From time to time it may be good to refresh memories or acquaint new readers with Stillwater’s sister city, Kameoka, Kyoto, Japan.
The area has a very long and rich history, but I’ll go back only about five hundred years when much of Japan was under the control of powerful feudal lords.
One such feudal lord, Akechi Mitsuhide, conquered the region where Kameoka is located in the late 1500s and constructed a large and impressive castle where he lived and from which he ruled the region. Soon after the completion of the castle, which was called Kameyama Castle, a town sprang up nearby to provide for the needs of the occupants of the castle and the feudal lord’s samurai army.
That town, called a castle town, became known as Kameyama. The castle dominated the area along the Hozu River for almost 300 years during a time in Japanese history known as the Tokugawa Era.
In 1867, the Tokugawa shogun was finally overthrown and the emperor again ascended the throne and soon thereafter he ordered all the old castles except one per prefecture to be dismantled. Kameyama Castle was dismantled at that time, however the old castle town of Kameyama survived as did a number of other nearby small villages which had taken root during the 300-year history of the old castle. Soon afterwards Kameyama was renamed Kameoka.
It remained a small town until 1955 when the Japanese government incorporated Kameoka and the several relatively close-by villages into a new city. Since Kameoka was the largest, the new city with a population of about 35,000 retained the name Kameoka. It’s not far west of the old capital of Kyoto but is separated from Kyoto by a range of mountains.
Kameoka’s first rail service started about 1900 and the rail line went through the Hozu River Gorge along the Hozu River and the trip from Kyoto Station to Kameoka took about an hour as it wound through the gorge.
A new line opened in 1990 and reduced the travel time to about 30 minutes by going straight through the mountains via several long tunnels and high bridges over the river. Through the years since incorporation the population had grown and stood at about 90,000 by 1990 and remains at about that today.
Because villages scattered through valleys surrounded by mountains were incorporated to create Kameoka, the land area within the city limits of Kameoka is rather significant for a city in Japan with a population of 90,000.
The city is sort of like an inverted doughnut. There’s a mountain range in the center with a valley surrounding those mountains and that’s where the old villages were.
Encircling, at least on three sides, the sort of circular valley are more mountains.
Even today, after more than 60 years as an incorporated city there are pockets with more significant development separated by large areas of farmland. Those pockets of more development are the villages which were incorporated.
Kameoka gets its name from the mountains encircled by the valley with the villages. Kameoka means “Turtle hills” and someone with a good imagination said the mountains looked like a turtle with the highest mountains representing the turtle shell and lower mountains representing the head. The city straddles the Hozu River with about 65 percent of the population on the west side and 35 percent on the east side.
Through the years there was significant flooding along the river, but not long after incorporation, dikes were built along the river which stopped most of the flooding and in recent years a dam has been constructed upstream from Kameoka which provides flood control, power generation, drinking water and recreation.
Being near Kyoto has benefits and disadvantages associated with attracting tourists. Some say there’s more than enough to see in Kyoto so why go to Kameoka while others say since Kameoka is nearby they might as well visit it since they’re in the area and Kameoka has some significant tourist attractions.
There’s the Yunohana Onsen or the Yunohana Hot Springs, the ruins of the former Kameyama Castle, several nice temples and shrines, the Hozu River float trip through the Hozu River Gorge between Kameoka and Kyoto and the rail trip on the old train which followed the river through the gorge to connect Kameoka and Kyoto, now called The Romantic Train.
There are also nice places to view the cherry blossoms in the spring and the autumn foliage in the fall. And last, but certainly not least is Kameoka’s International Peace Park which includes areas set aside to honor Kameoka’sthree sister cities and one friendship city.
The area set aside for Stillwater is designated “Stillwaterland” which has a pioneer and American Indian theme and is very nice.
Larry Jones is a member of the Stillwater Sister Cities Council.