Kansai Scene Magazine


Never ending party

Kiyomizudera and the hundreds of other temples are impressive but for the true comedy of love and laughs in Kyoto, get yourself a seat on the west bank of Sanjo Ohashi.

They are late. The familiar hypnotic drumbeats announcing their presence are still missing. For the moment, we sacrifice our hear- ing to the next Angela Aki pounding furiously on her electone, emoting of love lost and found.

The west bank of Sanjo Ohashi (Sanjo Bridge) is the place to be in Kyoto, especially on a Friday or Saturday evening. This is Kyoto with its obi loose and hair down. Kyoto-ites come here to relax and catch up with friends after a long day of work. Ask anyone in Kyoto where they like to hang out, high chances they'd say the river. It is cheap, wide open, and all fresh air.

With the indoor scene being uninspiring before 12 midnight, party animals get a little trashed on cheap poison from the nearby Lawson before forking out ¥500 a pop at the surrounding water- ing holes, most just about five-minutes walk away.

If the indoor scene proves a little too claustrophobic, a chuhai session on the west bank is as rewarding. We have been sitting on the rock-hard surface since dusk and a nice collection of Asahi bottles sits nicely in the middle of our motley crew.

People-watching here is always fun and it does not matter if you are going down Kamogawa alone as you are bound to meet people who are willing to adopt you.

Loneliness is a word foreign in this part of Kansai. Instant friend- ship can be struck over an offer of beer or an exchange of smiles. Lonely souls wander this strip of Kamogawa armed with nothing more than enthusiasm and reciprocated either by a welcome into the flock or free love. If you are from out of town, people are curious about your business in Kyoto. If you are from the area, people wonder where have you been all their lives. Romeos and Juliets find each other.

We have been sitting here for almost three hours and no one wants to move. Someone suggests hauling ass to a nearby salsa bar but it is more fun just chillin' at the river. The air is crispy and the water inviting. Most have decided to climb down the gentle bank and dip their toes in the river.

It comes as an irony that such an unassuming place was once the site of gruesome executions of prisoners whose severed heads were publicly displayed. Hidetsugu Toyotomi, a warlord found guilty of crimes against the government, was ordered to kill himself on Mt. Koya in 1595. His head was then carried down to Sanjo Ohashi where his children and mistresses were executed in front of it.

Fortunately, the only thing that spooks this area these days is the many colourful drunks that provide a sort of entertainment to the sober revellers. Salarymen in cardboard suits yell at each other humorously in Kansai dialect while gyrating in a world of their own to the croaking sound echoing from a not-so-distant someone who had obviously exceeded his drink limit. A group of boys having had their fair share of liquid courage started trading lame pick-up lines with a group of nearby girls. It feels like we are eavesdropping on the lives of others.

As the night stretches, the drumbeats finally arrive. The glisten- ing sweaty bodies of two Japanese whippersnappers in fisherman pants make their usual weekend appearance. They writhe and contort their way into a war dance, fiddling with fireballs which they eventually extinguish in their mouths. A stunt that has the appreciative Kamogawa crowd eating out of their hands.

Night grows deeper and the last peddlers pack up their wares of antique goods or homemade jewellery. The crowd changes but never thins. As dawn falls on dusk, the only telling signs of a wild evening are the sleepy bodies that litter the banks waiting to catch the first train home.

Text & photos: WY Mak

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Getting there:
Exit Sanjo Station on the Keihan Line. Cross the bridge towards Lawson and follow the crowd.