Category Archives: Literature

Time Travelling on Gojō – An Extract from Deep Kyoto Walks by Jennifer Louise Teeter

Gojo Pottery Fair - Click to visit the official site (Japanese)

Gojō Pottery Fair – Click to visit the official site (Japanese)

Gojō Pottery Fair, in which pottery stalls line Gojō street all the way between Kawabata and Higashioji, begins August 7th and continues to August 10th. Simultaneously, in nearby Rokudo-san temple, is Kyoto’s very own festival of the dead, the Rokudo Mairi spirit welcoming festival. Jen Teeter explores both of these events and more in her DKW essay “Time Travelling on Gojō”, so here’s an excerpt to whet your appetite…


The evening before the festival, potters were meticulously assembling their stalls. Incorrectly, I assumed they were only preparing the skeletons of their tents and shelves so that they could quickly fill them up with their inventory the following morning. When I stepped outside again around midnight, hundreds of unguarded stalls, all filled to the brim with precious pottery, bordered the expanse of Gojō. The sense of trust that people can have for each other here can be so uplifting.

When I set off early the next day, the normally drab pavement had been transformed into a bustling pottery-lover’s paradise. Upon approaching a stall selling clay incense holders, I was astonished at how a piece that was surely worth 5000 yen was going for a mere 1000. The artisan explained how potters looking to clean out their inventories for the next season are willing to part with their creations for a fraction of the original price.

On a mission, I began to weave my way through rows of crystalline Kiyomizu-yaki kettles and charming Shigaraki chawan. My husband had been looking for large ramen bowls for ages, and I found the perfect ones- leaf-shaped and earth-rusted, the sparkling, aquamarine waves of Okinawa flooding the inside.

“If I buy four big ones and four small ones, can I get a discount?”
“No, but I can give you these four sauce holders to complete your set.”

Score! After collecting my winnings, I carried on up Gojō-zaka. At a small side street called Kaneicho, I took a right and it was just as if I had slipped through the rabbit’s hole. Amidst the forgetful cityscape, there stood the wooden self-built home of master potter Kawai Kanjirō.

Kawai Kanjiro's House

Kawai Kanjiro’s House

The unassuming home dressed with an arched, bamboo inuyarai to keep dogs from relieving themselves on the walls, was the first of a whole street of renovated machiya. Two unpretentious wooden rabbits kissing at the front entrance greeted me as I ducked in. Making my way down the hallway, I clumsily took off my shoes, and gave 900 yen to the woman at the counter, who I would later learn was the granddaughter of Kawai.

Wabi and Sabi:
The beauty of poverty,
Ordered poverty.

Kawai’s haiku radiates his artistry and appreciation of wabi – beauty in poverty, and sabi – elegance in simplicity, emphasizing the intertwining of the human spirit with the imperfection of “perfect” nature. The chestnut walls and chairs of his sturdy house give a sense of permanence, reflecting the strong influence of Kawai on his environment.

My eyes immediately turned to the hearth that dominated the center of the home. An image sprung to mind of Kawai and his fellow artisans gathering around the fire for tea on a frosty, winter day. Exemplifying his ability to lure the extraordinary out of the ordinary, Kawai had concocted the stout chairs around the hearth out of wooden mortars for pounding rice. Next to the hearth was a jolly two-faced wooden statue, and as I continued around the first floor, I kept meeting its Janus-faced relatives hidden in corners here and there. One of them was even posed to give me a peck on the cheek.

Around the house curious items are present in unexpected places. In the courtyard, a miniature stone monk collects meager offerings in front of his person, while a dog-sized, beckoning, stone cat balancing coins on its head welcomes guests at the entrance to the giant kilns. These kilns were once fired up several times monthly and shared by twenty different families in the community.

Kawai seemed to have an affinity for the human hand, the female hand in particular. A hand, which must have been severed off of the Statue of Liberty, adorned one of the shelves near the kilns; there were hands with fingers pointing up; and others were holding flowers. A turquoise ceramic figure, with its rising index finger, seemed to embody the potential of human expression.

Returning back inside, I climbed up to the second floor to find a yet another statue of two rabbits kissing, this time cast in bronze. In the drawing room was a giant tree stump-turned-table, its surfaced smoothed by human touch. Two wooden chairs with seats carved perfectly to support the human buttocks, kept the table company. The vitality of the tree from which this chair was forged emanated from the swirly tree rings carefully positioned exactly where the left and right buttocks hit the seat. After a momentary break in the chair, I headed back downstairs.

After bidding farewell to the granddaughter and the spirit of Kawai whose presence reverberated through the home, I headed to Toyokuni Jinja, dedicated to daimyo Toyotomi Hideyoshi . Taking a left I followed the street lined with pottery-filled machiya, passed the stone with the “Don’t pee on me” sign, and turned right at the dilapidated machiya at the end of the row. Down the hill at the next intersection adorned with cigarette machines, I headed south until I arrived at the wall which forms an impressive, stone perimeter around Toyokuni Shrine. Covered with moss, and almost twice my height, I could not imagine how people had managed to schlep the Goliath stones to the temple, let alone assemble them as if they had been forged together by fire. As I was about to ascend the stairs to the shrine, a huge, grassy hill crowned with a granite statue attracted my attention.

Children playing on teeter-totters ignored me as I pulled myself up to the sign in front of the hill. Mimizuka or “Ear Hill” (originally Hanazuka or “Nose Hill”). What on earth could that mean?



Text and photographs by Jennifer Louise Teeter. To read the rest of this story, download our book here: Deep Kyoto:Walks.

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 Jennifer Louise Teeter
jen teeterJennifer Louise Teeter is lecturer at Kyoto University in Japan. Born in a suburb of Chicago and having lived in Japan for 12 years, she serves as the Media and Campaigns Coordinator for Greenheart Project which is developing an open source hybrid sail/solar cargo ship tailored to the needs of small island developing states while volunteering as an editor for the Heartwork section of Kyoto Journal ( She blogs with two other women at Ten Thousand Things ( She is also a “singer in a rock-and-roll band,” called the Meadowlarks.


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

Hiking Mount Atago – An Extract from Deep Kyoto Walks by Sanborn Brown

As the annual Sennichi Tsuyasai pilgrimage to the top of Mount Atago takes place this Thursday (July 31st), I thought I would post an extract from Hiking Mount Atago by Sanborn Brown. In this excerpt from our book Deep Kyoto: Walks, Sanborn describes his ascent with an eccentric tea ceremony master, and other pilgrims, to the top of Mount Atago, during this very special festival. For those who don’t know much about this festival, here’s a brief explanation from Sanborn’s excellent Cycle Kyoto site:

…on the night of July 31, Mount Atago witnesses a huge number of pilgrims. On that night, from roughly 9 pm, Mount Atago plays host to “Sennichi Tsuyasai,” a festival that is all about fire, both good and bad.

It is a holy and profound and magical night not to be missed.

The origin of the festival derives from the hope for a thousand days of flame (cooking, heating), and also for a thousand days without home-wrecking fire. From top to bottom, the hike is roughly four kilometers. Hikers gather in the village of Kiyotaki at the base of the mountain around dusk. To guide them, the city strings up lights from Kiyotaki to the very top at Atago Shrine. Families, couples, older people, and groups make the hike up a crowded and sociable affair. Once at the top, pilgrims can purchase good luck charms that are said to ward off fire and bad luck. [Click to Read More]

Picture 12 Mount Atago by Sanborn Brown (Medium)

Hiking Mount Atago

From the stone steps in front of the imposing gate of Ninna-ji Temple and its two wooden Nio-san deities protecting the walled compound, a Japanese friend who calls himself Amigo and I head west on squeaky single-gear mamachari bikes. It is 8 pm on a sultry late July night and a bright moon lights our way. After an up-down stretch along which homebound commuters in cars speed past us, Lake Hirosawa spreads out on our right. This manmade lake was dug out around 969 C.E. so that the monks at nearby Henjō-ji Temple would have a better view. Today it is popular for bird watching, strolling its 1.3 km (almost a mile) perimeter, or paddling about in a rental boat. On our left, in the darkness, the smell of farm fields is pungent. We continue on to the northern outskirts of Arashiyama. Panting our way up a narrow bumpy slope lined by traditional homes and buildings, we park beyond Adashino Nenbutsu Temple (once a dumping ground for corpses) in a bike lot set up every year on this one evening. The barely lit tree-covered lot is manned by a lone uniformed guard in reflective gear, and is already filled with hundreds of bikes.

From there, it is a fifteen-minute walk up and over a hill on an old mountain road. Normally, pedestrians and cyclists are allowed to make a white-knuckle trip through the 500-meter long single-lane tunnel once used by trains. On this night however only vehicles are permitted to enter. We are already coated in a sheen of sweat when we reach the top. In the distance below us, at the opposite end of the tunnel, there is lighting and people are milling about in hiking gear; some have finished, others like us are about to set out.


Here, at the foot of Mount Atago, we find our party waiting in front of the Toenkyo Bashi (“Monkey Crossing Bridge”) that spans the Kiyotaki River. Fellow pilgrims, they will hike with us to the top of the mountain tonight, returning in the early hours of the following morning. Like Amigo, they are all learning sado, the Japanese tea ceremony. After short introductions, the group forms a circle, and in the center our leader – the rotund, elephant-kneed, and blustery tea Sensei – does a quick head count. All incline toward him toward him; then, on his command, we set off.

Having proceeded 20 meters, Sensei calls us to an abrupt halt in the middle of the bridge that will take us into the village of Kiyotaki. We have to check for the legendary Japanese giant salamander, which is said to inhabit the cool and clear waters of the river below. Sensei gives a brief talk on the creatures while we peer into the darkness below…

…After the brief lecture concludes, followed by a thirty-second scan of the dark waters below for a possible sighting of one of the reticent nocturnal giants, Sensei orders us onward, “Let’s go, let’s go! We’ll find one on the way down.”

Sensei wobbles on in front, his two wooden hiking sticks flailing out on either side of his torso as we press through the village. His bulk heaves in syncopated locomotion. The village is thronged with hikers and nighttime activity, but we move through it quickly to the entrance to the trail – passing under the vermillion torii gate that signifies that we are entering holy ground – and begin the ascent of the 924-meter high mountain, the highest in Kyoto.

Sennichi Tsuyusai Festival

This nighttime trek up an ancient pilgrimage route is part of the annual Sennichi Tsuyasai festival, which is held at Atago every July 31st until the early hours of August 1st. It is a hike to the peak on which Atago Shrine sits.

Our ascent commences in the aforementioned Kiyotaki, a rural hamlet made up of an art gallery, several restaurants, and a handful of houses. On this night, a tent has been set up in the village; under it sits a cluster of firemen who will be there until morning ready to respond in the event of injury or an emergency. Kiyotaki is one of several entrances to the mountain but the main one for the festival (it is also the “male” entrance to Atago; a “female” entrance can be found near JR Hozukyō Station on the other side of the mountain). The distance to the top is marked in two ways: by Jizo statues, adorned with red bibs and spaced roughly 109 meters apart; and, more legibly, by umber-colored placards set up by the fire department. The latter breaks the hike into forty stages, and each of the forty signs has a hand-written fire prevention slogan.

“Go on ahead! Go on, go on, don’t wait for me; it will take me hours to get to the top,” barks an out of breath Sensei after the initial climb. This is the first of his many breaks along the route. “Besides, we have all night, and someone has to keep an eye out for Tengu!” The mythical Tengu, the legendary long-nosed creature in Japanese folklore, is thought to have resided at, among other locations, Atago since ancient times.

The first nineteen stages are a steady climb, busy with colorfully dressed pilgrims in every manner of hiking gear. From that point, the trail becomes less severe, even flat in places. At one rest place, near the 20th stage, we take a break. From here, the lights of Kyoto twinkle far below in the distance through an opening in the trees…

Text and photographs by Sanborn Brown. To read the rest of this story (and learn more about giant salamanders!), download our book here: Deep Kyoto:Walks.

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 Sanborn Brown
Sanborn Brown teaches at Osaka Kyoiku University, and writes for and He also has a blog, Miyako on Two Wheels at He is from Philadelphia, USA, and has lived in Kyoto for more than a decade.

Author photo by Stéphane Barbery.

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

Into the Tumult – An Extract from Deep Kyoto Walks by Pico Iyer on BBC Travel!

This weeks extract from Deep Kyoto: Walks is brought to you by the BBC! We are all very pleased that BBC Travel have used a version of Pico Iyer’s article “Into the Tumult”, to launch their new Words & Wanderlust site. The version published on the BBC site differs mainly in the second half, though there are numerous small changes throughout. To read the original, download our book!


The BBC version of Pico’s article is entitled “The walk that made me love Japan” and is splendidly illustrated by wandering artist, Candace Rose Rardon. A big thank you to both Pico Iyer for his continued support for this project and also to BBC Travel for referencing our book with the article. Here is an extract:

My favourite Kyoto walk begins at a half-hidden temple called Gesshin-in ­– two-storey, white-walled, eminently missable – on a lane dominated by huge Buddhas, high towers on either side, and shops selling exquisite prints of kimonoed women and samurai warriors. It’s in the very centre of Japan’s ancient capital, between the can’t-miss sights of Maruyama Park and Sannenzaka, just next to the steps leading up to the temple known as Kodaiji.

As you stand on this narrow street, Nene-no-michi, looking west (downtown happily obscured by low bamboo fences and thickets of flowering maples), you’ll see scores of visitors surging past you, south, to climb the narrow sloping streets of Ninenzaka and Sannenzaka. Glamorous Japanese couples linking arms, foreigners with Nikons around their necks, chattering matrons and (in the daytime, at least) school groups – all are hurrying towards one of the last pilgrims’ districts in Japan, leading up to the legendary Temple of Pure Water, Kiyomizu.

Sannenzaka is golden in the late afternoon, and though it’s full of souvenir shops crammed with Hello Kitty key chains and posters made for Bieberites, though its lanterns sometimes come with outlines of Mickey Mouse’s ears on them, it’s still quite magical, with its walkways between shops selling dark blue Kiyomizu pottery, its tatami tea-rooms, the sight, as you ascend the steep paths, of slanting grey roofs extending below you towards the city. At the top, behind Kiyomizu, you come to a waterfall surrounded by hills that take you back to the world that might have been here before a soul had seen it. The temple itself was in place two centuries before the second millennium began.

But even as the crowds throng toward these postcard vistas, I recommend you move in the other direction, towards what ultimately looks like chaos. Turn right, and start walking towards the Gionkaku Tower at the end of the street, beside a modern temple. If you want to absorb Kyoto, you have to head into the clamour of downtown and find those graces that are not incidental to the place, but at its very heart. Both shopping streets and templed hills, after all, glow in the late November light with a magic-hour sharpness that deepens the blue above even as it catches the leaves whose turning speaks of coming winter and coldness and dark.

To read the rest of this story, visit BBC Travel’s Words & Wanderlust, or download the book here: Deep Kyoto:Walks.

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 Pico Iyer
pico-iyerAcclaimed travel writer, Pico Iyer, is the author of two novels and eight works of non-fiction, including The Lady and the Monk describing his first year in Kyoto. He has been based around Kyoto and Nara since 1987.

You can find more of his articles online at
Follow his travels on Facebook here:
This is actually not the first time Deep Kyoto has been featured by BBC Travel! See also this article from 2012: Living In: Kyoto.

To learn more about our book please check the following links:
About the Book

Gods, Monks, Secrets, Fish – An Extract from Deep Kyoto Walks by John Ashburne

Today John Ashburne takes us on a mouth-watering tour of Nishikikōji market and along the way adds a sprinkling of zen spice from the Buddhist teacher Dōgen Zenji…

IMG_8004 (Medium)


Maintain an attitude that tries to build great temples from ordinary greens, that expounds the buddhadharma through the most trivial activity, handle even a single leaf of a green in such a way that it manifests the body of the Buddha. This in turn allows the Buddha to manifest through the leaf.

Two and a half decades ago, I would have read the above, and dismissed it out of hand. Buddhist transubstantiation? Temples made of lettuce! Bah humbug! I would have snorted. Not anymore. When the missus announced the other day “If a person is unhappy inside, you’ll taste it in their food”, I just nodded in silent agreement. Reverence. Awareness. Cooking as meditation. Sounds good to me. And I reckon if Dōgen had lit out for Venice Beach, he’d have made a killing.

Whilst you’re in Kyoto, you should push the boat out once and eat at one of the great restaurants. Sakurada is one of the best. Here’s a tip. Reserve a table for lunch. It’s the same with all the ryōtei, you still get the fabulous cuisine they serve in the evenings, just at a third of the price.

Head up Karasuma, across the busy Karasuma-Shijō crossing, until you reach Nishikikōji-dōri and turn right. Head past the Christian off-license advertising ‘Wine for Mass’ and Trappist Butter, and where the proprietors never, ever smile. If you’re hungry but the budget doesn’t stretch to Sakurada, try Eitarō, the noodle shop underneath Irish Pub Field. Their yuzu ramen with Japanese citron is excellent, especially on a cold winter’s day when the aromatic fruit are at their freshest. Or you can just wait till you hit the market. We’re nearly there now.

As you enter Nishiki from the Western entrance, notice the fabulous paintings of cockerels by the market’s most famous son, Itō Jakuchū who ran his father’s grocery, Masuya, before becoming one of the Edo period’s most celebrated artists. Jakuchū’s ‘Colourful Realm of Living Beings’ is a masterful collection of paintings of the very highest level, and it always puzzles me that he hasn’t achieved the fame in the West accorded to the likes of Utamaro and Hiroshige. I’d put him up there with the Old Masters. Not bad for a grocer’s lad from Kyoto.

Known nationwide as Kyō no Daidokoro, ‘Kyoto’s Kitchen’, the Nishiki market has existed here since the 17th century. Back in the day, the market specialized in footwear for samurai, and was known as Gusoku-no-kōji, ‘army footwear alley’, but the locals abbreviated it to Kuso-no-kōji, the rather less flattering ‘shit alley’. Its current name – Silk Brocade Street – was bestowed upon it by Emperor Go-Reizai, in 1054, and the market has been pandering to Imperial appetites, and basking in the approval of the upper class and the wealthy, ever since. And rightly so. Nishiki rocks.

The market is in fact a long, narrow, covered arcade, the 130 or so stores facing each other across a paved walkway of ishidatami ‘stone mats’. As you enter Nishiki from Takakura-dōri the smell of charcoal and roasting shellfish draws you immediately to a perennial favourite, Daiyasu.

Picture 9 Nishikikoji Market View by John Ashburne (Medium)

Nishiki Market View

‘Daiyasu-san’, the old man hauling oysters from a crate, greets me with a warm smile. “This foreigner knows his Japanese food, all right” he tells two young Japanese tourists. They look more bemused than impressed. The phrase Daiyasu-san uses is washoku no tsu, washoku meaning Japanese cuisine, and tsu a cross between gourmet and expert, but not at all snotty unless you use it of yourself. I wish we had a word like that in English. I can’t stand the self-congratulatory element of ‘foodie’, and ’maven’ sounds like a witch. ‘Gourmet’ too posh. I reply with sono koto nai, the diffident denial expected on such occasions, but secretly I feel pretty chuffed.

Those of us long enough in the tooth remember when Daiyasu was just a regular, unassuming fishmonger. Now it’s turned into a fish shop-cum-izakaya, the in-place to eat fresh magaki oysters from Toba, Mie Prefecture, oasari giant venus clams from Aichi, fresh hotate scallops and sazae turbo. The latter are cooked in the tsuboyaki style, ie roasted in the shell directly over a flame. Watch out for their super bitter wata intestines and reproductive organs, the Japanese gourmet’s delight and very much an acquired taste. As a good friend succinctly put it, “Like a shit bomb going off in your mouth”. When I reported this to another mate, he replied “Well actually, in gastropods, the anus is located on the head”. For once, I didn’t know what to say.

At Daiyasu I usually content myself with Toba’s finest, and a cold beer. “Shellfish are the prime cause of the decline of morals and the adaptation of an extravagant lifestyle” harrumphed Pliny the Elder, clearly not a fan. Jonathan Swift deemed oysters cruel and uncharitable. Not these, they are superb.

Text by John Ashburne. Daiyasu photograph by Michael Lambe. Nishiki Market View by John Ashburne. To read the rest of John stroll through Nishiki Market 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.

John ASHBURNE for Canon 1About John Ashburne
John writes on Japan, and in particular on its Food Culture, for a host of publications including the Wall Street Journal, Forbes, the Japan Times, etc. He is guest editor for the Fall 2014 Kyoto Journal special issue, ‘Food’. He has lived in Japan for 27 years, and calls Kyoto home. His hobby is extracting ‘dashi’ from a variety of seaweeds, fishes and certain mystical mushrooms that you’ll only find growing half way up a mountain in Gunma.

John blogs at
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)
Kamogawa Musing – An Excerpt from Deep Kyoto Walks by John Dougill

Kamogawa Musing – An Excerpt from Deep Kyoto Walks by John Dougill

In this extract from Deep Kyoto: Walks, John Dougill walking by the Kamo River, the nature reserve that cuts through the heart of Kyoto, muses on history and literature…

Leisure activities on a cloudy day at the meeting of the Kamo and Takanogawa

Leisure activities on a cloudy day at the meeting of the Kamo and Takanogawa

“The flow of the river is ceaseless and its water is never the same. The bubbles that float in the pools, now vanishing, now forming, are not of long duration. So in the world are man and his dwellings.” – Kamo no Chomei in Hojoki (tr. Donald Keene)

Kyoto ranks among the world’s great cities. What other town can boast of 17 different World Heritage properties – and it could have been so many more! One only has to think of the places left out: Fushimi Inari, with its seductive tunnel of torii; Daitoku-ji, home to Zen and the making of tea; the Former Imperial Palace and detached villas, including the exquisite Katsura estate.

To live in such surrounds is to be blessed indeed. I’m reminded of this every single morning as I open my curtains to gaze onto the great Dai of Daimonji and the thirty-six peaks of the Eastern Hills. I live next to one World Heritage site (Shimogamo Shrine), and I work next to another (Nishi Hongan-ji). From my writing desk I look up towards holy Mt. Hiei, ‘mother of Japanese Buddhism’. Culturally, one could hardly ask for more; it’s like living in a treasure box.

Yet for me, Kyoto wouldn’t be the city I love unless it were for the life-sustaining river that runs through its heart, forming a sliver of greenery and wildlife within the concrete city. I walk the river almost every day, for I live next to the lower reaches of the Takano where it merges with the Kamo to flow southwards towards Osaka. Most days I walk down to the Starbucks at Sanjō (Third Avenue) to set up office in the basement, but today I’m heading all the way down to Shichijō (Seventh Avenue), before turning west along the thoroughfare to my university.

The walk offers ‘time out’ from the daily round of urban life, a place for solitary contemplation of the larger matters. Here the spirit swells and relaxes. Here the mind can think in centuries. Here immersed in the rus in urbe I lose myself in observation of the wild life and muse on the seasonal round. There are fish that flash silver in springtime, large funa that glide improbably in the shallow water, even the occasional carp let loose in the river water and looking lost.

But this is not so much a river of fish, as of birds. Birds that swoop, scavenge and shriek in sheer delight at the oasis of water and greenery. Kamogawa translates as Duck River, and along with the duck varieties are pigeons, sparrows, cormorants, herons, wagtails, egrets, hawks, Siberian seagulls, crows galore, even the occasional kingfisher. These are my companions on my solitary walks. And the wonder is that you get all this while passing through downtown Kyoto. It’s almost miraculous.

The things I’ve seen on these river banks. A trumpeter sounding the Last Post on one long blood-red sunset; the cherry blossom delight of merry picnickers stretching away into the northern hills; the sad, sorry sight of flooded cardboard boxes belonging to the homeless; hawks snatching rice balls out of the hands of the unsuspecting. Strangest of all, one January dusk I saw a group of people in the river immersed to their waists like frozen statues. A trick of the eyes? A joke? An art performance? No, it turned out to be a karate club performing winter austerity rites. Walking this river can be an education too.

For it’s not just wildlife that enjoys this strip of water and greenery – it’s a vital playground for humans too. This is where people take time out to stretch and play, eat their bento or strip off to sunbathe. Old folks do gateball, youngsters play American Football. This is where musicals are rehearsed, Noh verses recited, tunes learnt, haiku composed, and dogs walked by dogged owners. Foreigners practice tai chi here, prompting children to tug at their parents in wonder, while TV crews add Kyoto glamour to their documentaries and celebrities pose for fashion magazines.

For me personally, the pleasure of a city like Kyoto derives from the way physical space is enhanced by the patina of time. ‘No city or landscape is truly rich unless it has been given the quality of myth by writer, painter or by association with great events,’ wrote V.S. Naipaul. In this sense Kyoto is rich indeed, for every corner of every street is fraught with poetic or historic significance. Here passed a poet, here martyrs were sacrificed, and here stood the palace of a shogun.

This walk along the river is thus about much more than physical movement. It’s about the passage through time and how the past has shaped the present. And there’s a personal dimension too, for the surrounds give me pause to reflect on the curiosity of my own life. Kyoto was founded in 794, and as it happened I first came here to live in 1994. For the city, the 1200th anniversary was a cause for celebration; for me, it marked the beginning of a whole new era.

An egret rests on one-leg, determined not to stick its neck out.

An egret rests on one-leg, determined not to stick its neck out.

Text and photographs by John Dougill. To read the rest of John Dougill’s Kamogawa Musing, 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.

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 ( 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.
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)

John Dougill’s Book ‘Japan’s World Heritage Sites’ to be Launched @ Tadg’s Gastro Pub, Kyoto, July 11th

jwhsFrom our friend & fellow DK Walker, John Dougill:John-Dougill-2-242x300An invitation to the book launch of John Dougill’s new publication, ‘Japan’s World Heritage Sites’, which involved him travelling the length of Japan, from Shiretoko in Hokkaido to the Ryukyu ruins of Okinawa.

It’s a large format richly illustrated book, with over 150 photos by John himself supplemented by Picture Library items.
Place: Tadg’s Restaurant just north of Oike Kiyamachi.  (Tel. )
Here is a MAP.
Date: Friday, July 11th.
The event will take place from 6.30 pm to 8.00 pm.  Free buffet and a cash bar.   There will be a lottery to give away free copies for marketing purposes, and books will also be on sale at a substantial discount price (they make excellent
For more about the book, see the Amazon page.
There’s also an early review at GoJapan.

Japanese Kanji & Kana – A Review

kanji and kanaJapanese Kanji & Kana
A Complete Guide to the Japanese Writing System
Authors: Wolfgang Hadamitzky & Mark Spahn
Paperback: 424 pages
Publisher: Tuttle Publishing; Revised edition (April 10, 2012)
Price: $24.95

Order direct from Tuttle Publishing here:
Tuttle Language Books

This book is designed to help students of Japanese learn the first 92 basic kana characters and the 2,136 standard jōyō (officially sanctioned “daily use”) kanji characters. Clearly it is meant to be a study aid for the complete spectrum of ability from true beginners to advanced. The book is divided into two main sections: the introductory chapters and the kanji listings. I will review each in turn.

Part 1: The Introductory Chapters
The first section of the book consists of 60 pages that give a thorough explanation of the development and organization of the Japanese writing system. A lot of the information given here is interesting but fairly academic, so after you read it once you may not need to refer to it again. There are some sections that are worthy of note though, both here and in the study tips given at the end of this section.

Good points in Part 1:

  • Table 16. This is a list of the 214 traditional radicals (the common elements that are used to classify the kanji) and their meanings. This is probably the most important thing in the book. You should photocopy these pages, blow them up large and pin them up over your desk. They are invaluable.
  • Table 12. Punctuation Marks & their explanations on pages 34-38. It’s amazing but I have never formally studied Japanese punctuation before! This helped clarify a few things for me, and there were some I was unfamiliar with. This will be a useful reference tool in the future.
  • Tips on Learning Kanji. There are some good tips here. For example, I wish someone had told me to prioritize and not to overload myself when I first started to study kanji. Too often in the early days I felt overwhelmed by what seemed like the endless readings for some kanji (the kun and on readings for 上 and 下 for example). The authors of this book suggest however, “it can make sense to learn at first only one on reading and one kun reading… Trying to take in too much information all at once can detract from concentrating on what is important”. Wise words.
  • Another tip I agree wholeheartedly with is to learn the appearance, readings and meanings of a character together. This runs counter to the Heisig method which demands that you learn only the meaning of the kanji first and their readings later (in a second book). I never liked that method as it seemed to double the length of the learning process, and  I have always found that studying the meanings and readings together strengthened my own learning process.
  • Finally, it’s not really a strong point as such but I rather liked the fact that the old Iroha syllable order was listed. The Iroha is an ancient poem which contains every character of the Japanese syllabary exactly once, but the poem also means something of course and the English translation is also given. It’s nice to see that included in the book, but ultimately it probably won’t help you with your studies!

Potential weak points in Part 1:

  • At a couple of points in the book the writers encourage students to use the game “Kanji in Motion” and the web-based kanji dictionary “KanjiVision”. To date, a full two years after this edition of the book was published, both of these web-based learning aids are listed on Hadamitzky’s website, but neither are available for use.
  •  We are encouraged to use writing practice manuals to practice the correct stroke order. However, though useful at the beginning of your kanji studies, I don’t believe that this is necessary for the full 2,136 kanji listed. Although many Japanese swear blind by this method, because it is the one they are familiar with, it does take them the full 12 years of elementary and high school education to learn kanji this way. Most foreign students would like to pick up the pace a bit! At some point you will need to move on from simply repetitive writing and use flash cards and some form of mnemonic system. But more about that later.

Part 2: The Kanji Listings
The bulk of the book, the second half, consists of a little over 300 pages of jōyō kanji listings. The individual kanji therein can be looked up via three indexes which are organized by radicals, stroke counts and readings. With each kanji, are presented its meanings, readings, stroke-count, radicals and example compounds. This is the most practical part of the book which can be used either as a reference tool or simply as a course book of kanji that can be studied and memorized from start to finish.

Strong points in Part 2:

  • It contains a complete and up-to-date listing of the jōyō kanji and these are listed in a sensible fashion: from the simplest and most frequent kanji to those that are more complex and less commonly used.
  • The example compounds given for each kanji always consist of characters that have been listed before, so if you work through the book in the order it is presented you will be reviewing previous kanji as you go.
  • In the index by readings, kanji with the same on reading are grouped together by common components. For example kanji with the on reading SEI and the common component 生 are listed like this 生、姓、性、星、醒、牲. This is fairly standard practice but the really good part comes next. At the end of the list those kanji that contain the same component, but have a different reading are also listed with their correct reading given in brackets: 産 (SAN). Trust me when I tell you that this will be a really useful tool to help you find a kanji when you recognise its components but can’t remember how to pronounce it correctly!

Potential weak points in Part 2:

  • There is no mnemonic system in this book. If you wish to learn and remember the kanji at a reasonable pace, then a mnemonic system is essential. To be fair though, no given mnemonic system is perfect, and you might be better off using your own creative imagination to make up a personal mnemonic system. You can use the meanings of the kanji radicals and components listed in the book and build memorable but simple stories from them. For examples of how to do this I recommend following Hiroshi Kawada on Twitter: He posts simple yet memorable mnemonics on a regular basis. This one for example:


  • Japanese grammar guru Tae Kim, in his own review of this book, suggests that it has no real value as a study aid, because a lot of the material in the introductory chapter is available online (on Wikipedia for example) and you can also find a lot of free kanji dictionaries online that could be used instead of this book’s kanji listings. He has a point. Personally though I find the internet such a constant source of distraction that when I study, I prefer to turn my computer off and simply focus on my books. It really does depend on how you personally prefer to study, so I would encourage you to read Tae Kim’s review and think hard about your own preferred method before you buy this book.

How I would use this book to study kanji:
Everybody has to find the best way to study for themselves and the only way you can do that is by trial and error. However, based on my own experiences of studying Japanese I would focus on the kanji listings in the second part of the book, and work through them in the order prescribed.

To practice writing the kanji according to their proper stroke count, you can download writing sheets for the first 300 kanji from author Hadamitzky’s website here: Writing Templates. Beyond the first 300 kanji you can purchase writing manuals. However, I believe beyond the first 300 kanji, further writing drills are unnecessary as you are likely to start feeling frustrated by your slow progress, and some kind of mnemonic system will become essential to aid your memory retention.

Word cards in the convenience store! 130 yen including tax!

Word cards in the convenience store! 130 yen including tax!

If you are in Japan you can buy blank flashcards in any convenience store or even 100 yen shops. You should write the kanji according to its correct stroke order on one side and its readings, meanings and a simple mnemonic sentence on the other. Mnemonics can be built up using the radical meanings listed in Table 16 (see above) of this book.

Overall I think this is a good book and could be a useful study aid for a student of Japanese kanji. If you wish to order it, you can do so directly from Tuttle here: Japanese Kanji & Kana.

I am about to embark on a summer of intense study so be prepared for more Japanese language textbook reviews over the coming months!

Old School Gaijin Kyoto – An Excerpt from Deep Kyoto Walks by Chris Rowthorn

In Old School Gaijin Kyoto, Chris Rowthorn takes us on a hilarious tour of the bars and eateries of Kiyamachi as he revisits the haunts of his reckless youth with the ironic eye of experience.

Nagahama Ramen on Kiyamachi.

Nagahama Ramen on Kiyamachi.

From “Old School Gaijin Kyoto” by Chris Rowthorn

I first arrived in Japan in January 1992. I was a kid of 26. Green as a sapling. I had graduated from college a few years earlier and had worked a string of meaningless, poorly paid jobs, none of which advanced my ambitions of becoming a writer. I wanted out of that situation and out of the States for a while, but I had no idea where to go. The leading destinations for footloose Gen Xers at that time were Prague and Alaska, where you could drink coffee and can salmon, respectively. Somehow, I wasn’t drawn to either place. So, when I heard that my old college mate John was studying Buddhism in Japan, I quickly called him up to find out more (the only people who used email at that time were employed by NASA).

On the phone, John painted me a vivid picture of Kyoto: it was a city of temples and shrines, surrounded by mountains. There were shops that sold noodles that were good and cheap. There were these places called sentos where you could bathe in huge tubs of steaming water. And John said he lived in an old wooden house by a small river and spent his days studying ancient texts, slurping noodles, and soaking in these hot baths.

Needless to say, I was utterly sold, and my excessively romantic imagination conjured up something straight out of a Chinese ink painting: secret temples materializing out of the mist, surrounded by improbably steep mountains, populated by the odd hermit and dragon, and, conveniently enough, plenty of cheap noodle joints.

Best of all, John said, you could easily get a job that paid ¥5,000 an hour for sitting around and chatting to Japanese people who wanted to practice their English. At the time, that was about US$35 (the yen was weaker then), which was utterly beyond my comprehension, since I was accustomed to earning about US$8 or $9 an hour doing menial and tiresome tasks. I imagined that US$35 was about what brain surgeons earned. I figured that I could probably retire in two or three years on that kind of income. Surely, I thought, he’s exaggerating a bit, but even if they paid half that, I’d be on easy street.

A few short weeks later, I found myself in a Northwest Airlines 747 coming in to land at Osaka’s Itami International Airport (this was a few years before they built the fancy new Kansai International Airport out in Osaka Bay). As the plane taxied to the gate, I peered blearily out the window and was surprised to see Air Force One sitting on the tarmac. I didn’t know George Bush (the elder) was coming, too! It didn’t seem like a good omen (and it certainly wasn’t a good trip for the President, who later that evening vomited onto the lap of Prime Minister Kiichi Miyazawa).

I cleared immigration and customs and found myself in a world of sinister policemen – the place was thick with them on account of the President – and purposeful salarymen. I stumbled out of the arrivals hall and confronted Osaka. It was straight out of Blade Runner – enormous neon signs written in wild Chinese characters loomed over streets filled with warrens of shops and restaurants and a legion of strange people scurrying about speaking an incomprehensible language. Where were the temples in the mist?! Where was the old wooden house beside the small river?! This was not what I had in mind at all! My jetlagged mind recalled a line from the film Withnail and I: “We’ve gone on holiday by mistake!” Only, this was no holiday – I had moved to an entirely different country by mistake!

Still, there was nothing for it, so I somehow found the bus to Kyoto and got on, with my old school suitcase (not even a proper backpack!). Things just got worse from there as we made our way out of Osaka and motored down the Hanshin Expressway. Every single inch of the place seemed worked over, modernized and transformed into some crowded futuristic jumble that eased neither the eyes nor the soul. The only thing that kept me from falling into a complete panic was sheer fatigue. Finally, as the bus made its way into the outskirts of Kyoto, I saw the illuminated pagoda of Toji Temple rising above the endless expanse of cheap concrete apartment blocks. Ahh…I thought, maybe there’s something here.

At that time, Japan was still high from the Bubble. It had burst a few years earlier, but most people hadn’t realized it yet. There was mad money in the air. All the Japanese seemed to have loads of it, and they truly seemed to be the supermen that books like Black Rain warned were about to take over the world. They were confident in their stride, everything they had and did was better, and the women were sexy as hell. I felt like some Okie hick pulling into Broadway circa 1925.

And, living in their midst, there was this gang of “gaijin” (foreigners) who were happy to pick up the generous crumbs that fell from the groaning table. And the Kyoto gaijin were a special breed. While Tokyo attracted serious business types who were strictly after the money, Kyoto got the culture vultures and the bohemians. Indeed, you could still sort of smell the patchouli in the air and hear the strains of the sitar in the distance. For Kyoto was one of the great K’s – a somewhat obscure member of the list that included Kabul, Kathmandu and Kuta. Kyoto was the place where you came to earn some money so you could get back out on the hippy trail – a few months teaching English and you could spend an entire year smoking hash in India or trekking in Nepal.

In Kyoto, it was expected that you’d live cheap. People boasted about how small their rents and rooms were, like hippie versions of Monty Python’s old men: “My place is three tatami mats and costs ¥20,000…So, my room is one-and-a-half tatamis and I have to sleep standing up, but it’s free and all I have to do is water my landlady’s bonsai.” This sensibility immediately appealed to me, since I was used to thinking of milk crates as furniture and US$10 as a lot of money. And everyone – the gaijin that is – was from somewhere else. Sure, there were plenty of Americans, but we also rubbed shoulders with exotics like Kiwis, Aussies, Israelis, and Swedes. And everyone had been everywhere: They tossed off names of Thai islands and Delhi bhang shops like they were local convenience stores.

IMG_6417 (Medium)

Osho – Chinese food

So, intending to stay a year, I stayed 18. I came with a suitcase and I left with a wife, two children, and more stuff than you can cram into a shipping container. While we now spend much of the year in Bangkok, Kyoto still feels like home. I cannot walk a single street downtown that does not have some memory attached to it, some ghost waiting to ambush me. Despite myself, visiting these streets brings forth an unbearable sense of loss: for the years gone by, the people who are no longer there, and the young man I once was. Sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s not so good, but it’s always there.

So, the other day, in a fit of extreme nostalgia, I decided to retrace my earliest steps in Kyoto, starting from the place I spent my first night, and ending up where I spent most of my time in those early days: the bars of Kiyamachi.

Text by Chris Rowthorn. Photographs by Michael Lambe. To read the rest of Chris Rowthorn’s Kiyamachi adventures, 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 Chris Rowthorn
Chris Rowthorn in BhutanChris Rowthorn was born in England and raised in the United States. In 1992, Chris moved to Kyoto, and started studying the Japanese language and culture. After the mandatory stint as an English teacher, Chris started writing for the Japan Times in 1995. In 1996, Chris was recruited by Lonely Planet Publications to work on their guidebooks to Japan. Since then, Chris has written over 25 books for Lonely Planet Publications. He is the sole author of the Lonely Planet Kyoto City Guide, and has been the lead author of the last seven editions of the Lonely Planet Japan country guide. He’s also written guidebooks about several other countries and articles for National Geographic Explorer, Arthur Frommer’s Budget Travel, BBC Online, and many more. Chris runs Chris Rowthorn Tours (, which offers private tours and consulting about Japan, and InsideKyoto (, an online guidebook to Kyoto.
See also:
Meet the Authors
Meet the Artists
An Exclusive Extract from Judith Clancy’s Walk
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)

Deep Kyoto: Walks in the Japan Times

jtMany thanks to Pat McCoy for his kind review of our ebook Deep Kyoto: Walks in today’s Japan Times! Pat writes,

“Deep Kyoto Walks” edited by Michael Lambe and Ted Taylor is the perfect guide for anyone who wants to get off Kyoto’s beaten tourist track. With personalized views of what to see and do in Kyoto — by people who have lived there for extended periods of time — it essentially offers a curated guide to one of the most fascinating cities in the world. Essays by a host of Kyoto residents (16 authors in all, including renowned travel writer Pico Iyer), cover various fields such as poetry, pottery, butoh dance, tea ceremony, art, travel writing and food writing…

To read the rest of Pat’s review click here: The Japan Times.
To learn more about the book and read extracts click here: About the Book
To read more reviews click here: Reviews
To order the book click here: Deep Kyoto: Walks
To read Kindle books without a Kindle, download a free app below:

Across Purple Fields – A Reading by Ted Taylor from Deep Kyoto Walks

Ted Reading (Medium) (Medium) (Small)On Wednesday evening we held our second Kyoto Bloggers meeting at the very excellent Impact HUB. I will write more about the event and about Impact HUB itself later, but today I want to share with you a short video of Ted Taylor reading from our ebook, Deep Kyoto: Walks. Ted gives a brief explanation of how and why he wrote the piece and then a reading from the piece itself. I have posted the text of the excerpt below.

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