Category Archives: Books

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

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

Excerpt from A LONG MARCH by Ted Taylor

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

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

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

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

DeepKyoto-cover-0423-finalAbout Deep Kyoto: Walks

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

About Ted Taylor

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

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

Kyoto Botanical Gardens by Izumi Texidor Hirai

Pond (Medium)

Image © Izumi Texidor Hirai

The Asahi Shimbun recently ran a story about Kyoto Botanical Gardens. Researchers there are planning to build a greenhouse for endangered species. Not only will the greenhouse be used for preservation but it will also serve an educational purpose as visitors will be able to observe the plants and the work involved in keeping them alive.

The garden’s botanists also anticipate using the new facility to collaborate with universities and research organizations in reintroducing plants that are extinct in the wild back into their natural habitats.

“When people hear the term ‘endangered species,’ most of them tend to focus on animals,” said Junichi Nagasawa, the director of the garden. “But we want visitors to understand the rarity of endangered plants and how they are influenced significantly by changes in their environment.

An important reminder that the Botanical Gardens are not just a pleasant center of recreation but a locus of serious scientific endeavor! You can read the full story here: Kyoto garden to build greenhouse where visitors can observe endangered species

This story also reminded me that I have been meaning to post a special excerpt from Deep Kyoto: Walks by Izumi Texidor Hirai. In her walk through the Botanical Gardens Izumi weaves personal recollection with finely observed details of life in the gardens as they pass through the four seasons.  January has already passed now, but we are still very much in the early and wintry part of the year. Let today’s excerpt from Izumi’s walk serve as a happy reminder of all the special seasonal joys that the year ahead has in store.

***************************************************

The Botanical Gardens
IZUMI TEXIDOR HIRAI

The Rose Garden is my favourite part, like stepping into an English garden. A couple of tables shaded under tall trees, roses blooming in every colour I can imagine, grass and gravel under my feet, and then Mount Hiei quietly standing there at the end. Before I notice it, my steps have become smaller and slower. My eyes want to look at all those roses, every single one of them, and my lungs want to breathe in as much of their aroma as they can. In full bloom, this garden is spectacular and many people gather here to take quick photos or to slowly sketch their favourite bloom. However, I quite like it around November, on a cool, rainy day. I like the smell of wet earth and the rain drops on the flowers and on the leaves, and I like to see Mount Hiei mysteriously surrounded by grey clouds. I like that there is no one around and all I can hear is the continuous whispering of rain. I wonder if it sounds the same down here amongst the roses, as up there, at the top of Mount Hiei. In the spring, I will sometimes sit at one of the tables under the big pine trees and read or study. It is one of those special places where time stops as people come and go.

Now I have had my fill of roses, I want to explore the rest of the place, so I stand up, leave the Rose Garden behind and head north. Depending on the time of year, I will see camellias, or irises coming out of a lotus pond, or big hydrangeas if it is June. The lotus pond has an interesting bridge that often reminds me of classic Japanese novels. It is not a straight bridge or even a typical slightly elevated bridge, it goes right and left, and then right and left again, making you understand that the point is not to go from here to the other side, but to walk slowly and look around, maybe even stop a couple of times and enjoy a certain spot. When I get off the bridge, I start walking freely, no longer really having any direction in mind. All that zig-zagging. Wherever I go, I am always shaded by big old trees that must have seen a hundred years go by. There are more than twelve thousand species of plants and trees in these gardens, and birds live in some of these trees. I have often seen bird watchers with the latest cameras, moving silently in groups and taking fast snaps. Like modern ninjas.

Picture 14 Bridge by Izumi Texidor Hirai (Medium)

Image © Izumi Texidor Hirai

Then the sound of bamboo makes me slow down again. It is not a big forest, like the famous bamboo forests that people visit in other parts of Kyoto, yet still bamboo has this way of standing there, strong yet soft, that always transmits depth. At least it always makes me have deep thoughts. I think of how graceful the bamboo shoots look, but how strongly rooted they are to the earth, and how fast they separate from it, to grow higher and higher, while their roots go deeper and deeper, in a constant yet invisible effort to live. And then there is that sound. The wind finding its way through the shoots and the leaves. And the shoots and the leaves moving together with the wind, being flexible, but never bending, always going back to their straightness. It makes me think of how I want to be.

Still half lost inside my green thoughts, I continue my stroll. If I go north, I will see a big fountain that makes kids happy during the summer months, and just next to it, an area with all sorts of seasonal flowers. I like walking in there, not only because of the colours and all the flowers I never knew existed, but also to feel the effort that someone put into that seasonal garden. This is something that I have always admired in Kyoto, the effort people put into their tiny entrances, filling them with small pots neatly cared for. These minuscule urban gardens make such a big difference. A small effort will surely always make a difference.

***************************************************

Text and photographs by Izumi Texidor Hirai. 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 Izumi Texidor Hirai

photoIzumi Texidor-Hirai is half Japanese and half British, but born and raised in Barcelona. She first came to Japan in 1998 to study at Tokyo University. After many travels she returned to Japan to work for FIFA during the 2002 Japan/Korea World Cup. She decided to stay on after the event and moved to Kyoto, where her family have roots. Izumi had always admired kimono and took this chance to go to a kimono school, where she trained to become a kimono teacher. This course led her to the world of cha-no-yu (tea ceremony) which has since become her passion. Izumi is currently working towards a degree in Traditional Chinese Medicine, studying QiGong with a sensei in the Imperial Palace grounds, wearing kimono most days and continues to be very passionate about cha-no-yu.

************************************************************************************

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

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.

DeepKyoto-cover-0423-final
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.

IMG_6868

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.

***********************************************************

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.

************************************************************************************

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.

kyoto-event-1

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

ed pic

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…

kiya

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…

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

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


DeepKyoto-cover-0423-finalAbout Deep Kyoto: Walks

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

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

************************************************************************************

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

*********************************

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.

**********************************

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

ujigami 2

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…

IMG_0093-1 (Medium)

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.

****************************************************************************
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.

************************************************************************************

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