Japan’s stifling summer is around the corner. Would you like a cool breeze, a place to soak your feet in sparkling water, or take a dip in a waterfall? Without leaving the city? Splash this way. The Sumiyoshi River, which divides the Hanshin area with the Osaka dialect traditionally spoken to the east and Kobe dialect to the west, is concreted like most rivers in Japan, but it is an excellent spot in summer to cool down and enjoy nature.
At first glance, it would seem the fast-flowing Sumiyoshi River was once a large, deep river, but at the turn of last century it was much shallower, dotted with over 80 waterwheels and prone to flooding. Major landslides in the area during the Great Hanshin Floods of July 1938 resulted in the death of over 600 people. Depending on your route to the river, you will see numerous stone memorials for flood victims. The largest — a guardian god carved into a boulder near the top waterfall — is also a great spot to enjoy the view. On a fine day, you can see as far as Wakayama and even Shikoku.
The promenades along the river were originally created in the 1960s to transport soil from Mt. Sugimori to be used as landfill for Rokko Island and were nicknamed ‘Dump Truck Road’. After construction was completed, the ‘roads’ were developed into promenades, with stepping stones laid at various points across the river, that are used by the locals for walking, jogging, walking the dog and relaxing. Exercise areas at either end of the east promenade have hanging bars and other exercise equipment.
In mid-June, Sumiyoshi River is illuminated at night with the flickering lights of fireflies. Successfully reintroduced in 1996, firefly larvae from Hiroshima prefecture are released into the river in November every year by the river association, which holds clean-up campaigns twice a year in spring and autumn. The best time to view this beautiful natural light show is just after dusk, the day after rain, where the vegetation is thickest. If you do venture behind the guardian monument to view the fireflies, take a torch, but do not carry a plastic supermarket bag or you may become the target of wild boars.
In July 2008, 70 years after the 1938 floods, the water level of Toga River to the west rose 1.3m in ten minutes claiming the lives of five people. Since, Kobe City has installed flood warning lights, which flash when precipitation in the mountains is heavy, along the rivers.
Text & Photos: George Bourdaniotis. Originally published in Kansai Scene #121, June 2010.