Category Archives: Books

A Deep Kyoto Christmas Book List

Here are some last minute Christmas stocking filler suggestions for the Kyoto lovers in your life.

zenbu zenZenbu Zen – Food writer and photographer Jane Lawson, escaped her overworked and stressed out life as a publisher and ran away to her dream city: Kyoto. Here she spent five months exploring Kyoto culture, particularly Kyoto food culture, and her book is a record of that exploration. Part memoir, part cookbook, part pictorial tribute to the city she loves, Jane Lawson’s Zenbu Zen is both beautiful to look at and an excellent primer for the study of Japanese cuisine.

city that silk builtThe City That Silk Built: The Courier Collection – Fresh from the printers, Chris Mosdell’s latest book of poems replicates the ancient Heian era tradition of poems sent as messages and responses. Each pair of poems is accompanied by a map of the location in which it was composed and an illustration: sometimes a woodcut and sometimes a photo.  It’s lovely book, steeped in history, literature and lore and makes for a unique guide to the mysterious side of Kyoto.

FWGcover2The Forest Within the Gate – The numinous photography of John Einarsen, the contemplative poems of Edith Shiffert, graceful calligraphy from Rona Conti and thought provoking essays from Marc Peter Keane, Diane Durston and Takeda Yoshifumi all come together in this glorious celebration of the Imperial City. Buy it direct from Kyoto Journal here: http://www.kyotojournal.org/backissues/kyoto-the-forest-within-the-gate/

kyoto urbanKyoto: An Urban History of Japan’s Premodern Capital by Matthew Stavros – A thorough and academic guide to eight centuries of Kyoto’s formation and urban development. Covering history,  culture, art, architecture, religion, and urban planning this is a scholarly work and may be too weighty for the casual reader. Truly deep Kyoto lovers, however, should enjoy the  challenge!

WHS-CoverJapan’s World Heritage Sites – A wonderful and beautifully illustrated guidebook from our friend John Dougill. Kyoto has 17 World Heritage properties all listed here along with other locations throughout the Japanese archipelago. My own copy has become an indispensable aid when planning trips about these fair isles.

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Deep Kyoto: Walks – What can I say? With such an illustrious collection of writers this book of meditative strolls throughout Kyoto is destined to be a classic. And did you know that you can gift an ebook? It saves on wrapping!
Take a look at the first three chapters here: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00KFM2J0C

mewby reading2

Where’s Mewby? Deep in a forest within a gate that’s where!

Kōtō-in – An Excerpt from “Deep Kyoto: Walks” by Joel Stewart

This month’s extract from Deep Kyoto: Walks is taken from a very fine ramble by the artist Joel Stewart, titled “In Praise of Uro Uro”. Uro uro is a Japanese expression for aimless wandering.

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Kōtō-in by Joel Stewart

I really don’t think much needs be said here about Kōtō-in, other than it’s a real escape from the city, right in the city. And beside all the interesting history you can find about this place, I think essentially, its purpose hasn’t changed that simple fact. It is, by design, a perfect example of understatement; a deceptively simple and brilliant combination of layout and materials meant to change your awareness and heighten your senses, starting as you make your way in. Highly calculated without it seeming to be so at all, Kōtō-in is refreshing and cleansing.

One of my favorite tricks for people visiting from abroad is to send them first to Kinkakuji, the Golden Pavilion, with all its over-the-top no expense spared attitude broadcasting loudly, its crowds and, yes, all that gold. Once done with that, bring them here to Kōtō-in’s less traveled, quieter, more inward-looking space, to show the other end of the spectrum of the Japanese aesthetic-meets-spirit equation. Kōtō-in still functions as a place of respite and refuge…

The entry way alone is worth the price of admission: several scenes are framed in succession as you go in, each frame helping you shed one more layer of the city behind you, and by the time you make it to the veranda overlooking the garden, you are lost in love and have forgotten why. You’ve been set up. Today, like before, I make my way in my socks to the veranda and sit. And sit some more. Bamboo high above, a vast carpet of moss below, and thread-like layers of maples in between. Silent except for the leaves rustling above and a bit of conversation by the couple beside me. In the center of the garden stands a craggy old stone lantern acting as a lone sentry. This scene is rich with the barest minimum. I feel no hurry, and since it is always so hard to leave, I just wait until my butt tells me it’s time to get up. Some places are just conducive to the simple act of observation… and letting the mind wander.

On the opposite side is the teahouse known as Shoko-ken, designed by one of Sen no Rikyu’s disciples, Tadaoki Hosokawa (who also happened to be the samurai warrior-cum-daimyo apparently responsible for Kōtō-in itself). It’s worth a visit just to scratch your head…..”What is ALL the fuss about these teahouses?…It’s SO DARK, mumble, mumble, etc…”. And yet. If you sit there a bit, let your eyes adjust, details start to emerge. I check out the stained earthen walls, the textures and planes, and note the hushed outside world. Everything but the absolute essential is removed from this space, for the guest who is about to receive tea. Senses are honed by what is there, and equally so, by what is absent. It’s sort of like blindfolding someone and placing an ice cube in their hand.

Time passes and my accustomed eyes see how the tokonoma and shoji window are placed in relation to each other so that the filtered light comes in at a diagonal and softly illuminates the base of the alcove like a subtle spotlight. Imagine what a single flower in season would look like in a rustic, hand-molded vase right next to you as the tea master passes you a warm frothing bowl of tea out of the shadows… Cool stuff to ponder in the darkened silence here.

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Text & photograph by Joel Stewart. 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 Joel Stewart
joelJoel Stewart is an American artist from Washington State who has resided in Kyoto since 1986. His work is in the permanent collections of several US museums and can be seen online at both “Joel Stewart Art” on Facebook and www.joelstewartart.com.

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To learn more about Deep Kyoto: Walks please check the following links:
About the Book
Extracts
Reviews
Videos
Interviews

Christine Flint Sato Sumi Workbook Review in Kyoto Journal #81

sumi workbook coverThe latest issue of Kyoto Journal includes my review of Christine Flint Sato’s Sumi Workbook.

Christine Flint Sato’s Sumi Workbook presents a complete introductory course for amateur or professional artists who would like to try the traditional brushed ink arts of East Asia. Sumi, a black ink made of soot and animal glue, is the essential medium for the arts of calligraphy and ink painting, and, Sato warns, it is “essentially unpredictable.” Even professional sumi artists who have trained for years, do not expect complete control over their materials. So much depends on the thickness or dilution of the ink, the type of brush used, the quality and absorbency of the paper, and of course there is always an element of chance. You never know for sure what you are going to affect. Rather than being a source frustration, however, Sato tells us that this tension between chance and design is a source of endless fascination and “delight, as unexpected effects abound.” We are encouraged to think of the sumi artist’s concentrated response to this moment-by-moment unpredictability as a form of playful meditation, a liberating discipline.

You can read the rest of this review online here: The Unexpected Delights of Brushed Black Ink. The Sumi Workbook is available from Amazon.co.jp or you can order it directly from Christine via her website: http://www.sumiwork.com/

Kyoto Journal #81: Sustained Engagement is now available for download. Here’s a prelude:

KJ81Autumn is nearly over—luminous morning mists highlight Kyoto’s eastern hills, tawny hues flare and burn out on the slopes of Mt Hiei, reminding us again of the insubstantiality of day-to-day life. At the core, what lasts? Only sustained, gathered engagement, commitment to strongly-held objectives, carrying us through successions of seasons into the long haul of decades and beyond…

Among articles in KJ 81 we present stories of people whose commitment is manifested in long-term concerns, projects involving sustained incremental effort, where progress is measured not in hours or days or weeks but in years, even lifetimes, among those privileged to find such purpose and the means to fulfill it.

You can read more about Kyoto Journal #81 and  download it here: http://www.kyotojournal.org/current-issue-digital-edition/

Whisper of the Land – Visions of Japan: Ed Levinson Talk & Book Signing

Here’s an upcoming event of interest hosted by Cafe Foodelica.

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Edward Levinson is an American photographer and writer living in Japan for 35 years. He will be speaking about his approach to photography, writing, and life with visual examples and readings from his new book of essays “Whisper of the Land”. The talk will be mainly in English with a little Japanese as necessary. Signed copies of his books will be available for purchase. http://www.edophoto.com/

Date & Time: Sunday December 14th 16:00–18:00
Admission: ¥1000, including coffee or tea and snack.
RSVP to 075-703-5203 or foodelica[at]gmail.com by December 13th, 8pm please.
foodelica.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


DeepKyoto-cover-0423-finalAbout Deep Kyoto: Walks

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

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

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To learn more about Deep Kyoto: Walks please check the following links:
About the Book
Extracts
Reviews
Videos
Interviews

World Heritage Kyoto by John Dougill

Our good friend, John Dougill, recently published a wonderful (and beautifully illustrated) book on Japan’s World Heritage Sites. Today he has been good enough to write a guest post on the many World Heritage properties of Kyoto, with some excellent personal recommendations.

WHS Cover

To research my book on Japan’s World Heritage Sites, I travelled the length of Japan from Hokkaido to Okinawa to visit all the 17 sites. (With the recent addition of Tomioka Silk Mill there are now 18.) It’s a peculiarity of Unesco registration that a single one of Japan’s sites – namely Kyoto – boasts no fewer than 17 ‘properties’, each of which can claim to be a World Heritage site in its own right.

Kyoto was capital of Japan for over 1000 years, and in its river basin was fostered much of the country’s culture: courtly aesthetics, Zen, Noh, the tea ceremony, Kabuki, Ikebana, and geisha arts. Small wonder that the city is recognised worldwide as a glittering gem. ‘Kyoto embodies all the values that Unesco treasures,’ declared Director General, Irina Bokova. ‘It is blessed by glorious nature. It has many intangible assets, like the Gion Festival. And it has wonderful people.’

At Kozan-ji Temple

At Kozan-ji Temple

In 1994 the ‘Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto (Kyoto, Uji and Otsu Cities)’ was officially registered as a World Heritage site. The cumbersome title allows for the inclusion of Enryaku-ji on Mt Hiei, which lies within the boundaries of Otsu City, as well as Byodo-in and Ujigami Shrine in the small town of Uji. Altogether there are 13 Buddhist temples, 3 Shinto shrines and 1 castle. Or put another way, there are over 200 buildings and gardens of the highest aesthetic and cultural significance. They include well-known places for which people fly across the world – the Golden and Silver Pavilions, Nijo Castle, Kiyomizu Temple, the Ryoanji rock garden, etc.

Ujigami Jinja

Ujigami Jinja

Yet there are also obscure properties, unfamiliar even to people who live in Kyoto. Take Ujigami Jinja, for instance, or Kozan-ji. Who would have thought these modest places would outrank such omissions as Daitoku-ji, Fushimi Inari, Katsura Villa or the Gion geisha district? The list of places left out could easily match those that have been included, which begs the question: how exactly did the 17 properties get selected? It’s a question I tried to enquire into, without ever getting a satisfactory answer.

Kozan-ji

Kozan-ji

So apart from the obvious, what are my tips for visitors? Two underrated places are Ninna-ji and Daigo-ji, which belong to the Shingon sect of Buddhism. ‘No, not another temple’ is a common complaint of visitors to Kyoto, but sites such as these are much more than places of worship. In fact, you could easily enjoy both of them without even stepping into a temple hall.

Ninna-ji 1

Ninna-ji

Ninna-ji contains the Omuro Palace that exemplifies the aristocratic lifestyle of former times. Covered corridors; fusuma paintings; ancient tea houses; gorgeous garden and exquisite view over pond and pagoda. Nearby is a grove of late flowering cherry blossom, named after the palace.

Ninna-ji 2

At Ninna-ji

Daigo-ji too has an attractive villa named Sambon-in, though technically it’s a subtemple. The ruggedness of the garden reflects samurai values and is filled with rocks assembled by Hideyoshi from all over Japan. Nearby, within the precincts proper, is Kyoto’s most ancient pagoda and a picturesque Benten pond to which photographers throng in spring and autumn.

Daigo-ji

Daigo-ji

In addition to the man-made beauty both sites provide access to the wildness of the surrounds, where nature is augmented by a spiritual dimension. At Ninna-ji if you exit by the north-west gate, there is a miniature 88-temple pilgrimage which winds around a hill. And at Daigo-ji you can walk uphill for an hour from Lower Daigo to Upper Daigo, where a collection of ancient buildings has connections with Shugendo (mountain asceticism).

Daigo-ji 2

Daigo-ji

Those of us who live in Kyoto know that it would be well-nigh impossible to visit in their entirety all the gardens, temples, shrines, museums, villas, festivals and other items of interest with which the city is blessed. The historical associations and buildings which once housed the great figures of the past mean that Kyoto is far more than merely the proud possessor of 17 Unesco ‘properties’. It’s surely a World Heritage Site in itself!

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Text and pictures by John Dougill. John Dougill is the author of Japan’s World Heritage Sites (Tuttle, 2014) as well as Kyoto: A Cultural History (Cityscapes)
(Signal/OUP, 2006), shortly to be reissued as an e-book.

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Kyoto’s 17 World Heritage ‘properties’, in no particular order

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Purification at Ujigami Shrine

– Kamigamo Shrine
– Shimogamo Shrine
– Toji Temple
– Kiyomizu Temple
– (Hieizan) Enryakuji Temple
– Daigoji Temple
– Ninnaji Temple
– Byodoin Temple
– Ujigami Shrine
– Kozanji Temple
– Kokedera/Moss Temple
– Tenryuji Temple
– Kinkakuji Temple/Golden Pavilion
– Ginkakuji Temple/Silver Pavilion
– Ryoanji Temple
– Nishi-Honganji Temple
– Nijo Castle

Autumn Antiquarian Book Fair 2014

秋の古本まつり

Kyoto’s annual Autumn Antiquarian Book Fair starts Thursday Oct. 30th at Chion-ji Temple – just a stone’s throw away from the Hyakumanben intersection. Though the majority of the books available (about 200,000 in all) are Japanese, there are always some English books available, as well as art books and ukiyo-e prints etc. The grounds of the temple are also a very peaceful and pleasant location in which to browse for bargains.

Dates: Thursday October 30 – Monday November 3
Location: Chion-ji Temple
Time: 10 am to 5 pm
Access: Chion-ji Temple is on the north side of Imadegawa opposite Kyoto University. It’s a ten minutes walk east of Keihan Demachiyanagi Station, or 3 minutes from the Hyakumanben bus stop. (map)

This is one of three annual used book fairs held in Kyoto, the others being held in spring and summer. I have written about the summer sale here.

Nakagawa Non is the regular artist for the Book Fair flyers and I think you’ll agree that with her latest design (see above) she has done a lovely job. You can view more of her artwork at her site here: http://nonkimegane6-6.com/

Not Sure Which Way to Go – An Excerpt from Deep Kyoto Walks by Robert Yellin

In this extract from Deep Kyoto: Walks, Robert Yellin encourages us to seek chance and adventure along the Path of Philosophy…

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Photograph by Robert Yellin

Not Sure Which Way to Go
Let’s Get Lost on the Philosopher’s Path!
ROBERT YELLIN

One autumn twilight moment I was standing on a small bridge overlooking the Philosopher’s Path’s canal and saw a young couple staring at a map, eyes flittering over the horizon and at each other, each looking to the other for direction, it obvious that neither knew where they were, except that they were on the Path of Philosophy! The guy trying to act like he knew what to do said, “That’s the direction we should go, no wait, let’s head that way!” The girl, in all her feminine wisdom replied, ‘Let’s get lost!” Yes, I thought, that’s what one should do on Philosopher’s Path, get lost and discover.

The Philosopher’s Path or Tetsugaku no Michi in Japanese, stirs up such grandeur in its lofty name that one might even expect to be enlightened somewhere along the way. Some may hit that satori state along the path, as when Ikkyu in 1420 heard a crow not far off the path and got it! And that’s the beauty of this fabled Kyoto walk. It’s not only what one discovers on the paved canal-lined stretch; it’s what one encounters when they step off the guided way. After all a path is a great metaphor for life itself, getting lost often brings the greatest discoveries within and without. Getting lost—and finding oneself—on the Philosopher’s Path: what a grand way to spend a day in Kyoto.

Michi (also read as ) means not only path or road, but also means ‘The Way’ in Japanese. It is not only an integral part of the essence of the Philosopher’s Path or The Path of Philosophy, but can also be found in many names of Japan’s great martial and cultural arts, such as Budo or Chado. Each person’s ‘michi’ will never be the same as anyone else’s and again is a great metaphor for each step taken along this most quaint stroll.

Where to take the first step? Most start from the ‘Tetsugaku no Michi’ signboard that hugs the corner of Imadegawa and Shirakawa streets diagonally across the way from the signboard with the dancing Octopus. Walking east along this entrance one can see Daimonji in the distance with its trapezoidal deforested area where cut lines can be sensed; those lines form the kanji character for Dai—or Large—and a huge bonfire is set alit each August 16th in that form to guide souls back to the otherworld. A fitting view for the first few steps on the path as Daimonji has seen millions of tourists and pilgrims start from the same spot and the mountain never knows where each unique journey on the path will end.

For me I start the path with maybe one or two spots on my list to visit and then let intuition take over. Of course, walking straight along Imadegawa and heading towards the Silver Pavilion one will pass many shops such as a cheap, delicious Japanese eatery next to a coffee shop with a big Teddy bear that has been sitting at the counter since the 60’s; a Michelin-starred restaurant; an open-air Italian spread; the estate and museum of the famed Nihonga painter Hashimoto Kansetsu (1883–1945); and of course countless vendors selling traditional Kyoto staples. The Silver Pavilion is of course a must visit and best at opening or before closing, if those times are possible. Here, so much of Japanese culture crystallized in the 15th century in what is known as the Higashiyama Bunka or Eastern Mountain Culture. Based on the illusive aesthetic ideals of wabi-sabi, Higashiyama Bunka under the guidance of the Silver Pavilion’s retired Shōgun Ashikaga Yoshimasa directed new developments for such famed Japanese arts such as the Tea Ceremony, Flower Arrangement, Noh Drama and Calligraphy. Living itself changed for the elite with the introduction of the ‘Japanese room’ or washitsu.

Bordering the mountains and in Yoshimasa’s time quite inaccessible from the city, the location was chosen for the quiet contemplation of life, nature and man’s fleeting position between the two; surely Yoshimasa would approve that one major stop on the Philosopher’s Path is his subdued ‘palace’ surrounded by his moon-viewing sand cone (resembling Mt.Fuji) and his exquisite garden. Get lost in time.

A noticeable shift in the air occurs a few minutes’ walk from the Silver Pavilion, passing by rows of ordinary homes (not on the Philosopher’s Path, part of the Getting Lost Path) heading south when the trees of Hōnen-in Temple appear. It strikes the senses immediately, the crispness of the air and the ionic air change in energy, the smell, the tingle. There are magical spots all around Kyoto, many to be found along and nearby the Philosopher’s Path, yet none is as serene as Hōnen-in. It’s one of Kyoto’s hidden gems.

Hōnen (1133-1212) was an extremely important Buddhist figure and the temple bears his name. Once, I stood enraptured for many minutes before a hanging scroll depicting Hōnen; a simple portrait it was, yet never before have I seen a face so full of compassion, light, and sheer contentment. That same energy fills the space of Hōnen-in. Walk up the stone steps from sunlit lightness into a moody shaded grove and in the distance is The Gate. Beaming from its open wooden doors is a radiant light that is heavenly. The stone path leading to the thatched gate is uneven, for a reason. You’ll figure it out.

A gate is always another metaphor in Japan, passing from one world to the next, from the mundane daily existence to a silky world of divinity and beauty. There are always two long rectangular sand mounds upon descending the other side of the Hōnen gate where a theme of water is always seen. These are called Byakusadan. The message from Byakusadan is that you walk between the two mounds in order to ‘use’ the water to cleanse your body, mind and spirit. Next, wander about the very small compound and you might even find a small block that says, ‘Listen, Think, Accept, Practice, Believe’—but not necessarily in that order. I believed once that if I left my new bicycle unlocked at Hōnen-in in the height of the autumn tourist season that it would still be there when I returned. It was.

Picture 5 Honen-in by Robert Yellin (Medium)

Hōnen-in by Robert Yellin

Hōnen-in is not a tourist place to see things per se, but a space to feel, to sense the magic of shadows and light, man entwined with nature, the ‘now’ connected to all time. My brother visited once and was amazed at the ‘quality of the silence’ and noted that silence is not simply the absence of noise. There’s a vibration to silence that one can sense. Maybe it’s the spirit of Hōnen himself.

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Text and photographs by Robert Yellin. 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 Robert Yellin
Robert YellinRobert Yellin is an American Japanese ceramics specialist who has resided in Japan since 1984. He writes regularly on Japanese ceramics in numerous publications. For ten years he wrote the “Ceramic Scene” column for the Japan Times, the largest English newspaper in Japan. His articles have also appeared in Daruma magazine, WINDS magazine, Ceramics Art & Perception, and Asian Art Newspaper. Robert is the author of Yakimono Sanka published by Kogei Shuppan, a book about sake utensils which was later translated into English under the title Ode to Pottery, Sake Cups and Flasks. He is a member of the Japan Ceramics Society (Nihon Toji Kyokai) and his articles have appeared in its monthly publication Tohsetsu.
Robert owns and runs Robert Yellin Yakimono Gallery in Kyoto in addition to an informational website: www.e-yakimono.net, and an online Japanese ceramic art gallery: www.japanesepottery.com. Robert is available to give lectures and lead tours dealing with Japanese ceramics.

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To learn more about Deep Kyoto: Walks please check the following links:
About the Book
Extracts
Reviews
Videos
Interviews

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…

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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?

Mimizuka

Mimizuka

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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 (www.kyotojournal.org). She blogs with two other women at Ten Thousand Things (www.tenthousandthingsfromkyoto.blogspot.jp). She is also a “singer in a rock-and-roll band,” called the Meadowlarks.

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To learn more about Deep Kyoto: Walks please check the following links:
About the Book
Extracts
Reviews
Videos
Interviews

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

atago
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.

Kiyotaki

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…

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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 www.CycleKyoto.com and www.JapanVisitor.com. He also has a blog, Miyako on Two Wheels at www.cyclekyoto.blogspot.jp. He is from Philadelphia, USA, and has lived in Kyoto for more than a decade.

Author photo by Stéphane Barbery.
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To learn more about Deep Kyoto: Walks please check the following links:
About the Book
Extracts
Reviews
Videos
Interviews