bank river. In May that year, I saw builders installing these decks with cranes and realized how lovely they looked and how well they allowed patrons to enjoy dining with a calm, relaxing atmosphere and stunning views.
I always enjoy interacting with inbound tourists here in Kyoto, and one day I talked to an Italian man and exchanged contact information with him. In 2015, he and his friends joined me to dine together on the deck of an izakaya located in Ponto-cho. It was a great, memorable, and unique experience for a person who was new to town at the time.
Since these unique dining decks are so special to me, I wanted to highlight them and share them with as many people as possible. Hopefully after reading this, you will be excited to add dining at Noryo Yuka in Kyoto to your bucket list.
First, let’s start by introducing the history of Noryo Yuka. In the late 16th century, after a series of Samurai wars, the Sanjo and Gojo Bridges were renovated. Additionally, Kamogawa’s bank rivers had an influx of new customers, largely because of its theatre plays and retailers. To accomodate the new customers, business owners installed audience seats in theatres and established tea houses in the early years of Noryo Yuka.
In the Edo Period (1603-1868), embankments were installed around Kamo River (Kamogawa), and surrounding suburbs were developed into entertainment districts. Noryo Yuka was well-developed and organized in the mid Edo Period, and 400 tea houses set up deck tables to suit their needs.
The infrastructure of the old capital affected deck plans, and strict regulations were set to protect the local scenery. The current Noryo Yuka Regulation building was set up in 1952, and local businesses have been allowed to have these wooden decks between May and September*2 since the operating regulations were set in 2000. Meanwhile, the Kyoto Kamogawa Noryo Yuka Association was established in order to respect and maintain the traditions of these decks for the foreseeable future.
Now, let’s go into more detail about the wooden decks in present-day Kyoto. The Noryo Yuka district is approximately two kilometers long, and runs alongside Kamogawa from Nijo Street to Gojo Street. It is easily accessible due to the surrounding public transportation (Keihan and Hankyu Railways, and the Kyoto City Bus and Subway). The wooden deck district has four areas with restaurants of various cuisines as well as many bars and cafes.
The Kamikiyamachi area is located at the northern end of the district, and it has 14 restaurants and cafes. It is close to Sanjo Ohashi Bridge, the west end of Tokaido, and the birthplace of rally marathons in Japan. Traditional Kyoto cuisine mainly dominates the area, but a sweets cafe, an authentic French restaurant, and a Starbucks are also located here.
The Ponto-cho area’s tiny pedestrian-only Ponto-cho Street creates a unique and calm atmosphere, despite being close to the heart of the city. Due to this atmosphere, the district is usually crowded at night rather than during the daytime. Twenty-nine restaurants and bars in the area are registered with Kamogawa Noryo Yuka Association.
You might think the Ponto-cho area only serves traditional Kyoto/Japanese cuisine, but this is not the case. Since it is a tourist friendly street (and Kyoto has always blended traditions and modern trends) French, Italian, steaks, grilled beef, skewered deep fried beef, and prawn are also available. If you miss western food, then you can have your favourite meal in a traditional atmosphere in Ponto-cho. If westernized premises aren’t really your speed, Izumoya at the southern end of the area (close to the Shijo Ohashi Bridge) provides a tatami matt wooden deck so that you can enjoy everything Japanese at the Noryo Yuka restaurant.
Located south of Kyoto’s main street, Shijo Street, the Nishi Ishigaki area is a small street with a calm and relaxing atmosphere. Although the area is only a few hundred meters long, there are tons of options available to meet your desires. Its seven properties serve Chinese, local, and Thai cuisine as well as bar food. Maison de Vin Udura Tei offers French cuisine, hot pot soup meals, and wine. Baan Rim Naam, the Thai restaurant, has Noryo Yuka only lunch combos. So if you love Thai food, you absolutely cannot miss it, especially since these set meals are only available from May until September!
Fifteen unique restaurants are set up at the Shimo Kiyamachi area, which makes up the southern end of the Noryo Yuka District. The area proves its authenticity by serving Italian Kappo, the mixture of Japanese and Italian, as well as gelato at Babbi. The gelatos that are served are a mix of traditional Italian and authentic Japanese flavours. Babbi is a fantastic stop for ice cream and sweets lovers. Two more Italian restaurants and French and luxury Japanese cuisine stops are also located in the area.
LE UN Funatsuru Kyoto Kamogawa Resort was established in 1870 as a traditional Japanese inn (Ryokan). It is no longer in operation as an accommodation, but its traditional architecture remains. You can enjoy authentic French cuisine while seeing the stunning view of Higashiyama. Sensitive and gorgeous French meals are created to suit any special occasion. Proposing to your partner on the wooden deck is surely incredibly romantic.
Three hundred meters further down from Funatsuru, the next registered property, Tsurukiyo, is a ryokan and restaurant that has a huge Noryo Yuka deck that can accommodate up to 200 people! Kaiseki cuisine can be enjoyed on the big wooden deck whether you are a guest at the inn or just a customer at the restaurant. If you just want to dine there, booking in advance is highly recommended due to its massive popularity.
Sixty-five properties are registered with the Kyoto Kamogawa Noryo Yuka Association, all offering various diverse cuisines with a wide range of prices, from coffee and sweets at cafes, to top end Japanese Kaiseki, Italian, and French meals. You have a wide array of choices from Noryo Yuka restaurants, cafes, and bars to enjoy dining outside by the Kamo River with an authentic calm, relaxing atmosphere. Enjoy your Noryo Yuka!!
*1: Kawadoko is translated into English as river floor, which is the same as Noryo Yuka. However, Kawadoko is the term of the Japanese language in the bush suburbs of Kifune and Takao, while Noryo Yuka is used officially for the Kamogawa ones. However, people do sometimes say Kawadoko to describe wooden decks in Kamogawa.
*2: Noryo Yuka can be opened at lunch time in May and September, so that customers can enjoy cooling down outside. Opening the wooden decks in the daytime during the summer is impossible, because of the rainy season and heat issues, so they are only open in evenings.