Walking with the ducks

Strolling along the Kamo River
Tho I have lived in Kyoto for over 40 years, and most of those decades were near the Kamo River, walking along the high banks never became boring nor without some adventure, small or big. The river does change over time; the water changes by the minute, the riverbed and banks more slowly, almost imperceptibly. Keen eyes and a fair memory will present the strolleer with newness on every encounter.
For this essay, I chose to extend my usual walks to include the distant north, and the southern end. Because the city and prefecture for elucidation reasons divide the river into sections encapsulated by bridges, so will I. This is convenient for writing and strolling understandingly. Along the way, I will touch on some history, inevitable in a city like Kyoto, and also present the first Guide to Kamo River Bicycle Ramps (KRBR), information so essential for the wise citizen who prefers biking to cars-busses-trains.
I walked on July 12th, 2013, from early in the cool morning until well roasted around 5:30. Recent days had been consistently in the very high 30s; the 12th was in the mid-30s, thankfully. I went up to the Misono Bridge. From here it is a 136-second walk to the Kamigamo Shrine, if you get a green light. This shrine is as old as the city, if not older. When Kyoto, then called Heian-kyo, became the new capital, around the 790s, one of the reasons for the move was water. The earlier imperial court locations, most notably in the Nara area, lacked sufficient ground water, whereas, the Kyoto valley had more than enough. The other main reason for the move was to escape the unhealthy, overpowering influence of the Buddhist temples.
The Kamo River, down stream, originally was roughly four times wider than it is today. The Takano River and the Katsura River along with the Kamo are only the largest of countless streams and brooks that flow into and thru the valley. Where I live, just north of the Shimogamo Shrine, the ground water level is so high, if you poke a chopstick into your garden, the tip will come up wet. Well, this is an exaggeration, a slight one. The local public bathing house and the Shrine itself both use the water which flows beneath them. Originally, at Ippon Matsu bus stop, there was a large public well. When Kyoto decided to offer city water, the well was filled in, alas. 

Just below the Shrine, Kamo meets Takano. The two rivers couldn't be more different. The feeling one gets walking along one is not the same sensation received from the other. While the Kamo is tame, having been so rendered by the city fathers, Takano still retains some of its original wildness. True, the banks of both rivers have been stoned up quite well. Flooding was always a major problem in the city. In a nearby restaurant, along the walls, are old, B&W photos of the last flood, probably a little after the war. Because of that one, the city banked up the sides of both rivers. Once, after a mighty typhoon, I saw the Kamo almost reach the top of its banks. Such strength of nature, such awesomeness. Brown, swift flowing, carrying detritus, trees, tires, unidentifiable objects to the Inland Sea beyond Osaka. Fascinating and frightening. 

The two rivers meet just above Imadegawa bridge. There is a concrete turtle bridge there, too. At low tide, so to speak, children, adults, dogs, all cross over or play on the turtles. Great fun.
From Imadegawa bridge, the river, now called merely the Kamo River, flows rather straight south to below Kyoto proper, to join the Uji and the Katsura rivers. In the meantime, Kamo hosts loads of birds, who feed on loads of small fish as well as pieces of bread people toss to them.
Between Imadegawa and the next bridge, the Enmachi, the river is calm, nearly unbroken by growing islands, so beautiful. Occasionally, the city will call out a herd of small plows to reduce the islands to below river level because they have gotten too big. Pity the frogs, river birds, fish and others who have made these islands their homes. Still, after a few years the islands will reappear and the cycle will roll on. 
So it goes, the Mighty Kamo river. 

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