Saturday, July 7, 2018

The river (川)

Katsura River (桂川) 12:10 6 July 2018 

How high's the water, Mama?  Five feet high and risin'.

- Johnny Cash

I have long wondered about the not-so-pretty concrete levees that edge most every river in Japan.  The beauty of Kyoto's Kamo River that snakes through the city is significantly diminished by these man-made borders.  While nature and time have softened the hard ugliness with moss and various river grass, they do remind me of the epic eyesore built to contain the Los Angeles River in the late 1930s.  Like LA, the levees in Kyoto were built in the modern era in response to cyclical flooding.

There is a lovely promenade along both banks of the Kamo River that is popular with strolling lovers and picnickers in the spring and summer months.  This too made me wonder, why doesn't the city plant some trees?  How much more beautiful would this esplanade be with graceful tree branches shading the path.  It all seemed somehow incongruous with a city famed for its gorgeous gardens and high artistic aesthetic.  Furthermore, I couldn't imagine this thin, shallow river ever swelling to the width and height of the embankment.

Those questions were answered in a dramatic and threatening way this week.  Typhoon No. 7 rolled into town Wednesday evening and basically parked the bus.  It rained and it rained and it rained, with barely a pause.  In 24 hours Kyoto received more than 250mm (9.8 in) of rain.  The Kamo River, normally less than a meter deep, was sloshing over the top of the levee and the nice pedestrian path along the riverbank was inundated with muddy water.

Closer to home, the Katsura River had risen to 4.15 meters (13.6 ft), well above the so-called "flood precaution level" and had begun to breach its banks in places.  The riverside trails where I frequently walk had disappeared under water.  So too had the man-made waterfall that cuts across the river north of the Imperial Villa.  The famous Togetsukyo Bridge in Arashiyama was nearly submerged.  Some 40 kilometers further upstream, the Hiyoshi Dam was at capacity and discharging 900 tons of water a second.  It was incredible to see this normally placid river stretched to its full width and power.  Nature is an awesome and humbling force.  

The rain finally subsided Friday evening, and so too did the startling emergency notifications (which I can't read) squawking out on my mobile phone.

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