Up & Down the Ki’ – Two Extracts from Deep Kyoto: Walks by Michael Lambe

This month we have two extracts from Deep Kyoto: Walks. Both are from my own piece on a musical tour of Kiyamachi bars conducted by my good friends Mark (Max) Dodds and Ryotaro Sudo in late November last year. On Saturday November 29th 2014 Max and Ryotaro will again perform this tour for the tenth and final time, so a couple of short excerpts from my account seemed timely. In the following passage we have reached Tadg’s bar, and the musicians and the audience are all having a splendid time when suddenly a song of Max’s induces a mood of wistful reverie…


Two extracts from Up & Down the Ki’
A Musical Tour of Kiyamachi & Pontocho with Mark Dodds & Ryotaro Sudo

…There are a small group playing Irish music as the rest of our party arrives and Max and I, in honour of our roots, dance a little faux jig as they play. Max manages to persuade the fiddle player Peter Damashek to join himself, Ryotaro and four members of another local band, Dodo, who are due to join them for a full band experience: one fiddle, two guitars, an accordion, bass and two percussionists. This is going to be good.

The magnificent seven raise their glasses in a mutual toast and then play for us a spirited set that is one of the highlights of the night, starting appropriately with a Pogues number before moving onto Max’s originals. Everyone is dancing now, and laughing, the musicians are smiling as they play and Tadg himself happily taking pictures is absolutely beaming. I suddenly feel rather moved at the scene before me, for it doesn’t feel like a show as such but a big family gathering. And then they play Max’s “Glory Be”. I absolutely adore this song: on the surface it is a toast to a loving relationship that has yet outlasted life’s trials and turmoils and with that in mind, I feel a pang for my own girl Miu, remembering that time we swayed to this song together just a year ago.

Babe you know who I am
Without needing to understand
I am just a grain of sand…

As the day winds down the night winds up
And we will share a loving cup
Of the sacramental wine

Tonight though, there’s something else, I feel like the song is also a serenade to this old town and the people in it and that the band is raising a loving cup to us all.

Every soul will be delivered
Somewhere up or down this deep, dark river
Every drop of rain, every grain of sand…

And so another memorable night at Tadg’s draws to a close, and Lawrence and I head over to Urbanguild ahead of the others, as Lawrence says, “to get the pints in”…

In this second extract we have now reached Urbanguild and things are about to get wild!

…It’s well after eleven for we are running late and whatever performances Urbanguild had tonight have now finished, but the audience and performers are unaware that Max and Ryotaro are about to treat them to some indoor busking. Back in Tadg’s, Ryotaro was talking about “having a rest” and playing a few quiet songs outside by the elevator. But they don’t do that. And they don’t set up their gear on the stage either, but in the middle of the floor between the wooden benches. As the onlookers gather round in a smiling but curious half-circle, our rebel rockers commence to play. Lawrence pulls out a harmonica and joins them in his shy way, diffidently floating round the edges. He clearly hasn’t got enough pints in yet. But Max has, or he’s simply high on the music, hunched over his guitar and leaning into the mic, singing “Stone Cold Blind!” with a passion. As for Ryotaro, he is on fire, strutting about, teasing his audience with wild flourishes of the accordion bellows. The musicians are clearly enjoying themselves and their enthusiasm is infectious as the audience responds with appreciative whoops and cheers. This is the second high point of the night. And as they replay Circus of the Sun, the song takes on a new tone, and the blessed freedom they sing of seems both proud and ecstatic…

Text, photograph and second video by Michael Lambe. Glory Be video by John Wells. Original song lyrics by Mark Dodds. To read the rest of this story, download our book here: Deep Kyoto:Walks.

To follow the tRace elements musical tour of Kiyamachi one last time click here: The 10th & Final Kiyamachi Tour.

DeepKyoto-cover-0423-finalAbout Deep Kyoto: Walks

Deep Kyoto: Walks is an independently produced anthology of meditative strolls, rambles, hikes and ambles around Japan’s ancient capital. All of the writers and artists involved in this project have lived and worked in Kyoto for many years and know it intimately. The book is in part a literary tribute to the city that they love and in part a tribute to the art of walking for its own sake.

About-Michael-Lambe-256x300About Michael Lambe
Michael Lambe is from Middlesbrough in the North East of England. He moved to Japan in 1997 and has lived, worked and studied in Fukushima, Saitama, Tokyo and Kyoto. He has been writing the Deep Kyoto blog since 2007 and doing odd jobs for Kyoto Journal since 2009. He is the Chief Editor of the Deep Kyoto: Walks anthology and has written articles for Japan Today, Morning Calm, and Simple Things magazine.


To learn more about Deep Kyoto: Walks please check the following links:
About the Book

Please Support EMA Japan’s Campaign for Same-Sex Marriage Rights & Sign their Petition!

emaLast week the good people at Japan Today were kind enough to publish a profile piece I wrote on the Equal Marriage Alliance of Japan (EMA Japan for short). Founded in February of this year, EMA Japan is the only NPO advocating solely for legal same-sex marriages in Japan. Unfortunately, same-sex marriage is still illegal in Japan, so EMA are running a petition that aims to put pressure on politicians of all parties to support a change in the law.

I would urge you to sign that petition: LINK.

My article was the result of a lengthy interview with EMA’s President Kazu Terada, and Vice President Jeffrey Trambley. In the finished piece I tried to emphasize how denying a minority of people their spousal rights impacts negatively both practically and profoundly both on individual lives and on society at large. Here is a clip :

…the spousal rights denied to same-sex couples are many. To name but a few, same-sex couples cannot benefit from the tax deductions and inheritance rights that are due to married couples. They cannot apply for joint housing loans. In a medical emergency, a same-sex partner cannot make decisions on behalf of their loved one, and perhaps most upsetting of all, in the event of death, a same-sex partner has no legal entitlement to attend the funeral.

But beyond these legal rights and benefits, Terada believes that marriage equality would bring social validation to the whole LGBT community. “The social meaning of the right to marry could be the most important benefit. When legal discrimination ended in Denmark, society became much more open. There were fewer instances of bullying in schools because the new law sent a message of tolerance and acceptance. Parents of those with homosexual children didn’t have to worry about their future. They could be confident that their children would be treated fairly before society and the law.”

Trambley adds, “I think of closeted people working in Japanese companies and those that cannot come out to their families. It’s hard for them that they can’t be themselves. Even if a person doesn’t want to get married, to have an easier time being yourself in society, this is a major benefit of marriage equality.”

You can read the full article here: New NPO brings same-sex marriage equality into Japanese public debate.

My interview with Kazu and Jeffrey covered a lot of ground, but of course I was not able to include everything within the parameters of the Japan Today article. On a blog though, you can do what you like. So here is part of our original conversation, where we discuss how the lack of overt discrimination in Japan, paradoxically leads to a lack of action on LGBT rights…


DK: How much of the opposition to same sex marriage is tied in with traditional ideas about marriage and family?

KAZU: The situation in Japan is that we don’t see so much opposition to the idea of same sex marriage. The problem is more indifference. The problem is not staunch opposition per se, but the intrinsic indifference in society.

DK: Do you think a lack of outright discrimination against the LGBT community, has also led to a lack of awareness about the legal issues facing same sex couples?

KAZU: Yes, absolutely. And this is why European countries were able to achieve same sex marriage earlier. Because of outright discrimination, like Stonewall in New York in the 1969 and other cases of discrimination in Denmark in 1973, the LGBT communities were moved to action.

JEFFREY: So without a galvanizing event, it is a challenge to get people to think about the issue seriously and educate, not only the LGBT community, but society at large, that inequalities exist.

DK: Much of the Japanese media seems to treat gay identity as a source of amusement. Do you think this has helped to create an atmosphere of indifference? How should this change and what role should the media play in the future?

JEFFREY: The popularity of such celebrities such as Matsuko Deluxe shows that the media generally accepts sexual minorities only in a humorous way. Unfortunately, the existence of such celebrities and talento can lead some to assume that all gay men like to dress up as women, whereas this is a very small minority. The media does not highlight the more mainstream gay or lesbian members. Rather than indifference, the media has created a mistaken image of the LGBT community.

KAZU: First, the media itself should take up more mainstream gay and lesbian people in their stories – present a more balanced image of LGBT members of society, not just the comic portrayals. If you look at the dramas in the US and UK these days, there is more diversity in casts, often including gay, lesbians and transgender roles, portrayed in a realistic way.

JEFFREY: Yes, the diversity in American dramas and sitcoms has grown tremendously in recent years. A recent Amazon TV drama called Transparent, features the story of a transgender man in his 50s how he came out to his adult children and wife. This kind of story at present does not exist in the Japanese media portfolio. In America, the buzzword of diversity is everywhere, especially in the major networks. Americans want to see TV that reflects the society in which they live. In Japan, LGBT members exist in society, but they are as of yet not represented on the TV we watch here, other than these caricatures that are presently shown.

DK: How much popular and political support is there for marriage equality?

KAZU: We have been pleasantly surprised to find many politicians quite supportive of equal marriage. In fact, EMA has met with several prominent politicians in both the ruling and opposition parties and progress is being made towards bringing the issue forward in the Diet. The opposition parties, especially the liberal-leaning DPJ (Democratic Party of Japan), are beginning to see that in order to get back into power, supporting a platform of diversity including marriage equality, could be vital to facilitating their return to power.

JEFFREY: With the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics in 2020, Japan should strive to be a leader in human rights in Asia. We see the marriage equality issue as a human rights one. The Olympics and Paralympics are a huge opportunity for Japan to create a legacy of openness and acceptance. Especially after the negative press Russian received when its anti-gay laws were put into force, Japan should see the 2020 games as a chance to show the world the true meaning of omotenashi.


I believe that in a fair and just society people should be allowed to live with and legally marry whoever they love, regardless of their gender. Denying people the legal right to marry is a form of discrimination, and an insidious one that has far-reaching effects on our society and in some ways harms us all.  Please add your voice to the EMA Japan petition here: http://emajapan.org/donate/advocate

You can also find EMA Japan at the following links. Sign up, spread the word and don’t be indifferent.

tRace elements – “Up & Down the Ki” – The 10th & Final Kiyamachi Tour

One night, ten bars, and a whole lot of foot-tapping tunes.

On Saturday  November 29th 2014, Max and Ryotaro will return to Kiyamachi as tRace elements for their tenth and final ten bar musical tour. Last year I followed the busking bravos from dusk till dawn and found myself caught up in a wonderful festive spirit of camaraderie and convivial good cheer. Join the tour at any spot on the following schedule and prepare yourself for some great music and magical memories:

17:45 ~ 18:15 Street Live (in front of school)

18:30~19:05 ING with HAKO (075-255-5087)

19:15~19:45 BAR【Lowo=Tar=Voga】075-251-2810

20:00~20:40 Tadg’s Gastro Pub 075-213-0214

21:00~21:40 Agave 075-254-7605

22:00~22:40 Jam House 075-351-9715

23:00~23:40 booze k 075-251-6763

24:00~24:40 UrBANGUILD 075-212-1125 with the Dodo Ensemble

25:00~25:40 八文字屋 (HACHIMONJIYA) 075-256-1731

26:00~26:40 Alphabet Ave. 075-251-0069 with YungTsubotaj

27:00~27:40 うさぎ(USAGI) 075-351-6093 with friends~

There’s no charge for entry to this event but please buy at least one drink in any of the bars you enter.

Video and Images from last year’s tour here: Kiyamachi Tour Highlights
A more detailed record of last year’s tour can be read in the ebook Deep Kyoto: Walks.

Media Coverage of the Fukushima Crisis – A Speech by Eric Johnston at Foodelica, Kyoto

Our good friend Eric Johnston will be speaking on media coverage of the Fukushima crisis at Cafe Foodelica on November 22nd (Saturday).Eric J

Eric will talk about how The Japan Times and foreign media covered the Fukushima crisis,  a bit about how they are covering it now, and how all that differs from Japanese media coverage.

DATE: November 22nd (Sat.)
TIME: 4:00-6:00 p.m.
LOCATION: Foodelica near Shugakuin station. Here is a MAP.
COST: 1,000 yen (includes one drink & a small sweet)
The speech will be in Japanese, but I’ll be using a bilingual PowerPoint for those who prefer English. Q&A will be in both languages.
Space is limited so anyone who plans to attend please RSVP Cafe Foodelica at (075) 703-5208.

Pictures from Kyonadian Music & Max’s Surprise Birthday Party

Aika & Max

Aika & Max

Here are some pictures from a very special evening of Canadian music at Urbanguild last Sunday.


Canadian Sunset

First up were Christopher Fryman and Akira Fukuma as “Canadian Sunset“. The duo serenaded us with a selection of old time ballads and love songs. As Christopher tenderly crooned, the music had us all swaying and put us in a fine romantic mood.

Mike Barr & Max Dodds

Mike Barr & Max Dodds

At this stage Max, quite innocently, still hadn’t figured out that a surprise was waiting for him. It wasn’t until later during his own performance that he commented on the high number of friends and family that had appeared for this occasion…


The next act to appear was Colin Garvey, a talented singer and guitar player who made much use of a looping device during his performance…



Ingenious though the many layers of looped sound were, I found it a bit busy. Less is more for me I’m afraid as I far preferred the songs he played with just the clean sound of his voice and his guitar. And is it just me or does Colin Garvey sound a bit like vintage Lloyd Cole?

(I mean that as a compliment)

And finally…!




Max, Dodo and Ryotaro gave a classic performance of Max Dodd’s originals. It was truly one of those nights that get marked down as special memories.




And though Max seemed to have already sniffed out the surprise that was coming, he did look very moved that so many people had come out to wish him well…


Well, done Aika for organizing such a great surprise party!

Here are the boys in action with Christopher Fryman on trumpet…

To learn more about the musicians, check out these links:
Canadian Sunset, Colin Garvey, ryotaro, Dodo, Mark Dodds (Max).

Brilliant Irish Music on a Rainy Day at Eiun-in

It was a cold wet day in Kyoto yesterday, but if you look hard enough you can always find some brightness, whether in a friendly smile or happy tune. Mewby and I braved the weather to attend a wonderful show at Eiun-in, a lovely little sub-temple deep in Kurodani. As we arrived the rain stopped and we could enjoy the scent of fresh autumnal air coming in off the garden. Irish musicians Niamh Ní Charra & Sean Whelan were performing, and it was an absolute joy to watch them. Sean’s guitar playing is immaculate, and Niamh, who plays both concertina and fiddle, regaled us with songs sung in Irish and stories about them. It may seem odd that a song can move you even when you can’t understand the words, but perhaps even more so when the words have no meaning to begin with! In one song, Niamh had us all join in with a chorus of Irish mouth-music: rhythmical but meaningless lyrics that employ the voice purely as an instrument. It was a gentle tune and there was something very touching about a room full of strangers all singing along together.

the rain lifts briefly
and grace drifts from Eiun-in…
Irish tongues lilting

Niamh also has a mischievous streak though. Here’s a crowd-selfie that she took just before the show started. If you look carefully between Sean and Niamh’s heads you can see Mewby and me right in the middle!

This picture by Niamh Ní Charra. Click to view her original tweet!

This picture by Niamh Ní Charra. Click to view her original tweet!

Altogether it was an absolutely brilliant show. I’m just sad they only played once in Kyoto,  but hopefully they’ll be back. Niamh and Sean are very fine musicians who clearly enjoy playing together, and I pray that in the not too distant future they bring out a CD together – because I want one!

Here’s a final picture of  Niamh Ní Charra and Sean Whelan playing a rousing encore with local musicians Hatao and Nami.

To sample some of the music for yourself please visit the following websites:

Autumn Poetry Reading from Kyoto Journal at Be-Kyoto; November 16th

Here’s an up-coming event hosted by the good folks at Kyoto Journal.


An Autumn Reading
Sunday November 16th.
2pm~3:45pm at Be-Kyoto (http://www.be-kyoto.jp/)
Entry: ¥500
RSVP: feedback[at]kyotojournal.org

Be-Kyoto is just west and north of the Imadegawa/Karasuma intersection.

About the Poets
MARGARET (MAGGIE) CHULA has been writing and teaching haiku, tanka, and haibun for more than thirty years. Her seven collections of poetry include: Grinding my ink; Shadow Lines (linked haibun with Rich Youmans); Always Filling, Always Full; This Moment; The Smell of Rust; What Remains: Japanese Americans in Internment Camps (with quilt artist Cathy Erickson) and Just This. Margaret serves as President of the Tanka Society of America. Having lived in Kyoto for twelve years, she now makes her home in Portland, Oregon, where she hikes, gardens, swims, and creates flower arrangements for every room of the house.

LINDA RUSSO (inhabitorypoetics.blogspot.com) is a creative-critical writer. Poetry works include Mirth (Chax Press), and picturing everything closer visible, an excerpt of a walk-in poem (Projective Industries); Meaning to Go to the Origin in Some Way (Shearsman Books) is forthcoming. Born in New York, she lives in the Columbia River Watershed and teaches at Washington State University.

GREGORY DUNNE is the author of the recently published critical memoir on Cid Corman: Quiet Accomplishment, Remembering Cid Corman (Ekstasis Editions, 2014). He is also the author of two collections of poetry: Home Test (Adastra Press, 2009) and Fistful of Lotus (2000). He lives in Japan and teaches in the Faculty of Comparative Culture at Miyazaki International College.

Kyonadian Music @ Urbanguild, Kyoto – Sunday November 9th

With apologies to Max and friends for the late posting.
This going to be an excellent night!

11.9 (Sunday) Kyonadian Music

Mark Dodds with the Dodo Ensemble & ryotaro
Canadian Sunset (Christopher Fryman – Vocal/Trumpet + Akira Fukuma – Guitar)
Colin Garvey

Doors open: 18:00 / Show starts: 18:30
Advance tickets: 2000 yen with 1drink /Tickets on the door: 2400 yen with 1drink

Canadian Musicians それぞれの音楽を楽しむ夜
Three musicians/bands and their worlds.

Location: From Sanjo Dori go down Kiyamachi Dori. This is the narrow street running alongside Takase stream. Urbanguild is on the east side (left hand side as you walk down from Sanjo). Walk approximately 150 metres. Its on the 3rd floor of the New Kyoto Building – access by elevator or stairs. Here’s a map.
See more information: http://www.urbanguild.net/

Matcha Tea & Machiya in Kyoto – Two Articles for GuideAdvisor

Whether you are interested in tea ceremony or traditional architecture, two pieces I wrote for GuideAdvisor earlier this year, offer my top tips for for your trip to Kyoto.

ga machiya

The first article is on how to find the very best machiya:  the traditional wooden townhouses of Kyoto. After decades of neglect and outright destruction, machiya have been undergoing something of a boom in popularity in recent years.

Climb a hill on the outskirts of Kyoto, and you’ll look upon a city transformed. Fifty years ago, you would have seen a sea of low lying tiled rooftops, and here and there a shrine, temple or villa rising up like islands lapped by baked tile waves. Machiya, the old wooden townhouses most closely associated with the city of Kyoto in Japan, covered the landscape… Machiya were the houses of merchants and craftsmen, designed to be lived and worked in. Long sturdy structures of simple grace, they closely lined the city’s narrow streets, the style of lattice-work at front giving tell-tale notice of the business within. Today that old skyline, with its sweeping sea of tiles has gone, and the cityscape initially presents to the eye a jumble of gray and brown apartment blocks, city offices, and pachinko parlors. If you go and explore the city though, the older more traditional buildings are still there, down amidst the looming towers of modernity, and their dark wooden beams and refined latticework still enchant us with the flavour of old Kyoto.

You can read the rest of the article here: Looking for the Lost Machiya Buildings in Kyoto.

ga matcha

My second piece is a guide to enjoying matcha tea in the ancient capital, whether in traditional tea ceremony, or in the many matcha flavored food products that are on sale here.

Due to the close vicinity of Uji’s tea fields Kyoto has a long association with matcha tea: the powdered green tea used in the traditional Japanese tea ceremony. The monk Eisai first brought this powdered tea from China to Japan in 1191, along with Zen Buddhism, and the two traditions have been closely linked ever since.

In Kyoto, Eisai founded the city’s oldest Zen temple, Kenninji, and on its grounds you can find a teahouse designed by the legendary 16th Century tea master Sen no Rikyu, who is responsible for developing the refined tea ceremony that we know today. Called variously Chado, Sado or Cha-no-yu, this ceremony ritualizes the act of preparing, sharing, and tasting tea into a slow, meditative process that emphasizes simplicity, grace and serenity. Yet despite the simplicity of the ceremony itself, the Way of Tea is intimately bound up with many other traditional arts such as calligraphy, ceramics, flower arrangement, and Japanese cuisine. So if you want a gateway into Japanese culture and philosophy, a cup of matcha tea is where you start!

You can read the rest of the article here: Go Green in Kyoto! Enjoy the Famous Tea Ceremony Then See How a New Generation is Serving up Matcha

And while you are about it, why not check out pro-photographer Paul Crouse‘s piece on the 10 Best Photo Spots in Kyoto.

Seika University Manga Faculty Article in Morning Calm Magazine

Passengers on Korean Air flights this month can read my article on Seika University’s Manga Faculty, in the inflight magazine Morning Calm.


I visited Seika’s Manga Faculty in late September and found a truly unique university department with top-class teachers from all parts of the manga industry. Teachers at Seika inspire their students with an open and collaborative attitude to education and an emphasis on personal development. As Faculty  head Yoshimura Kazuma told me, “Rather than teaching we prefer that students and teachers discuss, consider and learn together. And rather than trying to find one correct answer to a problem, we prefer to discover through dialogue that there can be many possible answers and choices available. To debate these things is very important.”


“The most enjoyable thing is the freedom, being able to do what I want without criticism. The school accepts and encourages everyone’s individuality and self-expression. I think this is what makes Seika different from other Universities.” - Korean student Kim Eunji

morning calm 3
I interviewed several students and teachers at Seika, enough for a much longer article, and a lot of what I wrote (necessarily) got cut, but I’m glad all the interviewees got some representation in the finished piece.  You can check out the full article online from page 72. Check out also the great photography of my partner on this project Mr. Paul Crouse! http://morningcalm.koreanair.com/