Category Archives: Literature

Maruzen Bookstore on Inside Kyoto

My review of the new Maruzen Bookstore & Cafe is now up on Inside Kyoto

Maruzen Bookstore Returns to Kyoto

After a 10-year interval Kyoto’s best bookstore, Maruzen Books has returned! Our resident bookworm, Michael Lambe, went to take a look at the new premises and see if the new store matches up to its legendary past.

Check out the full story here: Maruzen Bookstore Returns to Kyoto!

Kyoto’s 39th Autumn Antiquarian Book Fair 2015


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: Friday October 30 – Tuesday 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.

Once again the flyer for this event has been designed by the very talented Nakagawa Non. You can view more of her artwork at her site here:

antiquarian reverse

The First Annual Kyoto Writing Competition; Deadline March 1st

From John Dougill,



(Sponsored by Tadg’s Irish Bar and Restaurant)

Theme: Kyoto (English language only)

Deadline: March 1, 2016 (midnight JST)

Genre: Short Shorts (unpublished material only)

Form: Haiku, short poems, character studies, essays, whimsy, wordplays, experimental verse, anything that helps show the spirit of place in a fresh light

Word Limit: 300 words (to fit on a single page)

send to
Please use Microsoft Word format, headed by the following information:
※ Full Name ※ Email Contact ※ Nationality ※ Location of Current Residence

Prizes to include Kyoto crafts and publication in the Writers in Kyoto Anthology

Kyoto resident prize: Gourmet meal for two at Tadg’s

Maruzen Bookstore Returning to Kyoto!

MaruzenIt’s been ten long years since Kyoto’s best bookstore closed it’s doors… but now Maruzen is coming back! Kyoto’s legendary bookstore occupied a special place in the hearts of expats because of it’s huge English language book section. Locals too were sad to see the historic shop close down, for Maruzen had occupied a spot on Kawaramachi Street since 1907.


The new Maruzen store will occupy two basement floors of the renovated Bal building which reopens on August 21st. Apparently it will include a cafe, western books and stationary – and it is going to be huge. This is a team effort with Junkudo, so we will have to wait and see if the new shop really has that old Maruzen magic. I’m going to be there on August 21st to find out though, and I’m sure a lot of other Maruzen fans will be there too. You can find a map for the Bal building and other details on the Bal Kyoto website here:

Thanks to Mewby for giving me the hot tip on this breaking news!

Writers in Kyoto – Launch Party with Amy Chavez on April 19th

This month sees the birth of a new group in Kyoto: Writers in Kyoto (WiK).

A screengrab from the new Writers in Kyoto website.

A screengrab from the new Writers in Kyoto website.

This from the website sets out its aims:

Writers in Kyoto is a group of published and self-published English-language authors working or living in the city. It is run on a membership basis and its purpose is for writers to help each other by creating opportunities for promotion, book launches, readings, the exchange of information, and social events. We work in an informal way and are open to new ideas for projects, such as the ongoing ‘Books set in Kyoto’ feature. We are an independent group, but collaborate with Kyoto Journal and SWET (Society of Writers, Editors and Translators).

Wik’s first event will be a talk by the popular columnist Amy Chavez on being a freelance writer in Japan. The event will take place on Sunday April 19 at Pub House ROARS near Sanjo Bridge (see map). Doors open 4.30 and the talk begins at 5.00. ¥500 entry (free for those joining WiK). Drinks and food will be available afterwards, with time for socialising.

For those who wish to sign up for a WiK membership there are all kinds of perks:

* Featured writer spot on the website’s top page, on a rotation basis according to membership numbers
* Books advertised on the website
* Book extracts carried in the Featured Writing category
* Participation in a closed Facebook discussion group with access to archival material
* Discounted entry for WiK-sponsored events
* Participation in WiK social activities, such as get-togethers and literary dinners
* WiK backing for future book launches
* Eligibility for WiK public readings, to be held twice a year

For more information about WiK and their upcoming event please check the website: or contact the facilitator, John Dougill.

Regarding the Cherry Blossoms in Okazaki, Kyoto

IMG_5456 (Medium)

Just over a year ago I took a walk in Okazaki just before the cherry blossoms bloomed, and recorded my thoughts for the book Deep Kyoto: Walks. I was primarily focused on the architecture of the area, a lot of which dates from the Meiji era. Throughout my walk though I was very conscious of those cherry blossom buds which were “just about to pop”. So a week later I went back and took some pictures of the same area with the trees in full bloom. Here is a short excerpt from that original walk and some of those later photographs. At this point, I have just departed from the the Lake Biwa Canal Museum…

Excerpt from Red Brick and Sakura by Michael Lambe

I head west along the Shirakawa canal, which carries water not from Lake Biwa but from Kyoto’s eastern hills. Pink banners wave in the breeze advertising sakura viewing boat trips, though the sakura itself has yet to bloom. Of this I am glad for I’m sure the area will be packed with tourists once the blossoms are out…

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The Shirakawa canal.

…Turning right I cross a bridge, pausing to look back down the canal towards the eastern hills. Yes, another day or so and the cherry trees along these banks will be spectacular. People will come from all over Japan to see them, and rightfully so. Even though much of old Kyoto has been lost, it is still the best city to view the cherry blossom. Somebody said that in a documentary once. I think it might have been famed movie director Nagisa Oshima, but this was way back in the early 90s and I wasn’t taking notes. The point is, that was when the idea of Kyoto, as a city of sakura, first entered my mind. It made a big impression on me. How wonderful it would be, I thought, to see that for myself. Imagine my delight when I first visited this city and the sakura chose the very day of my arrival to bloom. Such a blessing, and yet I still wasn’t satisfied. One can never be satisfied by cherry blossom. Legendary haiku poet Matsuo Bashō famously wrote “Even in Kyoto… I yearn for Kyoto”. I might add, even when I see the cherry blossom, I yearn for cherry blossom. So beautiful, yet flowering so briefly, even as we enjoy their splendor we are conscious of their imminent loss. The joy of their flowering contains a hidden seed of grief. But you cannot grasp it. To stand beneath a cherry tree and gaze into the billowing clouds of sakura above is to feel your soul being pulled out of you by the infinite regression of those heavenly petals. I wonder it does not drive people mad.

IMG_5491 (Medium)

Looking back towards the Lake Biwa Canal Museum.

I move on, north past the giant red tori gate on Jingū-michi… …where the great shrine of Heian Jingū sits like a proud bird. This red and white structure with its green tiled roofs appears to be a typical example of traditional Kyoto architecture, but actually it too is a Meiji era building. As part of the general drive to revitalize the city, it was decided in 1894 to build this shrine as a smaller scale reconstruction of the Chōdōin, part of the Imperial palace in Heian times (794 to 1185). It would be a proud symbol of the city’s Imperial heritage, a declaration to the world that even as Kyoto moved forward into the modern age it yet kept one eye on its past. I step through the entrance into the shrine’s vast grounds. No matter how many times I visit it stuns me to think that this is but a fraction of the scale of the Heian era original. I walk across the grounds to the main hall, wash my hands, throw a coin and say a prayer – this time for the continued prosperity of my adopted city. On my way out I notice some pink sakura-colored omikuji fortune slips tied to some trees to the left. I briefly toy with the idea of buying one, but no. I’ll write my own fortune and with my own words.


The entrance to Heian Jingū.

Text and photographs by Michael Lambe. To read the rest of Michael Lambe’s Red Brick and Sakura, 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 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.

See also:

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

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 Conference on Contemplation, 27-29 March 2015

“The happiness of life is made up of minute fractions – the little, soon forgotten charities of a kiss or a smile, a kind look or heartfelt compliment.”
Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Many thanks to Peter Cheyne for sending me the following information on an upcoming conference on contemplation at Kyoto Notre Dame University.

Peter writes,

While the title is ‘Coleridge and Contemplation’, not all talks are specifically about Coleridge, although all will discuss aspects of meditation and contemplation.

Each of the three days is loosely themed as follows:

Friday 27th: Literary/ Philosophical

Saturday: Philosophy, and some Religious perspectives

Sunday: Walking, Mystery, Nature, Environment, and some Buddhism

There will be free tea, coffee, juice, drinking water and light snacks during the breaks.

Summaries of each talk can be found on the webpage for each speaker:

Guest Chairs from around Japan will help with some of the sessions, including Kyoto’s own John Dougill (Ryukoku), David Chandler (Doshisha), Rob Kritzer (Kyoto Notre Dame), and Elizabeth Kenney (Kansai Gaidai):

Though this is an academic conference, it is open to the public and free of charge.

Please visit the official website to learn more about the schedule and speakers:

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

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

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:

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.

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:

mewby reading2

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