Last night, I went out, and I can’t believe it took me that long to see another Bati-Holic concert! During that time, the world had (and still has) Corona, and the Kyoto Taiko Drum Rock Band has released their new CD “What a Sushi”. I haven’t listened to all of it yet, so I can’t say if I have a favourite on this album.
My favourite from their previous one is “Brightness”; the video is from a Kyoto concert in 2019.
This is closely followed by “Panorama”, where the lead vocals are replaced by a flute. Enjoy!
This is one of the 24 subtemples of Daitoku-ji, one of the headquarters of a branch of Rinzai Zen Buddhism. Soken-in dates back to 1583, when it was established by Toyotomi Hideyoshi as the mortuary temple for Oda Nobunaga, who dies one year earlier in what is known as the Honno-ji incident.
Soken-in’s main hall holds a lacquered statue of Nobunaga that was created at the temple’s founding. The seated lord is 115 cm tall and wears ikan-taito courtdress. He looks down upon visitors with inlaid eyes and has a somewhat haughty expression on his face.
At the back of the temple lie the graves of Nobunaga and some of his sons and family members, or rather: one of Nobunaga’s “graves”. After he had committed suicide at Honno-ji in 1582, the temple was burned to the ground and destroyed the body. Thus unable to properly cremate his lord, Hideyoshi had two life-sized statues made from agarwood. One of the statues is the one mentioned above, the other was cremated in lieu of Nobunaga’s body and put into the grave at Soken-in. Agarwood is very fragrant, and contemporary sources tell how the smell from the burnt wood hung over Kyoto for days. To this day, there is a grand Buddhist ceremony on June 2nd, the day when Nobunaga died.
As can be surmised from the fact that Soken-in has no less than 3 tea houses, there is a strong connection to tea ceremony as well. The founding abbot, Kokei Sochin, was the Zen-master of Sen-no-Rikyu, who is revered as the one who perfected tea ceremony as we know it today. Coincidentally, Rikyu’s own mortuary temple, Juko-in, is just next door. In 1585, Hideyoshi held one of his large tea gatherings in Soken-in, where he prepared tea with his own hands. And there is also a chasenzuka, a memorial mound for tea whisks. Sadly, the yearly ceremonies to give thanks to used tea whisks were stopped already before the pandemic and are unlikely to return.
Unfortunately, many of the temple’s buildings are not original. After the Meiji Restoration of 1868, there was a movement to abolish Buddhism, and many of the buildings were destroyed, and only restored in the 1920s; the main hall being from 1928. This gives the temple, especially its front garden and the grave site, a modern, almost cold appearance.
Nevertheless, there are still original features from the 16th century, and they can be found on the temple’s boundaries, literally. The main gate dates back to 1583, as well as the beautiful bell tower that lies just outside the precincts and is an Important Cultural Property. In contrast, the earthen wall surrounding the temple doesn’t look extraordinary at all. However, it is in fact two walls built next to one another with a hollow space in between and a roof on top. This unusual construction has earned it the name “mother and child wall”.
So, is Soken-in worth a visit? I think Nobunaga’s statue is beautiful, and if it’s true that it resembles him closely, it is interesting to see. But since the buildings and grounds are fairly recent, and there is o typical Zen garden, Soken-in lacks this peaceful ambience I am looking for in a temple. The tea houses are nice too, but overall, Soken-in is not the most picturesque temple of Daitoku-ji.
It’s getting a bit late here, so I’ll add pictures tomorrow. 😉
Tiny Kogen-ji is one of the subtemples of Tenryu-ji in Arashiyama. For Kyoto standards, it is comparatively new, having been established in 1429 by a high-ranking official in the Muromachi Shogunate, Hosokawa Mochiyuki. The name Kogen-ji is derived from Hosokawa’s posthumous Buddhist name. Kogen-ji was originally located at the foot of Mount Ogura north of Tenryū-ji, but following a number of fires it was relocated to its present site in 1882.
Because the temple is so small, its main attractions are the temple’s treasures. It has a number of paintings by Takeuchi Seiho and his students. Takeuchi Seiho (1864-1942) was a nihonga style painter and extremely influential in Kyoto’s artistic circles throughout his career. He is most famous for his paintings of animals that incorporated a realism usually found in Western art at the time. Takeuchi was friends with the head priest of Kogen-ji, and when his son Shiro fell ill, he was allowed to convalesce at the temple. Despite the lovely surroundings, it must have been a relatively dreary place, so Takeuchi’s students created many paintings to cheer up Shiro; their paintings that are held at the temple to this very day.
Staying with paintings for a moment, before entering the main buildings, the Bishamon Hall lies on the left side of the path. The plaque above the entrance features calligraphy by famous priest Kobo Daishi (774-835). Inside, there is a wonderful ceiling with 44 paintings of flowers of all the seasons, created by Fujiwara Fuseki, also a nihonga painter. The colors are very lively, so the ceiling must be comparatively new.
The rest of this building is subdued as usual, so as not to distract from the main image, a beautiful standing statue of Bishamonten, a god of war. It dates back to the 9th century, and the graceful curve of his body as he slays a demon is worth a closer look. Unfortunately, the hall may not be entered, but there is a life-size photo of the statue at the entrance.
Further down the path lies the main hall, built in the early 1600s. It is made in a residential style rather than in classic temple architecture. Maybe this was the reason why in 1864 samurai of the Choshu domain army bivouacked at Kogenji and Tenryu-ji. Before their attack on the Imperial Palace, they tested their swords on the wooden pillars of the main hall. To this day, you can see the cuts the made in the wood; however, the swords were not sharp enough to win them the battle.
Of course, Kogenji wouldn’t be a proper Zen temple without gardens. The Lion’s Roar Garden is the main garden of the temple. It is a typical dry garden with a big sea of grey sand, but the hedges surrounding it add a splash of color. There is also a garden at the back of the main hall, which has lush greenery and must look lovely during the momiji season Arashiyama is famous for.
Overall, I’d say Kogenji is nice to visit if you’re looking for a more quiet place and if you like nihonga paintings. Otherwise, skip it in favour of Hogonin, another sub temple of Tenryu-ji or the main halls of Tenryu-ji itself.
Yesterday, there was a talk about “Kyoto’s festivals and events in October” to which I was invited. At first, I was reluctant to go – this is complex stuff with advanced vocabulary – but it turned out alright, thanks to the many photos and a bit of background knowledge I had gathered over the years. I was able to understand the gist of the talk, and it was fun, too.
Directly afterwards was another talk, and since there was no break, I felt it was rude just to leave, so I was a bit annoyed at first that I was forced to stay. With the handout we all got at the beginning consisting mostly of text, I didn’t expect to understand anything.
However, this talk turned out to be extremely interesting. When you look at a map of Kyoto, you may notice that Oike, Horikawa and Gojo dori around the city center are significantly wider than any of the other streets in Kyoto. The reason for this is that they were artificially widened during WWII, when people were worried about air-raids and resulting large-scale fires. At the time, Kyoto still had mainly wooden buildings, especially in the old part of town in the center. So, the above mentioned streets were broadened – Oike dori from some 20 to now 50 meters – and together with Kamogawa river, they still create a rectangle around what was then the most populated part of Kyoto.
This is especially obvious at the crossing of Oike – Horikawa streets, where these two huge roads dwindle into nothing towards the north and west, in the case of Oike dori immediately behind the crossing. And on photos of Gojo dori in that area, you can clearly see that the northern side still has a number of old, wooden houses, while the southern side consists of mostly new(ish) apartment buildings. Also, according to the talk yesterday, what is now the pavement on the north side was once the entirety of Gojo street.
I had indeed noticed the abrupt ending of the broad Oike dori at Horikawa before, but never questioned the why. I mean, it’s Japan, don’t they do all sorts of weird stuff? Knowing the reason behind this makes it even more fascinating. And a bit sad too. Who knows how many ancient machiya were destroyed at the time…
Anyway, both talks were given by members of the Kyoto Historical Research Society, a loose organisation of local history buffs. Obviously, I was lucky to understand what was going on yesterday, this won’t be the case in general. However, I hope there will be more of these talks about festivals, they are fairly easy to understand, and as a bonus, help me with my job.
Together with maiko and geisha, the tayu are traditional female entertainers of Japan. And yet, they are much less known to the (foreign) public, partly because today, there are even fewer of them than there are geisha, and partly because of their origin: In the Edo period, tayu were courtesans.
At that time, prostitution in Japan was legal and strictly regulated. The three largest cities – Edo, Kyoto, and Osaka – had city districts dedicated to the love for sale. In Kyoto, this was the Shimabara district, which lies near Kyoto station and still maintains some of its charms (if not the prostitutes). In Edo, it was the famous Yoshiwara district, and old photographs show women sitting in rows behind wooden lattices, ready for work.
You would search in vain for a tayu among them, though. Just like their geisha sisters in the hanamachi, tayu were highly trained and honed their skills in dance, playing instruments, and seductive banter for years. As a tayu, the top-ranking courtesan of the town, she commanded the highest prices for a meeting, and her lovers counted among the country’s elite, financial or in society.
And so were the tayu. In old Japan, the views on prostitution differed greatly from that in the West. It was simply another job. In fact, the young women in the photo above may have come to the Yoshiwara only temporarily to help with family finances. When they returned home, their reputations – and even marriage prospects – were untarnished.
In Kyoto, the famous Yoshino Tayu is revered to this day. She is said to have been the most beautiful tayu in history, and she is featured in kabuki plays and Japanese novels. Her wealth was such, that she could afford to donate a new front gate to Joshoji temple in Kyoto. She was laid to rest there, and has a festival in spring dedicated in her honour.
Kyoto’s Shimabara district and its entertainments are long gone, and although there is still a tayu in Kyoto, she doesn’t usually perform in public. However, I was lucky to see her dance at an exhibition with photos of her, and it was truly special.
As you can see, the style of her dress is so much more flamboyant than that of any geisha – notice the colour red everywhere! The obi is tied in front where it is easy to undo – a nod to her work of old. I was quite surprised by the dragon painted on her outer kimono (which is a family heirloom, possibly more than 100 years old, btw.) as dragons are usually associated with men. Her hairstyle with the dozens of kanzashi pins must be very time-consuming to maintain, and yes, this is her real hair. She also has blackened teeth, something that was normal for married women in the Edo period.
The dance, at first, seemed not much different than the ones that geisha perform. A fan, a letter used as props to tell a story, delicate hand gestures, little kicks to get the long kimono out of the way. And yet, her dance seemed so much more erotically charged, and I’m not sure why. Was it the smiles, the raised eyebrows? The shy looks flashed to the audience from behind the fan? Or her naked toes peeking out from beneath her red underkimono?
I guess, where a geisha means to symbolize an almost maiden-like modesty, a tayu is seen as a grown woman who knows what she wants – and how to get it.
As mentioned, I went to see this year’s Takigi Noh, a two-hour-long Noh/Kyogen performance on an outdoor stage set up at Heian shrine. The surroundings with vermilion buildings reminiscent of Kyoto’s Imperial Palace lend a special ambience when stacks of fire and paper lanterns are lit just before dusk to light the stage. After all, Takigi Noh means “outdoor fire-lit Noh”.
The Takigi Noh at Heian Shrine was first staged at the end of May 1950. From 1955 on, the dates were fixed to June 1 and 2. On these two days, 8 plays are shown, two of them are kyogen. Japan’s top actors are invited each year to make this event truly special. However, this is not the only firelight Noh performance, merely the biggest. In Kyoto, Shiramine shrine has a pretty famous one too, and many other shrines show Noh plays at special festivals.
In fact, Takigi Noh has its roots more than 1000 years ago, at Kofukuji temple in Nara, where religious ceremonies called Shunigatsu-e were held in the 2nd month of the year. At that time, Takigi-sarugaku performances took place, early precursors of what later developed into the Takigi Noh theatre of today. Takigi Noh reached the peak of its popularity in the Edo period, fell out of favour after the Meiji Restoration, and was revived again after WWII.
Heian Jingu’s Takigi Noh features 8 plays, and often, there is a common theme that runs through one day. For example, the plays I have seen all had the overarching theme of “heavenly intervention”. It’s not just the atmosphere that makes this Takigi Noh special. The plays are condensed to their most visually exciting parts. Written synopses of all plays are available – even in English – and if you miss getting a leaflet at the entrance, the plays are introduced by two kyogen players who manage to weave in a commentary of current events. Finally, the speech that is given after the fire lighting ceremony is translated into English, something I was especially grateful for.
Unfortunately, taking pictures during the performance was not allowed, that’s why you’re just getting this year’s poster as illustration… Anyway, overall, I had a great evening, and I’m really considering making this a regular occurrence.
Big news: Kyoto is broke. Kyoto city makes a lot of money from tourism – be it hotels, restaurants, souvenir shops etc. – and after 2 years of COVID-19, this doesn’t come as a big surprise. Foreign travellers are still standing at closed borders, and although domestic travel has picked up lately, it cannot fully compensate for the loss.
However, there are other reasons at play here as well. With very few exceptions – Nintendo and Kyocera come to mind – Kyoto isn’t the seat of big companies whose taxes from profits or employees could help with the city’s finances. These companies are all in Osaka, if they are located in Kansai at all. Instead, Kyoto’s business landscape is dominated by small to medium-sized businesses, that often have a long history and have been in the hands of the same family for generations.
And then there are the shrines and temples. Thousands of them, literally. Places like Fushimi Inari, Kiyomizudera and Higashi/Nishi Honganji not only draw countless tourists each year. They are also the headquarters of a specific deity worship (Inari is the god of wealth) or of a Buddhist sect (Jodo-Shinshu), respectively. Sounds like a good source of revenue for the city? Technically, yes, if they weren’t all tax-exempt…
Of course, there is not much the Kyoto city government can do about that. I firmly believe that this image of the town with its queer wooden shops and ancient temples helps attract visitors, especially from abroad. However, it seems that the city also has a habit of spending tax money like it’s going out of fashion. And when you hear that the city hall is currently being renovated and upgraded with stained-glass windows and damask wall coverings… Well, my sympathy levels are dropping, and I do see Kyoto’s mayor in a new light now, even though the spending spree dates back to before his terms.
Good to know that the city is already doing their best to remedy the situation. Day tickets for public transport have become more expensive, and my employee’s taxes for this year were raised by 10%. Also, as a matter of course, subsidies for the poor or elderly have been reduced. I just hope that Kyoto will find a way to curb their excessive spending too…
One of the many designated places of scenic beauty in Kyoto is the garden of Murin-an near Nanzen-ji temple. Built in 1894-96, the villa with its garden give us a glimpse into upper-class lifestyle of the Meiji era. Murin-an is one among many garden villas in Okazaki, but the only one that is open throughout the year, and yet, it is mostly overlooked by tourists visiting the area.
The name Murin-an means No Neighbor Hermitage, and when it was built in the mid-Meiji period, this was largely true. Of course, there was Nanzen-ji to the east of it, but many of the daimyo’s villas that stood there before the Meiji Restoration had been abandoned or demolished by that time. With the opening of the Lake Biwa Canal in 1890, the area was redeveloped, however, landmarks like the Kyoto City Zoo (1903), the Prefectural Library (1909) and the Municipal Museum of Art (1928) shaped Okazaki then and to this day.
Anyway, back to Murin-an. It was built for and partially designed by Prince Aritomo Yamagata, a top politician and twice prime minister of the Meiji and Taisho eras. He was born in today’s Yamaguchi Prefecture and wanted to recreate the rural landscape of his home in Kyoto. While he had a knack for garden design and made some very unusual choices for Murin-an, he hired one of the top garden designers of his age to shape his vision: Jihei Ogawa VII.
Jihei Ogawa was born in 1860 and became the head of the Ogawa family – garden designers for generations – at the age of 19. Some 15 years later, he was already famous. He would create gardens for a number of villas in the Nanzen-ji area, as well as the Heian shrine gardens and Maruyama Park. But because of Yamagata’s influence, Murin-an became a very special work.
First, the most unusual feature of Murin-an is its flowing stream that adds a certain liveliness where typical Japanese gardens prefer the quietude of a pond. The water springs from a large waterfall at the back and crosses the whole garden before being piped underneath the street to the neighbor’s property.
The second focal point of Murin-an is the large expanse of grass at the center of the garden. Or rather: Yamagata wanted it to be grass, but Kyoto’s ubiquitous moss eventually overpowered the grass. In any case, the center of the garden is rather empty and gives the illusion of a seemingly endless space.
This illusion is only underscored by the borrowed landscape of the Higashiyama mountains that visually close the garden at its eastern side. Although the surrounding trees cannot shut out the noise of the adjacent street, they are meticulously trimmed so that none of the surrounding buildings can be seen from the best viewing spot – the main house.
The main building of Murin-an is a beautiful traditional Japanese house. Its two largest rooms have tatami and floor-to-ceiling glass doors that allow for a full view of the garden, even more so in summer, when they are entirely removed. There is another large room on the second floor, but it is not always accessible, and the view is somewhat impeded by the boughs of a large tree.
Of course, a Japanese garden is not complete without a tea house. The one at Murin-an is a replica of a famous tea house that the tea master Furuta Oribe is said to have favoured. Occasionally, special tea ceremonies are held in the tea house, but in general, it is not accessible to the public.
Prince Yamagata was for a time educated in Europe, and to follow current fashion, he also had a Western-style house built at Murin-an. The second floor shows an interesting mix of Japanese wall paintings and Western upholstery and even has central heating. This room saw one of the most decisive events of Japan’s history: In April 1903, Japan’s prime and foreign ministers met with Yamagata and Ito Hirobumi, another elder statesman, to discuss the deteriorating relationship with Russia. Although the details are unknown, this “Murin-an Conference” set the scene for the Russo-Japanese War that began in 1904. While the second floor room has been preserved in the state of that date, the first floor gives an overview of the garden and its current management.
But the main attraction of Murin-an remains the garden with its many small details. Follow the paths all the way up to the waterfall. Look for the large round stepping stones that are said to provide the best views. Read the inscription on the memorial of the Meiji Emperor presenting Yamagate with two trees for his garden (and see if you can find where they once stood). And marvel at the enormous rock that Yamagata secured for the garden, some 300 years after Toyotomi Hideyoshi had attempted the same – and failed. But above all, take some time to relax and enjoy Murin-an as a peaceful retreat from the busy world outside.
Note that thanks to Corona, a visit to Murin-an currently requires a reservation at least one day in advance. See the Murin-an homepage: https://murin-an.jp/en/
Ohara is a sprawling rural community situated in a wide plain (hence the name) northeast of Kyoto. It still belongs to Kyoto, even though it lies more than 30 minutes by bus outside of what I would consider the city limits. Ohara is famous for its oharame – local women who used to peddle firewood, flowers or produce in Kyoto – Sanzen-in Temple with its beautiful moss gardens, and the former nunnery Jakko-in.
Jakko-in is a tiny temple that lies in the opposite direction of Sanzen-in at the end of a little valley. The walk there is very pleasant, it leads first along a little stream, then though the community. Judging from the number of souvenir shops and cafes on the way, it must be less popular than Sanzen-in. And had it not been mentioned in the Heike Monogatari, I guess it would have been forgotten long ago.
But let’s start at the beginning, in 594, when the temple was established by Shotoku Taishi to pray for the soul of his father, Emperor Yomei. At that time, Buddhism had only recently been introduced to Japan. Therefore, one of the first nuns of the country (who also happened to be the wet nurse of Shotoku Taishi) moved to the temple. Subsequently, Jakko-in became a retreat for nyoin, female members of the Imperial family and daughters of other high-ranking families. It seems, however, that taking vows was not a requirement to live there.
According to the temple, the third nun only moved there in 1185, and it’s because of her that Jakko-in is famous to this day. Her name was Kenreimon-in Tokuko, daughter of Taira-no-Kiyomori and mother of Emperor Antoku. Sounds familiar? The Taira (or Heike) fought against the Minamoto (or Genji) clan in the Genpei War (1180–1185), which was immortalized in the Heike Monogatari mentioned above. Sadly, the entire Taira clan was wiped out , and even Emperor Antoku, a mere boy of 6 was killed. Kenreimon-in spent the rest of her days in Jakko-in praying for the souls of her son and relatives.
From the temple’s entrance, stone steps lead straight up to the main hall. It is home to a statue of Rokumantai-Jizoson, the protector of children. There are also wooden statues of Kenreimon-in and her servant Awa-no-Naishi, only the second nun ever to live at the temple. Her garments are said to have been the model for the oharame’s clothes.
Sadly, none of this is original, not the building, and not the statues either. The temple was burned down in an arson attack in May 2000, and all you can see are reproductions. The main statue especially looks very modern; it is dressed in a colorful garment that I would call garish to the point of kitsch. However, on asking, I was told that that this is the original look of the statue when it was – supposedly – created by Shotoku Taishi himself, according to old documents.
To find out more about the temple, the nuns, and the arson attack, you can visit the treasure house which holds a lot of artifacts. The most interesting of these are more than 3000 wooden statues of Jizo, roughly 10 cm tall, that were all found inside the main statue after the arson. The original, badly burned statue, an Important Cultural Asset, is not usually on display.
Since the temple is so small, the gardens are not very extensive. The ones surrounding the main hall are the most beautiful, and there is a stump of a 1000-year-old pine that sadly did not survive the fire. It is said that this part has been maintained since the time of the Genpei War, and right now, you can hear tree frogs croaking in the little pond beneath the former pine. Another pond with koi carp and a little waterfall lies to the north of the main hall, and on a lower level, there is a tea house with yet another pond in front of it.
Kenreimon-in is still present at the temple. Just south of the main hall, a marker indicates her former residence, and once you leave the temple and take the steps uphill just outside of it, you can visit her tomb.
All in all, I found Jakko-in a nice experience. I like to visit places that are not overrun by tourists, and being just a bit off-season does help as well in this respect. The staff are very friendly and happy to answer questions.