One-hour ride up the narrow railway that weaves through the maple and pine tree-covered valley in the northern mountains of Kyoto brought us to Kibune. From May till mid-September, this little town nestled in the mountains north of Kyoto attracts visitors eager to indulge in one of the best summer traditions that Japan has to offer – kawadoko. Originating in Edo period, kawadoko translates as ‘river floor’ and refers to dining on the patio extended over the river. Visitors are invited to sit on the tatami-floor platforms that are constructed just centimeters above the river.
To say that I fell in love with this place would be an understatement. Tatami floors, low tables, and colorful lanterns are paired with lush forested mountains and a beautiful rocky stream creating inexplicably enchanting ambiance. And we fit right in with our summer yukatas – couldn’t have picked a better day to wear them!
Kawadoko cuisine is quite similar to the elaborate kaiseki, where you enjoy a variety of beautifully plated dishes served as a set. There are numerous restaurants in Kibune lined up along the main street inviting you to enjoy kawadoko on their patios.
Although we were keen to try yet another Japanese summer experience – nagashi somen, or flowing noodles that is only served in the restaurant called Hirobun. The thinnest type of Japanese noodle – somen – is served flowing down the icy water that rushes through the bamboo pipes. While nagashi somen can be experienced in different parts of Japan, the setting of Hirobun was quite priceless.
We sat on tatami floors enjoying the cascading mountain stream while trying to catch the tasty noodles. These are served alongside the special dipping sauce and Japanese matcha sweets. While the “meal” itself was nowhere near filling (and it did require a two-hour wait), the overall experience was invaluable, and I hope to do it again some time. My research also led me to Kibunesou which might be interesting to those seeking a more luxurious package that includes yukata transformation plus the meal.
While waiting for our turn at Hirobun, we took a short stroll around the shrines of Kibune. This little town developed around Kifune Shrine which is dedicated to the god of rain and water. The long stone stairs lined up with vermillion lanterns and sheathed by the maple trees leading up to the shrine make for the most dramatic feature of the shrine. It is a stunning place to visit any time of the year. While there, don’t forget to pick up a unique type of the fortune written on paper slips (omikuji) that reveal their messages when dipped into water.
At a risk of sounding cliché, this day truly was one of the most memorable during my time in Japan (I’d include it in my top 5, in fact). It felt like I traveled through space and time to a completely different, somewhat magical world. It is the day I will cherish forever and I’m so happy I shared it with a dear friend.
Have you been to a place that you cannot get out of your head? Some place that irrevocably enchanted you? Do share, I’d love to know!
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