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June 15, 2009

Japanese Customs: Time for Noryo Yuka!

"Noryo yuka" are wooden terraces built over a small canal running parallel to the River Kamo in Kyoto. Those structures are set up between May 1 and September 30 at the back of the many restaurants that sit between Nijo and Gojo streets so that patrons can enjoy dinner in the cool evening breeze. There are about 80 such dining platforms. It is an old custom, going back to Edo times.

[LIFE AS IT WAS IN OLD JAPAN -- Four Maiko Dining on "Yuka" Along the Bank of the Kamo River, KYOTO. From the Flickr Photostream uploaded by Okinawa Soba]

The Kamo riverside used to be a sort of no man's land where entertainers and prostitutes lived and plied their trade already since the 14th century. At those times, benches (called shogi) would be set up by food stalls for their customers and it is thought these developed into wooden terraces connected to restaurants. The terraces became a sort of permanent fixtures, but were pulled down in the rather stiff Meiji-period, to make place for modern developments.

The above picture shows a scene from about 1898 when the terrace was apparently still built in a low position above the Kamo River itself rather than on high stilts above the embankment. The picture was taken by famous photographer T. Enami.

And the wheel of time keeps turning. Besides Japanese food in all price-classes, you can today also have Thai, Korean, Chinese, and even Starbucks coffee on a "noryo yuka!" Kyoto is hot and humid in summer, but the sight alone of the river makes you feel cooler, not to speak of the many lanterns adding charm to the evening scene.