Several geisha are relaxing at the Noryo Yuka (納涼床, summer platform) of a restaurant in Kyoto. This photo appears to have been taken at Shijo Ohashi, on the western side of theKamogawa. The woman in the light kimono is pouring sake, while the two women on the right are playing Jan-ken-pon (known in English as Rock-paper-scissors). Two Andon lamps have been placed on the matted floor.
Noryo Yuka first appeared during the Edo Period (1603-1867). Wealthy merchants in those days would entertain guests by placing folding stools called Shogi (床机) on the sandbanks and shallows of the Kamogawa. It offered them a welcome escape from Kyoto’s debilitating summer heat and high humidity.
During the Kambun era (1661-1673) flood-control works were carried out on the Kamogawa and both banks of the river were fortified with masonry. As a result of this, tea houses and food stalls (yatai) selling everything from cut watermelon to tofu-dengaku (tofu dish baked and coated with miso) started to appear. There were also acrobats, jugglers and other street performers, creating a never-ending festival atmosphere which attracted bustling crowds. Around this time Noryo Yuka started to take their form as actual platforms.
During the early Meiji Period (1868-1912) many new rules and regulations were adopted and Noryo Yuka did not escape. The period for Noryo Yuka was set for July through August, a mere two months.
The modernization of Japan, begun in the Meiji Period, also affected the appearance of Noryo Yuka. Many semi-permanent platforms made with steel legs, some even with roofs, were made during the Taisho Period (1912-1926).
They didn’t last long. In June 1935 (Showa 10) all Noryo Yuka were washed away during a severe downpour. Maintenance work carried out after this disaster resulted in the Noryo Yuka as they appear today.
During WWII, Noryo Yuka were prohibited, but they were started up again by a small number of restaurants in 1951 (Showa 26). Over the next few years they became once again increasingly popular and some 40-50 restaurants applied for permission to build Noryo Yuka.1
These days some 90 Noryo Yuka are built every summer between Nijo-dori and Gojo-dori. They can be used from May 1 to September 30 when they offer a cool respite from the muggy summer heat. In May and September they are open during the day, but from June through August they can only be enjoyed during the evening.
The acrobats and dancing prostitutes may have long disappeared, but a summer evening along the Kamogawa is once again a memorable experience.
This photograph has over the years been attributed to a large number of photographers. A recently rediscovered article in the September 1896 issue of The Practical Photographercredits it to the amateur photographer Y. Isawa (full name and kanji unknown), finally solving the attribution question.2