Category Archives: Shrines

Toka Ebisu Festival Schedule – January 8th – 12th 2016

#20 Maiko from the Miyagawa district

Maiko from the Miyagawa district at Toka Ebisu Fesitval

The first big event of the year in Kyoto is the Toka Ebisu Festival which starts this week.

Knocking for Ebisu

Knocking for Ebisu

Ebisu is the god of good fortune and prosperity in business, so thousands of local people will descend on Ebisu Shrine this week to pray for success in this year’s work and business endeavors. The streets leading to the shrine will be packed 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! Among the events listed in the schedule below are ancient purification rites, ancient mystical dances, traditional rice-cake pounding, tuna-fish blessing and the chance to meet some local maiko, or apprentice geisha.

A shooting range among the stalls. Can you see the maiko?

A shooting range among the stalls. Can you see the maiko?

Below is a handy schedule of the main events to see during the 5 day festival from January 8th – 12th. For a more detailed account of the festival with lots of pictures, take a look at my account of last year’s Toka Ebisu festivities on the Inside Kyoto website: http://www.insidekyoto.com/toka-ebisu

A full account of last year's festivities is up on Inside Kyoto.

A full account of last year’s festivities is up on Inside Kyoto.

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.

Exploring Daitoku-ji on Inside Kyoto

Last month I spent a couple of days exploring the Zen gardens of the Daitoku-ji Temple complex, and the results are now up on Chris Rowthorn’s Inside Kyoto website.

daitokuji inside

Daitoku-ji was originally built as a small Zen temple in 1319. Like many historical sites in Kyoto, it was repeatedly destroyed by war and fire before being rebuilt on a grander scale by Zen master Ikkyu Sojun in the late 15th century. The temple’s political importance was sealed in 1582 when the great warlord Hideyoshi Toyotomi held a funeral ceremony here for his predecessor Oda Nobunaga. Over time, political patronage and the money of a rich merchant class, led to a great flowering of the Japanese aesthetic here, expressed through architecture, painting, calligraphy, tea ceremony and of course those famous Zen gardens. All of this means that for you the visitor, there’s a whole lot of beautiful things for you to look at. LINK

In addition to the temples and gardens in this article, you can also read about ancient sweet shops, guardian shrines, a hot spring bath, a cafe in a renovated bath house, Buddhist vegetarian cuisine, the grave of the world’s first novelist and a unique savory relish called Daitoku-ji natto!

Read more here:  http://www.insidekyoto.com/exploring-daitoku-ji

Deep Kyoto on CNN Travel

In case you missed it, my recommendations for what to see, do, buy, & eat when in “Japan’s most photogenic city” are now up on the CNN Travel site.

Inside Guide Best of Kyoto

Everyone should visit Kyoto at least once.

It’s Japan’s best preserved ancient city.

Shrines, temples, palaces, gardens … the city is home to thousands of architectural wonders, including 17 UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Geisha and locals wearing traditional kimonos aren’t unusual sights.

But Kyoto is a modern city with a dynamic music and arts scene, lively markets and restaurants serving the best Japanese cuisine.

There’s too much to see on a single visit — so we have whittled down the best of Kyoto.

Click to read the rest of: Inside Guide: Best of Kyoto

I had to put this piece together in a bit of a hurry last July, so it was a HUGE help that Jeffrey Friedl, Travis Seifman, and Mario Cacciottolo let me use some of their photos. By way of thanks, I encourage you all to visit their websites:

Jeffrey Friedl’s blog: http://regex.info/blog/
Mario Cacciottolo’s photography: http://travellinglensman.com/
Travis Seifman’s “musings on the arts of Japan and beyond”: https://chaari.wordpress.com/

Thanks also are due to Chris Rowthorn who put CNN in touch with me in the first place.

Fujinomori Festival & Kakeuma Shinji – Acrobatic Horseback Riding

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Trick riders at Fujinomori Shrine get ready to awe the crowds.

Mewby and I caught this festival last year and for sheer excitement it can’t be beat. I highly recommend you catch this event on May 5th.

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A parade from Fujinomori Shrine arrives at Fushimi Inari Taisha

Earlier that morning (from around 10.30) we saw mikoshi (portable shrines) from Fujinomori Shrine carried in a parade to Fushimi Inari Taisha. It was raining but that did not dampen the spirits of the people carrying the mikoshi – they all had beers waiting for them in ice buckets at Fushimi Inari.

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The main part of this festival though is the renowned “Kakeuma Shinji” (駈馬神事) at Fujinomori Shrine. This is an acrobatic horseback riding ritual,  held on May 5th every year. Participants perform all kinds of crazy stunts whilst galloping full tilt through the shrine grounds. I’ve read that the stunts performed are derived from techniques used in battle, but it is hard to conceive of what practical use these tricks would be, except maybe to distract your enemy with thoughts of “Wow, you’re really cool”. Upside down, side saddle, tossing paper streamers – if you can imagine it, they do it – and the cheering crowds are left gasping in admiration.

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All the riders are from families who have been performing these stunts for generations. The older gentleman at the end of the video below was performing his last stunt before retiring.

The stunt riding takes place at 1 o’clock and 3 o’clock (each time lasting for about an hour). I’d recommend getting to this event early, as it packs out pretty quick. Fujinomori Shrine is a 5 minute walk from JR Fujinomori Station on the JR Nara Line, or a 7 minute walk from Sumizome Station on the Keihan Line. Here is a MAP.

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Kerria at Matsuo Taisha

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After the cherry blossoms fall, successive waves of spring flowers vie for our attentions. At Matsuo Taisha bright gold kerria, known as “yamabuki” in Japanese, are in full bloom right now.

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We went to see them last year, but for some reason I never got around to posting the pictures – until now.

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Matsuo Taisha, (formally called Matsu-no-O Taisha), is said to have been founded in 701 AD, thus predating Kyoto itself and may even be the oldest of Kyoto’s shrines (though a few shrines make this claim).

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The yamabuki or kerria, are certainly lovely. Yamabuki is sometimes translated as “Japanese yellow rose”, but I find this misleading. They bear no relation to roses, and don’t resemble them in the slightest. Besides kerria is quite a pretty name, don’t you think?

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Entry to the outer grounds of the shrine is free. This is where the kerria is (in massive quantities).

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There is also an inner garden which you have to pay to get into, but I wouldn’t bother. It is rather disappointing. This is what the inner garden looks like at its best.

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But basically it is quite an ugly and haphazard assortment of rocks quite lacking in any sense of grace or aesthetic design.

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What is worse, there is very little sense of care about this garden. The whole place seems very sloppily presented with working tools left lying around the place, and walkways that look like this.

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A rather oddly designed walkway. Watch your head!

There seemed to be a lot of plastic wire and piping lying around too, with sections of the garden separated by sloppily tacked together sheets of plywood.

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Just some of the random stuff left lying around the inner garden of Matsuo Taisha.

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On my way in to the shrine I spotted some patriotic posters preaching national pride. The one on the left says “I’m so glad I am Japanese!” and the one on the right reads “Let’s raise the Hi-no-Maru!”. The Hi-no-Maru is of course Japan’s national flag.

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It seemed very telling that those who speak loudest of love of country and national pride, cannot properly tend to their own patch of garden. Really, where is the pride in that?

Stick to the outer grounds of the shrine if you visit Matsuo Taisha.

Stick to the outer grounds of the shrine if you visit Matsuo Taisha.

I enjoyed Matsuo Taisha for the kerria. They are very much worth seeing. Give the inner garden a miss though. I found that rather depressing.

This shrine sits right by Matsuo station which is easily reached on the Hankyu line. From Kawaramachi station it takes about 16 minutes with one change at Katsura. Check Jorudan for details. Here is a map of the location.

You can read more about the history of Matsuo Taisha on John Dougill’s very excellent Green Shinto blog.

Ancient Football at Kamigamo Shrine

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A public domain image of Emperor Jinmu – Stories from “Nihonki” (Chronicles of Japan), by Ginko Adachi.

Tomorrow, 紀元祭 – Kigensai (National Foundation Day), will be celebrated at shrines all over Japan with prayers for peace and prosperity. This is said to be the day when the legendary first emperor of Japan, Jimmu ascended to the throne. If you go to Kamigamo Shrine tomorrow, it is also a good opportunity to see a Heian era game resembling an early form of football called “kemari” (“kickball”). There will also be karate and kendo demonstrations.

The schedule is as follows:

9 – 10:00 am: Kendo
10:00 am: Hoisting of the Hi-no-maru national flag and singing of Kimigayo (the national anthem)
10:15 am: Karate demonstration from local children
11:00 – 11:50 am: 蹴鞠 – Kemari kick-ball. Players dressed in colorful Heian era costumes attempt to keep a deer-skin ball in the air.

Image taken from Kamigamo Shrine website. Click to visit the site.

Image taken from Kamigamo Shrine website. Click to visit the site.

For more details check the link (Japanese only): http://www.kamigamojinja.jp/event/kigensai.html

Maiko at Yasaka Jinja

Maiko at Yasaka Jinja Setsubun (Medium)Maiko, Kyoto’s apprentice geisha, at Yasaka Jinja today celebrating Setsubun.

First they do a little dance

First they do a little dance

Then they throw their lucky beans

Then they throw their lucky beans

Both the maiko and the crowds were awfully excited about those lucky beans...

Both the maiko and the crowds were awfully excited about those lucky beans…

Setsubun is celebrated at Yasaka Jinja every year in both the 2nd and 3rd of February, though the festival proper is on the 3rd. To learn more about the traditions associated with Setsubun read John Dougill’s marvellous blog: Green Shinto.

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!
Toka Shrine 2
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”