Celebrating Setsubun in Kyoto, February 3rd 2015

Setsubun is an old festival for seeing out the hardships of winter and welcoming in the spring, symbolized in the ritual act of throwing beans at mask clad devils… 鬼は外福は内! (“oni wa soto! fuku wa uchi!” – “devils out, and good luck in!“) people cry while pelting their lucky beans till the demonic forces beat a retreat. There are a variety of sites around town where you can join in with devil dances and bean throwing ceremonies which I shall list below.

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Detail from a poster for “Gionsan no Setsubun” at Yasaka Jinja (see below).

Yasaka Shrine
img_setsubun01Here you get to see Maiko and Geiko throwing the beans! Bean pelting and traditional dances will occur at various times on both the 2nd & 3rd of February as ladies from different districts come to perform. Times on the 2nd are: 1pm, 2pm, 3pm and 4pm. On the 3rd the times are 11am, 1pm, 3pm and 4pm.
To get there take Kyoto City Bus #206, and get off at Gion. Here is a MAP. Website (Japanese): http://www.yasaka-jinja.or.jp/event/setsubun.html

001Heian Shrine
February 3rd: From 11:30 am until 2pm there is a Kyogen traditional comedy performance. Bean pelting is from 3pm followed by a sacred bonfire. Sweet sake is served free all day.
To get there take Kyoto City Bus #5 and get off at Kyoto Kaikan Bijutsukan-mae. Here is a MAP. You can find more details in Japanese here: http://www.heianjingu.or.jp/02/0201.html

50setu_oni1biki_BRozan-ji Temple
February 3rd: Here you can see devil dancing from 3pm and bean pelting from 4pm. Old charms will be burned in a bonfire from 5pm.
To get there take Kyoto City Bus #205 and get off at Furitsu Idai Byoin-mae. Here is a MAP. You can find more details in Japanese here: http://www7a.biglobe.ne.jp/~rozanji/50_setubun.html

Yoshida Shrine:
The biggest disappointment this year is that Yoshida Shrine won’t be holding will be seriously downsizing their annual bonfire. Traditionally, Yoshida Shrine holds the biggest (and longest) Setsubun festival in Kyoto from the 2nd to the 4th. Since the Muromachi era, the climax of this festival has always been a huge bonfire on the night of the 3rd. Pilgrims return all their old amulets and charms and a huge pile of them is burned in a truly massive inferno before the shrine… However, this year the City Government has seen fit to impose new regulations on the disposal of ash after the fire, and these have proven too costly for the shrine to afford. This really is a terrible pity, both for local residents who take part in the annual cycle of seasonal rites, and for visitors to the city who will be denied a chance to see this incredible spectacle. Let’s hope the shrine can work out a deal with the pen-pushers at City Hall for next year. In the meantime, Yoshida Shrine will continue with its festival sans conflagration. It is still worth visiting for the ceremony to drive out evil spirits which will be held at 6pm on the evening of the 2nd. This involves actual mask-clad devils in colourful costumes getting pelted with beans. And as with most festivals there are 屋台 (yatai – food stalls) galore lining the route to the shrine, so there’s plenty to eat and drink. See details at the Yoshida Shrine website (Japanese): http://www.yoshidajinja.com/setubunsai.htm
To get there take Kyoto City Bus #206 and get off at Kyodai Seimon-mae. Here is a MAP.

UPDATE: Apparently, Yoshida Shrine will have a fire, but a much, much smaller one. I only came across this story today, but it seems it has been something of an ongoing saga. I’m told the city actually backed down about the new rules, but it was too late for the shrine to change their revised plans… Better luck next year!
*With the exception of the poster detail at the top of this article, other images are taken from the respective shrine and temple websites.

Kobudō Martial Arts Lessons in English at Kyoto Impact Hub

This winter, martial arts teacher, Benjamin Gross, began a new class at Kyoto Impact Hub in the Japaneses classical martial arts tradition of Kobudō.

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I asked Benjamin to explain a little about the classes:

Kobudō 古武道, the martial way of ancient Japan originated over 500 years ago. Although through the ages many schools of the various traditions have become forgotten or extinct, a few of these traditions still remain. Although life in Japan has changed considerably from the time when this martial art first took shape, the teachings remain unchanged and still hold great value and application to modern life. Along with helping in preserving a valuable piece of Japanese culture, you may also improve your physical and mental well being.

It is my wish to make the fundamental teachings of one of the oldest jujutsu traditions of Japan available to people of many cultures. Teaching in English allows for a multicultural learning experience, which I hope will bring a truly unique perspective to the art.

The classes begin with meditation, followed by full body stretching and warming-up exercises. Next the basics of footwork, break-falls (ukemi), and striking/defensive techniques are performed together. These basics are then performed in the context of two person kata. The class then finishes with light stretching and meditation.

Benjamin is a follower of Takenouchiryu Bitchuden Kobudo 4dan. If you would like to take his class here are the details:

Day & Time: Mondays: 18:00 〜 19:30
Fee:
1 session: ¥2,500 (Impact Hub Kyoto Members: ¥1,500)
The 1st trial lesson: ¥500 (only for Kyoto residents)
Wear: loose fitting sports wear or dogi, bare feet, no accessories

If interested you can find more details on the Impact Hub Kyoto website, or apply directly to join the lessons HERE.

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Here’s some more information from Benjamin about this fascinating ancient art:

Each class covers a wide variety of topics and techniques. Example topics for lessons include but are not limited to the following:

Bowing or rei 礼): 「武道は礼に始まり礼に終わる」 Budo begins and ends with bowing.
Why do we perform rei in the martial arts? Although the history of bowing 礼 in Japan is very ancient and closely linked to culture and religion, the reason for etiquette (礼儀作法) in the dojo is simple. It is to humble yourself in the sense that you are requesting permission to borrow the space (dojo) for your training. This feeling of humbleness and respect for those that have followed this path of training before you may also bring serenity to your own being. Before bowing before the altar (Shinzen 神前), look at the Shinzen. In similar fashion, when bowing to a training partner, look at them first before bowing.

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Breathing:
Reverse breathing (逆腹式呼吸) practice can have many positive effects on the body. The application of proper breathing techniques will be continuously put into use throughout each lesson. With regular practice, this exercise can strengthen the abdominal muscles, making your breathing naturally strong. Reverse breathing can even create change in the pressure between your chest and abdomen, helping boost your energy levels and increase lung capacity by allowing more air in the lungs. One form of condensed powerful reverse breathing is kiai 気合.

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Posture:
One of the most important foundations and goals of budō is the development of proper physical posture. The stance you use, how you move in relation to your opponent, all of it begins from your center. Movement as well as breathing is all linked to your hara or abdomen…

Stu Gibson Photo Exhibition @ Cafe Foodelica; January 15th – 25th

Our friends at Cafe Foodelica will be hosting an exhibition of Scottish photographer Stu Gibson’s Kyoto images from January 15th to the 25th.

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Here’s the schedule of special events:
17th January from 7pm: Stu Gibson Solo Photo Exhibit Opening Party
24th January from 5pm: Stu Gibson Solo Photo Exhibit Meet the Artist event.

Cafe Foodelica is situated near Shugakuin station. Here is a MAP.

For more images of closely observed Kyoto, check out Stu Gibson’s portfolio here: Life Through A Lens.

Toka Ebisu Festival Schedule – January 8th – 12th

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Kyoto’s first big festival of the new year is Toka Ebisu and it starts this week! Ebisu being the god of good fortune and prosperity in business, thousands of local people will descend on Ebisu Shrine to pray for success in their work and business endeavors. The streets leading to the shrine are crowded with food stalls selling typical festival foods like taco-yaki, kara-age, ringo-ame and the like… Meanwhile the shrine itself does a roaring trade in good luck charms and lucky bamboo grass!
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Below is a schedule of the main events to see during the 5 day festival: January 8th – 12th.

January 8thShōfuku-sai (招福祭) – Fortune Beckoning Festival
9:00: Ebisu Shrine opens
10:00: Hoekago Parade (宝恵かご社参)
Actresses from Eiga-mura are borne in litters to Ebisu Shrine. Later they will distribute branches of lucky bamboo grass to local businesses.
14:00: Yudate Kagura Ritual
A purification rite in which bamboo grass is dipped in boiling water to sprinkle it over the crowd.
14.30: Mochi-tsuki Kamiwaza
A rice pounding ritual with priests and shrine maidens in attendance.
23:00 Shrine closes

January 9th – Yoi Ebisu-sai (宵ゑびす祭) – “Ebisu Eve”

9:00: Ebisu Shrine opens
9:00: Shōfuku Maguro Hōnō (招福まぐろ奉納) – Dedication of lucky maguro tuna
10:00: Hoekago Parade (宝恵かご社参)
14:00: The festival continues with regular kagura dance performances
The shrine will be open until late.

shrine 3January 10th – Toka Ebisu Taisai (十日ゑびす大祭) – The Grand Toka Ebisu Festival
11:00 – 12:00: Toei Actresses give out branches of lucky bamboo grass.
1300 – 14:00: Toei Actresses give out branches of lucky bamboo grass.
14:00: The festival continues with regular kagura dance performances
The shrine will be open until late.

January 11th – Nokori Fuku-sai (残り福祭) – “Remaining Fortune Festival” 
14:00 – 16:00: Maiko from the Gion district will give out lucky rice cakes and branches of lucky bamboo grass.
shrine 420:00 – 22:00: Maiko from the Miyagawa district will give out lucky rice cakes and branches of lucky bamboo grass.
Midnight: The Shrine closes.

January 12th – Tetsu Fuku-sai (撤福祭) – “Retreating Fortune Festival”
9:00: Ebisu Shrine opens
20:00: Final kagura ceremonies
22:00: Ebisu Shrine Closes

Directions: Ebisu Shrine is on the west side of Yamato- Ooji Street, south of Shijo. Here is a map.

Donald Keene on Kyoto: Then & Now

Donald Keene at his Tokyo home in October 2002. Picture by Aurelio Asiain. Taken from Wikipedia under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.

Donald Keene at his Tokyo home in October 2002. Picture by Aurelio Asiain. Taken from Wikipedia under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.

On New Year’s Day the Japan Times published a wonderful article by the renowned Japanese scholar Donald Keene, reflecting on the changes he has seen in Japan over the past 70 years. In a fascinating account he tells of life in the immediate post-war years and after; a time of much hardship, but also, a golden age in modern Japanese literature and arts. In particular though, it was his experiences as a student in early 1950’s Kyoto that grabbed my attention. Professor  Keene painted a picture of a city far different from the one I know. Unlike other Japanese cities, Kyoto had been spared the ravages of wartime aerial bombardment, and the modern development that was to irrevocably change the cityscape was yet to come. How incredibly beautiful it must have been then! And what a thrill to roam through those perfectly preserved streets!

I enjoyed wandering at random in the city, fascinated by the names of places I knew from works of Japanese literature and history. The streets were surprisingly quiet, probably because at the time there were no privately owned cars in Kyoto, only company vehicles. I was delighted one day when I saw two elderly ladies happening to meet while crossing in the middle of Kawaramachi, the busiest street in the city. They politely removed their haori jackets and bowed to each other, not in the least worried by possible traffic. Of course, not everything in Kyoto was so pleasing. I saw slum areas not only around the railway station but in the middle of the city, and there were many boys eager to polish one’s shoes. But I managed to accept these sad results of the long warfare that the Japanese had suffered.

I was captivated not only by the city, but the surroundings and I visited every temple on the tourist map. I enjoyed walking along streets with rows of shops, all selling the same article, whether bamboo baskets, stone badgers, or dusty secondhand books. Most of these shops no longer exist, victims of progress.

Indeed the nostalgia is tinged with sadness. Though Professor Keene concedes that people in Kyoto now live far more comfortable lives than they did 60 years ago,  he still laments the changes he has seen, and continues to see in the urban landscape.

I do miss Kyoto as it was when I first arrived in the city.

The beautiful houses in Gion grow fewer each year and will never be replaced. The side streets lined with Japanese-style houses are either mixed with dreary apartments or totally destroyed. Kyoto streets on a Sunday are now jammed with cars. No old lady is advised to cross a street without caution. Greed and a demand for convenience have taken the place of beauty…

Oh to have a time machine! I often wonder how Kyoto residents of 60 or even 50  or 40 years ago would feel if they were to pay a visit to 21st century Kyoto and witness the changes that time and rampant development have wrought. Would they marvel at our modern comforts and conveniences, and envy our lifestyle in this age of consumption? Or would they mourn the loss of the city’s former grace, and bewail the loss of local community traditions?

Perhaps they would do both.

To imagine a better future, we must look to the past. Each day, here in Fushimi, I look out my window at a parking lot, where but 30 years ago there stood a beautiful house and garden designed by the legendary architect William Vories. Once it was the pride of the family who had it built, but their descendants decided to pull it down because it made more economic sense. To go to my local supermarket I cross a canal once lined completely with cherry trees. Only a few trees now remain, most having been ripped up to make way for profitable housing. Probably, only a few people locally remember these things, and doubtless most local residents familiar with the town as it is now, would be amazed if they knew what has been lost. That’s why it is important to preserve these memories. If it was possible then, to plan and build with forethought for community and a pleasing environment, why shouldn’t it be possible now?

Looking ahead I do fervently hope that one day, both local and national government put into place policies and planning regulations that allow us to enjoy the best of old world beauty and a modern agreeable lifestyle. To dream of such a future might seem idealistic, but it’s far from impossible. Just look at this.

To read the full article by Professor Keene please visit the Japan Times website here: Donald Keene reflects on 70-year Japan experience

See also: Two Views from Yasaka Shrine Separated by Time.

Snow on Shimogamo Shrine, Kyoto

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This picture by Mewby.

The past couple of days in Kyoto have seen the city’s heaviest snowfall in over 50 years – which of course makes for a lot of splendid photo opportunities. One of my essential visits each January is to Shimogamo Shrine, a shrine older than the city itself and my personal favorite. I make a point of coming here for hatsumōde (初詣 – a first shrine visit) every year. Here are some pictures from today’s visit. Covered in its white mantle the north of Kyoto was breathtaking!

This was the view upon arrival at Demachiyanagi.

This was the view upon arrival at Demachiyanagi.

We crossed the river and entered the woods of Tadasu no Mori.  It is the last remnant of a primeval forest which is said to have never been cut or burned down.

We crossed the river and entered the woods of Tadasu no Mori. It is the last remnant of a primeval forest which is said to have never been cut or burned down.

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“Tadasu no Mori” means “forest of correction”. In Heian times nobles would meet here to settle disputes as it was said to be a place where you could not tell a lie.

Near the southern entrance of the forest is a small sub-shrine called Kawai Jinja.

Near the southern entrance of the forest is a small sub-shrine called Kawai Jinja.

At Kawai Jinja there is a reconstruction of Kamo no Chomei's hut. Kamo no Chomei was a 12th century poet and hermit and the author of the very wonderful Hōjōki - “An Account from a Hut Ten-Foot Square”.

At Kawai Jinja there is a reconstruction of Kamo no Chomei’s hut. Kamo no Chomei was a 12th century poet and hermit and the author of the very wonderful Hōjōki – “An Account from a Hut Ten-Foot Square”.

Kamo no Chomei's original hut was up in the mountains. Can you imagine how cold he would have been in winter!

Kamo no Chomei’s original hut was up in the mountains. Can you imagine how cold he would have been in winter!

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This shell was bestowed upon the shrine by the emperor on the occasion of Japan’s great victory in the Russo-Japanese war of 1904-5. This together with a huge hi-no-maru flag hanging proudly at the entrance, and the instruction at the shrine altar to pray for the emperor, gave me the impression this shrine is firmly in the nationalist camp.

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At New Year’s there are always plenty of food stalls set up in the Tadasu no Mori woods that surround the shrine, but it is far less crowded (and the food is cheaper) than the more popular Fushimi Inari Taisha.

The entrance to Shimogamo Shrine proper.

The entrance to Shimogamo Shrine proper.

The shimenawa ropes that decorate this rock siginify that it is venerated as the dwelling place of kami - the Shinto gods.

The shimenawa ropes that decorate this rock siginify that it is venerated as the dwelling place of kami – the Shinto gods.

At the entrance a blazing fire warms people up.

At the entrance a blazing fire warms people up.

Shimogamo Jinja is  one of the oldest shrines in Japan and is one of the seventeen Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto which have been designated by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.

Shimogamo Jinja is one of the oldest shrines in Japan and is one of the seventeen Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto which have been designated by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.

The main altars had long queues so we went to a small side altar to say our New Year's prayers...

The main altars had long queues so we went to a small side altar to say our New Year’s prayers…

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Shimogamo Jinja is said to date from the 6th century; older even than Kyoto itself.

To greet the new year, the shrine always displays a wonderful picture of the current year's zodiac animal.

To greet the new year, the shrine always displays a wonderful picture of the current year’s zodiac animal.

Happy New Year to all and best wishes for 2015 – the Year of the Sheep!

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You can find the Shimogamo Shrine complex a hop, skip and a jump over the Kamo river to the west of Demachiyanagi Sation. Here is a map of its location.

Update – January 6th: We actually bumped into John Dougill at the entrance to Shimogamo and his pictures from his visit are now up on Green Shinto.

See also: Kamo no Chomei’s Hojoki – “An Account from a Hut Ten-Foot Square”

Sugar Army at Club Socrates, Kyoto; January 11th 2015

In a scattering of mikan oranges, I am briefly popping my head out from the warm kotatsu of oshōgatsu hibernation to bring you this important announcement.

Flying in all the way from Perth, Western Australia, Sugar Army will play Live House Socrates in Kyoto on Sunday January 11th!!!

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Details of the show:
Date: Sunday, January 11th
Doors Open: 16:30
Show Starts: 17:00
Tickets + 1 drink: ¥1,500
Bands:
Sugar Army
TheTrueStoryOfTheEnd
THE STINGRAYS
ファミリィ
Great Big Kiss
DJ: Y.S.S

Live House Socrates is a short walk south of Imadegawa on Kawaramachi. Here is a map.

From a review of Sugar Army‘s live show on AMH Network:

Sugar Army has become one of Perth’s premier rock acts from the last few years. Building on their success of their album Summertime Heavy; Sugar Army has used their melodic rock sound to become one of the most creative rock bands in recent years. Touring on the back of their latest album Summmertime Heavy, the band is playing intimate venues to play up close and personal with their fans…Becoming a 5 piece has made their live performance phenomenon…  Smashing each song out perfectly. Patrick was ever so brilliant with his unique vocals. Ending the set with the most unique track and the title track Summertime Heavy shows how mature they have become in many different facets. Sugar Army is one of those bands which should be much bigger as they deserve it. Definitely watch out for the band in the next few months where they will be touring once again.
–Read the rest of this review: LINK.

How cool are Sugar Army? Check out the extreme coolness below:

Greeting the New Year in Kyoto

Kurodani - New Year's Eve 2010

Kurodani – New Year’s Eve 2010

For the last post of 2014, let us return to a piece first written by our good friend, John Dougill in 2010.  That year I followed John’s advice by paying a visit to both Kurodani and Shimogamo Shrine on New Year’s Eve, and so I am reposting some photos from that night too. It had been snowing quite heavily on the 31st, so Kurodani in particular was really beautiful; all dressed up in white like a fairytale.

Kurodani - New Year's Eve 2010

Kurodani – New Year’s Eve 2010

John Dougill writes…

The true soul of Japan is neither Shinto nor Buddhist. It’s Shinto-Buddhist. Until the artificial split of early Meiji times, the country had more than 1000 years of happy syncretism. Born Shinto, die Buddhist is the Japanese way.

Shinto is this-worldly, concerned with rites of passage and social well-being. Buddhism is other-worldly, concerned with individual salvation. At New Year the two religions come together like yin and yang, either side of midnight. Buddhism sees out the death of the old; Shinto celebrates the birth of the new. Joya-no-kane (tolling of the bell) gives way to Hatsumode (first visit of the year).

To get the full feel of a Kyoto New Year, you need to be syncretic too. In the dying minutes of the year, go hear the bell at a Buddhist temple. By tradition it is rung 108 times once for every attachment that plagues the human condition. Then head for a shrine to pick up arrow and amulets for protection through the coming year.

With over 3000 temples and shrines in Kyoto, you’re spoilt for choice. A popular but crowded combination is Chion-in and Yasaka Jinja. File up the hill to watch the young priests at the temple acrobatically swing on ropes to ring the bell. Then head down to the shrine to get twisted bamboo lit with the sacred Okera fire. It will purify your home.

Kurodani - New Year's Eve 2010

Kurodani – New Year’s Eve 2010

Personally I prefer the open space of Kurodani, where the bell booms soulfully over the nearby hillside. Open fires give off a warm glow, which you can add to with heated sake before lining up to ring the bell. Afterwards a twenty-minute walk leads through dark and dozing streets to the wooded surrounds of Shimogamo Jinja.

Shimogamo Shrine in the early hours of January 1st 2011

Shimogamo Shrine in the early hours of January 1st 2011

Suddenly there are laughing voices, bright kimono, and gaudy lights. Aspiring yakuza sell candy floss and goldfish. Here all is jollity and smiles. ‘Akemashite omedetou gozaimasu’ rings out on every side. At the shrine people toss coins over the heads of those in front into the offertory boxes. With the blessing of the kami, this too will be a happy New Year. A happy Kyoto New Year!

At Shimogamo Shrine

At Shimogamo Shrine

At Shimogamo Shrine

At Shimogamo Shrine

At Shimogamo Shrine

At Shimogamo Shrine

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Text by John Dougill. Photographs by Michael Lambe

John-Dougill-2-242x300About John Dougill
John Dougill is the author of Kyoto: A Cultural History, Japan’s World Heritage Sites and In Search of Japan’s Hidden Christians. He also keeps a blog, Green Shinto (www.greenshinto.com). Born in the UK to a Czech mother and a Yorkshire Viking, he studied Russian and Slavic Studies at university. However, a lust for wandering took him to the Middle East, where he married a Yemeni, before travelling around the world for a year. He set up house in Oxford, but fate intervened to send him to Kanazawa where he was a lone gaijin on the backside of Japan, dreaming of one day teaching in Kyoto. Now he has to pinch himself every morning as he looks up from his bed at Daimonji. When not playing chess, writing haiku or walking along the Kamogawa, he works as professor of Cultural Studies at Ryukoku University.

Jon Levy at the Ritz-Carlton, Kyoto

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The other night we popped into the Ritz-Carlton hotel to see Jon Levy. Jon plays in the lounge there 4 nights a week from Wednesday to Saturday. As well as original numbers he also has a long list of popular tunes, both old and new for people to request from, so he is in fact a human jukebox. We had a great time picking songs for him to play, and for much of the evening we were the only ones there, so it felt like we were having our own private show. Of course drinks at the Ritz Carlton aren’t cheap, but the music is free, and in such a comfortable location it really is a pleasant way to spend the evening. Here’s an old Celine Dion number I requested he play – and he didn’t disappoint!

This month (December) Jon’s schedule at the Ritz-Carlton has been 3 sets from 7.20 pm – 10.00 pm. In the new year though he will be returning to his regular hours of: 6.20 pm – 9.00 pm. The lounge is on the first floor and I highly recommend a visit, if only to see him play.

The Ritz-Carlton overlooks the west side of the Kamo River on the north of Nijo Street. Here is a map.

To learn more about Jon’s music, visit his sites:
http://www.jonlevymusic.com
https://www.youtube.com/user/jonlevymusic
http://jonlevy.bandcamp.com/
https://itunes.apple.com/us/artist/jon-levy/id332860828

…or follow him on Facebook or Twitter.

Happy Christmas from Inari Mountain

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Unfortunately, Mewby has to work on Christmas Day, so left to my own devices I spent the afternoon rambling over Inari Mountain. And what a wonderfully spooky mountain it is! Here are some pictures. Merry Christmas to you all!

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Into the mystic…

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Note the mirrors - a moment of self-reflection is required perhaps...

Note the mirrors – a moment of self-reflection is required perhaps…

I'm sorry to say I didn't see a single monkey.

I’m sorry to say I didn’t see a single monkey.

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Back to civilisation.

Back to civilisation.

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