Gion Walking on Inside Kyoto

Walking in Gion, my latest article for Chris Rowthorn’s Inside Kyoto, is now available online. For this piece I took a daytime tour of Gion’s main sites and historical landmarks, taking in some craft and antique shops and sweet shops on the way. I spent a long time on Hanami-koji, trying to get a decent shot of the Ichiriki Chaya unobscured by face-masked pedestrians and tourists with selfie sticks. This was the final result of my persistence.

The Ichiriki Chaya

The Ichiriki Chaya

My favorite spot though is away from the busy streets and in Kennin-ji, Kyoto’s oldest Zen temple. This temple complex is pretty big, but doesn’t get so crowded, and you get a real sense of peace from the raked stone gardens. Here are a couple of pictures from Kennin-ji that I didn’t have space for in my article.

Kennin-ji... As I passed a monk was chanting sutras in this little sanctuary.

Kennin-ji… As I passed a monk was chanting sutras in this little sanctuary.

The Toyobo tea house (1587) has resided at various locations around Kyoto but now  is situated at the back of Kennin-ji gardens across some stepping stones. You have to put some slippers on to reach it.

The Toyobo tea house (1587) has resided at various locations around Kyoto but now is situated at the back of Kennin-ji gardens across some stepping stones. You have to put some slippers on to reach it.

You can read the article here: Walking in Gion

See also:
Kyoto Samurai
Toka Ebisu

Images from Velvet Moon Vol. 115

What a joy it was to see Sean Roe back in Urbanguild this evening – and for the first time in four years! And so much talent in tonight’s show too! I was particularly impressed this time by two of the dancers: Misuzu and Chian. Watch out for them in the images and videos below.

Mangrove Kipling
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Cozy (Colin Garvey & Yozy)
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みすず + 山崎昭典
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amallsのskcaj & Chian

Andy Couzens

Andy Couzens

Sean Roe

Sean Roe

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Chian…

 

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amalls 3

amalls 4

amalls 5

And finally… Michael Jackson’s Llama?

Velvet Moon: Live Music & Dance @ Urbanguild, Kyoto; March 25th 2015

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amallsのskcaj are Andy Couzens & Sseeaann Rrooee performing an improvised tribute of video and sound to the memory of Mr. Michael Jackson

I’m very happy to report that our old friend Sean Roe will be returning to Urbanguild on March 25th as one half of the sound and video improvisation unit amallsのskcaj!

VELVET MOON Vol. 115
DATE: Wednesday March 25th

DOORS OPEN: 19:00 / SHOW STARTS: 19:30

ADVANCE TICKETS: 2000 yen with 1 drink / TICKETS ON THE DOOR: 2300 yen with 1 drink

Here is the full line up for a night of Velvet Moon!

amallsのskcaj (Sseeaann Rrooee and Andy Couzens)

amalls

amalls の skcaj

みすず(dance) + 山崎昭典(guitar)

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misuzu

Originally a ballerina but influenced by Butoh since her university days, みすず has performed with various musicians and many styles of music. A regular at Urbanguild, every shapeshifting performance tells a unique story of its own.

Cozy

Colin Garvey + Yozy = Cozy

Colin Garvey + Yozy (dance)

Colin Garvey is a self-taught Canadian indie/folk singer and songwriter who blends the strumming and singing of catchy tunes with live beats produced on the spot by the looping of beat-boxing and the pounding and battering of one of the world’s ugliest guitars. Each song is based on a story or feeling acquired from the life of a troubadour; as he travels the globe taking in any and all experiences that present themselves. It all comes together to produce a lively, quirky and entertaining atmosphere that can be summed up as, ‘enjoyable’. He will be accompanied by Chinese dancer, Yozy.

Mangrove Kipling
ukiyo
Mangrove Kipling (Laurent Lavol?) is a french experimental musician living and working in Berlin, Germany. Exploring new regions of sounds and always expanding his range of action, he has worked internationally with artists of all categories, mainly dancers, video artists and numerous other musicians. For the first time in Japan, he developed an augmented guitar that allows him to play his wide range of tunes through a portable device.
www.mangrovekipling.com

Top image by Andy Couzens. Text and other images courtesy of the artists and Urbanguild.

Directions: To get to Urbanguild from Sanjo Dori, go down Kiyamachi Dori (This is the narrow street running alongside the Takase stream). Urbanguild is on the east side (the left hand side as you walk down from Sanjo) about 150 metres. It’s on the 3rd floor of the New Kyoto Building – access by elevator or stairs. Here is a map.

KYOTOGRAPHIE 2015

With thanks to Christie Petrakopoulou, here are some details of this year’s Kyotographie festival of photography (with a little bit of jazz thrown in for good measure)…

KYOTOGRAPHIE is a high-end photographic event that runs annually in Kyoto (Japan), for over three weeks during the height of the spring tourist season. With a unique approach in Asia to traditional exhibition, KYOTOGRAPHIE presents world-class photography with original scenography in Kyoto City’s unique traditional and contemporary architecture.

KYOTOGRAPHIE 2015 – 3rd EDITION, April 18th – May 10th, 2015. Exhibiting widely recognized and celebrated Japanese and international photography from 9 countries in 14 iconic venues.

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Focusing on ‘TRIBE,’ the 3rd Edition of KYOTOGRAPHIE International Photography Festival presents another fascinating array of exhibitions and events in Kyoto.
Dates: 2015. 4.18 Sat – 5.10 Sun
Exhibitions: 14 Exhibitions. Artists from 9 countries 15 venues

TRIBE – What’s Your Story?
The tribe is a source of fascination in a world where globalization and population displacement pose crucial questions concerning roots and belonging. Since inclusion is vital to our happiness, the tribe naturally attracts. Now, as in times past,the tribe provides ways of connecting and sharing important information and ideologies. Through shared heritage, collective conscience, or common values the tribe embraces us and becomes a significant identifying factor in our social fabric. Crossing the globe in search of places where people meet, engage and form special relationships, KYOTOGRAPHIE’s 2015 exhibitions look back at the past to explore indigenous cultures and history, and investigate contemporary popular culture and the fringes of society. TRIBE seeks to question what it means to belong, both by choice and as a matter of circumstance.

Highlights

Marc Riboud, Alaska, 1958 / © Marc Riboud

Marc Riboud, Alaska, 1958 / © Marc Riboud

●Marc Riboud’s exhibition “Alaska” presented by CHANEL NEXUS HALL goes on tour. Touring from CHANEL NEXUS HALL, this exhibition features unpublished and unseen works shot in Alaska in 1958 by Marc Riboud, one of the 20th century’s leading photographers.

National Photographic Collections of MNAA– Guimet, Apollinaire Le Bas, Japanese Warrior, 1864, albumen print / © Guimet National Museum of Asian Arts

National Photographic Collections of MNAA– Guimet, Apollinaire Le Bas, Japanese Warrior, 1864, albumen print / © Guimet National Museum of Asian Arts

●“Last Samurai” images from the photographic collections of the Guimet National M useum of Asian Arts World premiere! KYOTOGRAPHIE begins a collaboration with the Guimet museum (France), presenting never before seen
albums and images. This first exhibition will provide an in-depth and valuable look into samurai culture. It will include rare portraits of Japan’s warrior class from the height of the samurai era and photographs that were produced for foreign consumption in the Meiji period.

Francis Wolff, BLUE TRAIN

Francis Wolff, BLUE TRAIN (Album of John Coltrane) , 1577 / © Francis Wolff/Mosaic Images

●Francis Wolff, a vision of jazz Japan premiere! This special Blue Note Records exhibition features Francis Wolff and other important archived works from Reid Miles. It traces the legacy of jazz and explores the intimate moments Wolff captured in his lengthy career.

Roger Ballen, Mimicry, 2005 / © Roger Ballen

Roger Ballen, Mimicry, 2005 / © Roger Ballen

●Roger Ballen first solo exhibition in Japan
Roger Ballen is a South Africa-based artist who brings a unique perspective to themes of racial discrimination and poverty. His fascinating work has gained enormous global attention. This much-awaited exhibition will take place
at Horikawa Oike Gallery, where a retrospective supported by COMME des GARÇONS will provide insight into his photographic career. Roger Ballen’s new movie Outland will also be shown at COMME des GARÇONS Kyoto store.
In addition, KYOTOGRAPHIE will launch a new edition of his controversial photobook Outland complete with 45 new images. Outland is the culmination of Ballen’s twenty years of work and is one of the most extraordinary photographic
documents of the late 20th century.

●Evening Events
To coincide with the Blue Note Records exhibition, KYOTOGRAPHIE will present a series of special musical events. They will take place throughout the festival calendar and offer entertainment for all ages, tastes and interests (Jazz dinner, Jazz lounge, live performances, etc…) The festival will feature Shuya Okino, who formed “KYOTO JAZZ MASSIVE” as a DJ unit (they recently celebrated their 20th anniversary). Okino is arguably Japan’s leading export in the crossover Jazz scene with a successful career as a composer, international performer and chart-topping artist. As a DJ, Shuya Okino regularly tours Japan and worldwide.

Text and images courtesy of Kyotographie. To learn more about KYOTOGRAPHIE 2015 visit the official website here: http://www.kyotographie.jp

Or check out some of the other photographers they have lined up on their crowdfunding page: https://motion-gallery.net/projects/KYOTOGRAPHIE2015

RELATED: Kyotographie 2015 Crowdfunding Campaign Now Open!

Fire Ceremony & Kyōgen Performance at Seiryō-ji on March 15th

Seiryō-ji temple grounds with festival stalls & giant torches ready to be lit!

Seiryō-ji temple grounds with festival stalls & giant torches ready to be lit!

Many temples hold special ceremonies on March 15th to commemorate the Buddha’s death, or passing into Nirvana (Nehan 涅槃 in Japanese). One of the more spectacular and eventful commemorations is at Seiryō-ji temple in Saga. There are a number of reasons why you might want to attend this particular event.

  • On this day only, entry to the temple interior is free.
  • It has a real local festival feel with food stalls set up all about the temple grounds.
  • Traditional Kyōgen comedy performances are held throughout the day.
  • There is a huge fire festival in the evening.

Mewby and I visited Seiryō-ji for last year’s Nehan-e (涅槃会), so here are some pictures from our visit.

Seiryō-ji Temple

Naturally we took advantage of the free entry to the temple interior and gardens. Normally this would cost us 400 yen each, but on this day alone there is no charge!

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Many Buddhist artworks of incredible detail are on display inside the temple. In contrast the gardens provide space for peaceful reverie.

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Take a look around yourself!

Click on this image for a 360 degree rotational view.

Click on this image for a 360 degree rotational view.

Kyōgen Comedies

Two monks carry in a "living" statue of the Buddha.

Actors portray two monks carrying in a “living” statue of the Buddha.

Saga Kyōgen is a form of medieval mummer’s play, performed completely without words and so very easy to understand, even for non-Japanese. Accompanied by drum and gong, the masked performers, use exaggerated miming to convey very simple plots. The play we saw, concerned a visit to Seiryō-ji temple by a beautiful mother and her less than beautiful daughter.

The "homely" daughter is on the left and the mother on the right.

The “homely” daughter is on the left and the mother on the right.

So beautiful is the mother that monks become overly excited in her presence and welcome her warmly. Naturally, the plainer daughter gets a colder reception. Not very subtle I know, but the play does contain some religious satire. Seiryō-ji is famous for its rarely displayed sandalwood statue of the Buddha. This statue is held to be so sacred it is termed a “living Buddha”. In the Kyōgen comedy, the Buddha literally comes to life, turning away from the plain-faced daughter, and actually running off with her mother instead!

The Buddha statue running off with a beautiful lady as a temple monk tries to stop him.

The Buddha statue running off with a beautiful lady as a temple monk tries to stop him.

Naturally, both the daughter and the monks are very upset by this, but not to worry. There is a Japanese expression, 蓼食う虫も好き好き, or “some prefer nettles”, which means that beauty is very much in the eye of each beholder – and so the homely daughter also finds true love in the end!

All's well that ends well for the homely daughter...

All’s well that ends well for the homely daughter…

The Fire Ceremony

Saga no hashira taimatsu, (嵯峨の柱松明) is part of a religious ceremony commemorating Buddha’s passing from this world into Nirvana. The ceremony begins around 8pm and the two giant torches are set alight at 8.30. You need to get there early though, if you want a decent view.

The pine torches quickly catch fire...

The pine torches quickly catch fire…

I’ve read that the condition of the fire can be used to divine the fortunes of the coming year.

Fire fighters are on hand to prevent the fire from getting out of hand...

Fire fighters are on hand to prevent the fire from getting out of hand…

As the fires blaze, monks from the temple parade around bearing lanterns and chanting sutras.

A blazing inferno!

The fires really do reach quite high and send their sparks up to the heavens.

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A blazing inferno!

My pictures don’t really do the experience justice, so take a look for yourself!

Click on this image for 360 degree rotational view.

Click on this image for 360 degree rotational view.

Details and directions:

Kyōgen performances are held in the afternoon at 15.30, 17.00 and 18.30. The temple interior and gardens are open from 9:00 until 16:00. The fires are lit between 20.00 and 20.30. To get there, take Kyoto Bus #71, or #72, and get off at Saga Shakado-mae. The temple can also be reached by taking a 15 minute walk from JR Saga-Arashiyam Station. Here is a MAP.

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A Long March – Ted Taylor Reflects on Anti-Nuclear Protest in Kyoto

Each year, as the anniversary of the 3/11 disaster in Tōhoku approaches, anti-nuclear protestors here in Kyoto hold a rally and march to protest the government’s pro-nuclear policies. On Saturday March 7th this protest will take place once again. A year ago Ted Taylor joined this same rally and reported on it for our book, Deep Kyoto: Walks. As the marchers once again gather in Maruyama Park, the time would seem opportune to revisit that report. We join Ted as the demonstrators begin to move from the Park into the streets of Kyoto…

Excerpt from A LONG MARCH by Ted Taylor

…Most around me are in their 30s or 40s, being political only to the extent that they want a safe home and future for their children. As there are fifteen reactors just to the north of us here in Kyoto, they have great reason for concern. Regardless of personal beliefs about whether or not nuclear power is safe, the Fukushima disaster proved how unsafe they can be under current conditions. While the marchers here today are most certainly against even a single one of the fifty inert reactors in Japan coming back online, an even larger percentage of Japanese takes a more pragmatic approach, and would accept some of them back online as a temporary solution until other means can be found, though with greater safety protocols in place. As I walk I ponder this, and the passing buses and automobiles douse us in their exhaust, a reminder of equally unpleasant alternatives.

We’ve moved up Shijō-dōri by now, following the parade route that the yamaboko floats take during Kyoto’s renowned Gion festival. The festival began as a purification ritual to appease the gods thought to cause fire, floods and earthquakes. Perhaps in this nuclear age, our group of walkers serves as a new type of float. Today too, our procession is being observed by the thousands of people out shopping and sightseeing, many of whom have bemused looks on their faces. None are more amusing than the confused looks on the faces of foreign tourists. A worker at one of the tourist shops stands out front offering samples of yatsuhashi to passersby. For a moment I’m tempted to break ranks and taste one of these famed sweets, as it seems like a very Kyoto thing to do.

Our bit of street theater merges briefly with the crowds just coming out of the Minamiza, and then we’re off again, crossing the river and making an eventual right turn onto the bustling Kawaramachi. As the chants now turn to “Kyoto o Mamorō!” or “Protect Kyoto!” I look up this canyon of towering steel and glass, wondering if there is anything left to protect.

Picture 15 A Long March by Ted Taylor (Medium)
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Text and photograph by Ted Taylor. To read the rest of Ted Taylor’s A Long March, download Deep Kyoto: Walks here: LINK.

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 Ted Taylor

tedBased in Kyoto, Ted’s work has appeared in The Japan Times, Kyoto Journal, Resurgence, Outdoor Japan, Kansai Time Out, Elephant Journal, and Skyward: JAL’s Inflight Magazine, as well as in various print and online publications. A Contributing Editor at Kyoto Journal, he won the top prize in the Kyoto International Cultural Association Essay Contest. He is currently at work on a series of books about walking Japan’s ancient highways. Ted blogs at www.notesfromthenog.blogspot.jp.

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See also:
Meet the Authors
Meet the Artists
An Exclusive Extract from Judith Clancy’s Walk
Old School Gaijin Kyoto – An Excerpt from Deep Kyoto Walks by Chris Rowthorn
Ghosts, Monkeys & Other Neighbours – An Excerpt by Bridget Scott
Blue Sky – An Excerpt by Stephen Henry Gill
Across Purple Fields – A Reading by Ted Taylor (VIDEO)

Kyoto’s Annual Anti-Nuclear Rally at Maruyama Park, This Saturday, March 7th 2015!

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From Aileen Mioko Smith,

I realize this is late notice! Here is the information on the big
annual no nukes rally to be held this Saturday, March 7th at Maruyama Park. The demonstration will leave the park and end at Kyoto City Hall.

The rally starts at 1:30pm. Booths are open from noon, right outside
the venue.

Everyone welcome.

Thank you, Aileen! Details, in Japanese, are on the flyer below.

バイバイ原発3・7きょうとチラシ うら

Kyoto Conference on Contemplation, 27-29 March 2015

“The happiness of life is made up of minute fractions – the little, soon forgotten charities of a kiss or a smile, a kind look or heartfelt compliment.”
Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Many thanks to Peter Cheyne for sending me the following information on an upcoming conference on contemplation at Kyoto Notre Dame University.

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Peter writes,

While the title is ‘Coleridge and Contemplation’, not all talks are specifically about Coleridge, although all will discuss aspects of meditation and contemplation.

Each of the three days is loosely themed as follows:

Friday 27th: Literary/ Philosophical

Saturday: Philosophy, and some Religious perspectives

Sunday: Walking, Mystery, Nature, Environment, and some Buddhism

There will be free tea, coffee, juice, drinking water and light snacks during the breaks.

Summaries of each talk can be found on the webpage for each speaker: http://kyotocontemplation.org/plenary-speakers/

Guest Chairs from around Japan will help with some of the sessions, including Kyoto’s own John Dougill (Ryukoku), David Chandler (Doshisha), Rob Kritzer (Kyoto Notre Dame), and Elizabeth Kenney (Kansai Gaidai): http://kyotocontemplation.org/guest-chairs/

Though this is an academic conference, it is open to the public and free of charge.

Please visit the official website to learn more about the schedule and speakers: http://kyotocontemplation.org/

Parasophia: A Major Festival of Art & Culture in Kyoto Starts this Week!

parasophia

Well, this looks interesting, doesn’t it?

Parasophia: Kyoto International Festival of Contemporary Culture 2015
March 7–May 10, 2015

Parasophia: Kyoto International Festival of Contemporary Culture 2015 is the first large-scale international exhibition of contemporary art to be held in Kyoto.  Approximately 40 artists from around the world will participate in the two-month exhibition at the Kyoto Municipal Museum of Art, the Museum of Kyoto, and other locations. Many of these artists will also have taken part in the 700 days before the exhibition, making extended visits to Kyoto for site visits, collaborations, and other research for new works that will be presented at the first exhibition in 2015.

To find out more about the schedule and location of events and exhibitions please visit the official Parasophia site.

Parasophia is also on, Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and Instagram.

Hina Matsuri ~ A Magical Doll Festival

The first tier of a Hina doll display bears the Emperor (男雛 O-bina) and Empress (女雛 Me-bina).

The first tier of a Hina doll display bears the Emperor (男雛 O-bina) and Empress (女雛 Me-bina).

Hina Matsuri (雛祭り) is a Doll Festival held every year on March 3rd. It is dedicated to the health and happiness of young girls in each family’s household. Though I have lived in Japan for many years, family celebrations like Hina Matsuri, have never really meant much to me – until now. Now that I am marrying into a Japanese family, I get to take part and experience these celebrations first hand. So a few days ago, I helped set up the  hina dan (雛壇), the platform on which the dolls are displayed. As I took the various dolls out of their boxes and arranged them in the correct order with their various accoutrements I found myself fascinated. Much as a Western family might enjoy decorating a tree together for Christmas, this too is a delightful custom.

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Viewing the Hina Doll display from a child’s perspective, it truly is a thing of wonder.

The Hina doll festival as we know it today, was developed in the mid-Edo period, but it has its roots in something much older. In ancient times people believed that doll-like effigies had magical powers and could take on a person’s misfortune and disease and carry it away. Dolls would be placed beneath a child’s pillow for this purpose and then in the spring, the dolls would be put in straw boats and set afloat on a river. As the dolls sailed off toward the sea, so too would bad luck and illness be carried away. Apparently, this custom is still practiced in some parts of the country…

The Emperor bears a ritual baton (笏 shaku) representing his authority.

The Emperor bears a ritual baton (笏 shaku) representing his authority.

Today though the typical Hina Doll display depicts a Heian era court and is symbolic of a well ordered family. Presumably the Emperor and Empress at the top represent mom and dad.

The Empress bears a beautiful fan.

The Empress bears a beautiful fan.

On the second tier are three court ladies, san-nin kanjo (三人官女). They are holding equipment for serving sake.

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A lady bearing sake:

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Below the ladies are five musicians, gonin bayashi (五人囃子), bearing an assortment of drums and flutes.

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This young fellow has no instrument because he is the singer, or utaikata (謡い方).

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Below the musicians are two retainers bearing swords, bows and arrows. The Minister of the Left (左大臣 Sadaijin) is a venerable old man.

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The Minister of the Right (右大臣 Udaijin) is much younger.

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On the fifth tier of the display are two trees: an orange tree (右近の橘 ukon no tachibana) and a cherry tree (左近の桜 sakon no sakura). And between these trees are three intriguing figures: the three servants or sannin jōgo 三人上戸. 上戸 is usually translated as “drunk” but why these three honest workers should be drunk I have no idea. They are named the crying drunk, nakijōgo (泣き上戸):

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The laughing drunk (waraijōgo (笑い上戸):

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And the angry drunk, okorijōgo (怒り上戸):

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On the sixth tier a variety of laquered furniture, representing a young girl’s dowry is displayed. Among these treasures is a miniature tea ceremony set.

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The final tier carries vehicles used when carrying a bride away from the imperial palace, such as a palanquin:

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And an ox-drawn carriage. In Heian times, an ox-drawn carriage was the favored mode of transport for the nobility.

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And there we have it: seven tiers and fifteen dolls (the numbers are said to be auspicious) that give us a miniaturised glimpse at how Japanese view their own cultural roots. A set like this is too big for most houses these days, so I feel very lucky to see one for myself. If you would like to see some traditional dolls though, the Kyoto National Museum has an ongoing Hina Matsuri & Japanese Dolls exhibition throughout March which may well be worth a look. Our display must be entirely cleared away though, soon after Hina Matsuri is over, for folklore would have it that leaving the dolls out too long, will delay your daughter’s marriage. I fully intend to marry the daughter of this household and so will be happy to help pack it all away. Until then however…

Let’s light the paper lamps!
And decorate with flowers and peach blossom!
Five musicians play with pipe and drum!
Today is so much fun – Hina Matsuri!

You can read the rest of the song lyrics for Ureshii Hina Matsuri in Japanese and English here: http://thejapanesepage.com/audio/hina_matsuri