Category Archives: Shrines

Toka Ebisu on Inside Kyoto

#20 Maiko from the Miyagawa district

Maiko from the Miyagawa district meet the people at Toka Ebisu festival

My article on the recent Toka Ebisu Festival is now up on Chris Rowthorn’s Inside Kyoto site. Toka Ebisu is the first big festival of the year in Kyoto, and in my report I take an in-depth look at some of the traditions and rituals that are associated with it. I also explain why Ebisu, the god of good fortune, is such an excellent role model for the good citizens of Kyoto. With ancient shamanic rituals, mochi-rice pounding, maiko meet-n-greet events, and a giant frozen tuna (!) this popular local festival has a lot of diversity. Read all about it here: Toka Ebisu!

Entry to Ebisu Shrine at night

Entry to Ebisu Shrine at night

Toka Ebisu Festival Schedule – January 8th – 12th

Toka Shrine 1
Kyoto’s first big festival of the new year is Toka Ebisu and it starts this week! Ebisu being the god of good fortune and prosperity in business, thousands of local people will descend on Ebisu Shrine to pray for success in their work and business endeavors. The streets leading to the shrine are crowded with food stalls selling typical festival foods like taco-yaki, kara-age, ringo-ame and the like… Meanwhile the shrine itself does a roaring trade in good luck charms and lucky bamboo grass!
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Below is a schedule of the main events to see during the 5 day festival: January 8th – 12th.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Snow on Shimogamo Shrine, Kyoto

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This picture by Mewby.

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

This was the view upon arrival at Demachiyanagi.

This was the view upon arrival at Demachiyanagi.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The entrance to Shimogamo Shrine proper.

The entrance to Shimogamo Shrine proper.

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

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

At the entrance a blazing fire warms people up.

At the entrance a blazing fire warms people up.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Greeting the New Year in Kyoto

Kurodani - New Year's Eve 2010

Kurodani – New Year’s Eve 2010

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

Kurodani - New Year's Eve 2010

Kurodani – New Year’s Eve 2010

John Dougill writes…

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

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

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

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

Kurodani - New Year's Eve 2010

Kurodani – New Year’s Eve 2010

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

Shimogamo Shrine in the early hours of January 1st 2011

Shimogamo Shrine in the early hours of January 1st 2011

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

At Shimogamo Shrine

At Shimogamo Shrine

At Shimogamo Shrine

At Shimogamo Shrine

At Shimogamo Shrine

At Shimogamo Shrine

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Text by John Dougill. Photographs by Michael Lambe

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

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.

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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.

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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

Ted Taylor on the Trail of Toyotomi Hideyoshi: A Deep Kyoto Walk through History

Ted Taylor wrote a piece for The Japan Times at the end of March that illustrates quite nicely why I asked him to be my coeditor on the Deep Kyoto: Walks anthology. As regular readers of his blog Notes from the ‘Nog will attest, Ted knows very well how to write about walking. In this article, Under the Beat of the Taiko, Ted walks about and discusses various sites around Kyoto associated with Japan’s second great unifier, the daimyo Toyotomi Hideyoshi.

It is worth noting however, that this walk, written specifically for the Japan Times Travel section and focused as it is very much on Kyoto’s past, is very different in style and content from the content of our book. In Deep Kyoto: Walks our writers were encouraged to focus more on the present moment and the web of associations that a wander down familiar paths gives rise to. Each piece in our anthology is a meditative testament to life lived in Kyoto and maps out those places where the greater story of the city and our personal histories intersect. The following excerpt from Ted’s article though, is still a striking reminder of how much a part Kyoto has played in Japan’s greater history and how much of that history remains to be explored in this our modern city.

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Mimizuka:  a monument to Hideyoshi’s infamy... (Photo by Ted Taylor)

Mimizuka: a monument to Hideyoshi’s infamy… (Photo by Ted Taylor)

From Under the Beat of the Taiko
…the majority of sites related to Hideyoshi lie across town, not far away from the Kyoto National Museum. I started in fact from that very building, tracing a short counter-clockwise arc on a sunny but cold winter’s morning. I quickly head east, crossing the broad Higashi-oji and cutting through the grounds of Chisahaku-in. This temple offers one of my favorite tofu lunches, but it is still early. Beyond the temple is Shin Hiyoshi Jingu.

Today, the grounds of the shrine are somewhat hemmed in, but the layout hints at a grander scale in the past. I find a monkey statue, a reminder of Hideyoshi’s nickname when he was still a low-ranking soldier. There is also a photograph of an early Meiji Period cannon that had presumably been used in the Russo-Japanese War (1904-05). The limited signage doesn’t mention where the cannon itself is today, but it’s likely to have been melted down during World War II a half century later. Acorns litter the base where it once stood.

I pass Kyoto Women’s University and its accompanying cafes. On one corner is a beautiful Meiji-era building that is a nod to the antebellum American South and is apparently the University’s Founders Hall. A set of steps takes me above it, onto a vast open space of trees and stone. Off to one side is a large paved section where the Princess Line parks its red buses. It’s a point not entirely incongruous as Hideyoshi once had the audacity to demand that the Ming Emperor marry a daughter to the Japanese monarch, a demand that was naturally ignored.

There’s a steep flight of steps before me, leading up Amida-ga-mine. I begin to climb up the not insignificant number of stairs — 522, I later find. Atop the mount is Hideyoshi’s mausoleum. After his death in August 1598, he was buried here, within a massive shrine complex. A massive annual festival was once held here around the date of his death but after the victory of the Tokugawa over Hideyoshi’s son in 1615, the shrine was destroyed and the number of mourners quickly diminished.

Today, too, I find myself alone. There is a small pagoda, built in 1898 to mark the 300th year of his passing. It is of simple grey concrete, far from the gaudy glitz that the man himself was known to appreciate. Instead, the simplicity of the monument, along with the bare trees and the accompanying cold wind, is a reminder of the poverty into which the man had been born.

I circumambulate this plain stone edifice. If you squint through the trees to the north, you might be able to make out the sightseers standing on the famed deck of Kiyomizu-dera. Behind the mausoleum are a series of trails running in a number of directions.

However, I return the way I came, in the direction of Hoko-ji Temple. Just to the east is a small park with a handful of structures and a great deal of cracked tile. It was here that Hideyoshi built his massive Buddha to rival that of Nara. Eighteen meters high, the Buddha’s fortunes lasted longer than that of the Toyotomi family, though these fortunes could hardly be called good.

Repeatedly destroyed by fire and earthquake, the Buddha would be rebuilt again, in a near parody of that ancient Zen proverb: “Fall seven times and stand up eight.” However, the great statue fell for good in 1973, destroyed by fire. (This finality is so seemingly complete for I can’t even find a photo on the Internet, despite the recent date of demise.)

The temple itself is pretty small and nondescript. The shinbutsu bunri, or separation of Buddhism from Shinto in the opening days of the Meiji Period, allowed the grounds of neighboring Toyotomi Shrine to envelop what had once belonged to the temple. The only truly interesting feature is an old bell, which was cast in 1614. As Richard A.B. Ponsonby-Fane wrote in his 1956 masterpiece, “Kyoto: the Old Capital of Japan”:

“[T]he tablet over the Daibatsu-den and the bell bore the inscription ‘Kokka ankō’ (meaning ‘the country and the house, peace and tranquility’), and at this Tokugawa Ieyasu affected to take umbrage, alleging that it was intended as a curse on him for the character 安 (an, ‘peace’) was placed between the two characters composing his own name 家康 (ka-kō, ‘house tranquility’) [suggesting subtly perhaps that peace could only be attained by Ieyasu’s dismemberment?]“

This perceived slight gave Ieyasu yet another pretext for which to dismember the Toyotomi clan itself.

The neighboring shrine, Toyokuni Jinja, was built in 1599 and dedicated to Hideyoshi. This honor was, of course, revoked under the Tokugawa, but once again renewed by the Meiji Emperor himself. The Karamon, an ornately carved gate that has been designated a national treasure, unfortunately flanks a built-up ground that seems to function solely as a parking lot. I find no real reason to linger.

Around the corner is one final site that is more a monument to Hideyoshi’s infamy. Beneath the gently sloping grass hill of Mimizuka are the severed noses of allegedly 38,000 Korean soldiers and civilians killed during Hideyoshi’s ill-advised invasions of Korea (1592-98). Remuneration was usually paid to warriors according to the number of heads taken in battle, but as this campaign took place such a long distance away, noses seemed a fair substitute. Dedicated in 1597, it is most telling that the information written on the plaque is in Japanese and Korean. The mound is unknown to most Japanese, but Korean tour buses can be frequently seen nearby.

As I walk back toward the subway, I wonder at the thoughts of the locals, living in modest suburban houses around the Mimizuka site. However, as these modern homes themselves attest, despite the rich legacy of this city, most Kyoto-ites don’t really seem to live much in harmony with the past anymore, and seem content to instead give it a curt nod as they move forward with their lives.

Read the full article here.

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By some uncanny chance the Hailstone Haiku Circle‘s most recent composition stroll also took in the mausoleum of Toyotomi Hideyoshi, and you can read about that here. The Deep Kyoto: Walks connection? Hailstone participants Stephen Gill and John Dougill are both contributors to our book! From this posting though, it is the following haiku by Branko Manojlovic, that I find most poignant:

Hideyoshi’s tomb –
Nobody sweeps here
But the April wind

More about the writers of Deep Kyoto: Walks to be revealed soon!
See also:
Judith Clancy in “Deep Kyoto: Walks” ~ An Exclusive Extract
Deep Kyoto: Walks ~ Meet the Artists
Coming very soon, the first publication from Deep Kyoto

Wisteria at Sandai Shrine, Shiga

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Sandai Shrine
(三大神社) is a small shrine near Kusatsu in Shiga Prefecture, with a very impressive garden of trailing wisteria. If you want to see them for yourself then you had better go soon. They were pretty much peaking when we went a couple of days ago.

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To get there, take a JR train from Kyoto Station to Kusatsu (410 yen for a 20 minute journey – see Jorudan for schedules) and then catch a bus from outside the west exit to Kitaogayacho (北大萱町). The fare is 270 yen and the bus only takes 11 minutes. From there it’s another 10 minute walk to the shrine.
Once there, join the throngs trying to get that perfect shot of wisteria glory.
strainAnyway,the flowers are beautiful and totally worth a trip out there. I actually overheard an old lady in a wheelchair saying that it was the first time in her life she had seen wisteria like this. She seemed rather moved, as was I after overhearing her…
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Cherry Blossoms at Hirano Shrine

Last weekend we visited Hirano Shrine, famous for it’s cherry blossoms.

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They have a lot of yatai food stalls set up there for the cherry blossom festival.

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And above them all and around them a gorgeous cloud of pink and white cherry blossom.

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“As court nobles donated cherry trees handed down in each family from ancient times, there are approximately 400 cherry trees of about 50 kinds.”

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“Early-opening flowers come into bloom in the middle of March while those blooming latest are at their best around April 20. Therefore people can enjoy cherry blossoms for about a month at this shrine.”

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It’s not always easy to get that perfect shot…

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But I think these aren’t bad.

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Hirano Shrine is located just a little further north from Kitano-Tenmangu on Nishioji Street. Here is a MAP.

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Even the hardest hearts will melt at the sight of Jonangu’s plum blossoms.

I think it is safe to say that the weeping plum blossoms at Jonangu Shrine were at their peak when we visited last Sunday.
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Jonangu lies to the south of Kyoto, about 15 minutes walk from Takeda Station, which can be reached on either the Kintetsu or Karasuma Subway lines. When a shrine was originally built here in Heian times the area around it would presumably have been open countryside and farmland, but today it is a sorry mix of grimy commuter housing and love hotels. All the more the gardens feel a haven of peace and tranquility when you arrive.
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Bean Pelting, Devils & Fiery Charms – Setsubun in Kyoto!

Setsubun is an old festival for seeing out the hardships of winter and welcoming in the spring, symbolized in the ritual act of throwing beans at mask clad devils… 鬼は外福は内! (“oni wa soto! fuku wa uchi!” – “devils out, and good luck in!“) people cry while pelting their lucky beans till the demonic forces beat a retreat. There are a variety of sites around town where you can join in with devil dances and bean throwing ceremonies which I shall list below.
setsubun
Yoshida Shrine (see the poster above) holds the biggest Setsubun festival in Kyoto. The festival lasts for three days from the 2nd to the 4th. Highlights are the driving out of the evil spirits from 6pm on the evening of the 2nd and the fire festival from 11 pm on the 3rd. A huge bonfire is lit with piled up amulets, papers and charms – and when I say huge I mean it. It really is quite dramatic. As with most festivals there are 屋台 (yatai – food stalls) galore lining the route to the shrine, so there’s plenty to eat and drink. See details at the Yoshida Shrine website (Japanese): http://www5.ocn.ne.jp/~yosida/setubunsai.htm
To get there take Kyoto City Bus #206 and get off at Kyodai Seimon-mae. Here is a MAP.

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

001Heian Shrine
February 3rd: From 12pm there is a Kyogen traditional comedy performance and bean pelting from 3pm. Sweet sake served free all day.
To get there take Kyoto City Bus #5 and get off at Kyoto Kaikan Bijutsukan-mae. Here is a MAP. Japanese/English website: www.heianjingu.or.jp/

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

If you know of other Setsubun events around town, please list them in the comments! Here’s a video of Yoshida Shrine’s raging inferno to get you in the mood: