The Kamo River, a Fauna Paradise

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Mike PEREZ (France)

Crossing in the longitude all the eastern part of Kyoto city, the Kamo (i.e. “duck”) River is definitely my favorite place in Kyoto, because people can contemplate there the show of various animals. My eyes have often caught a ballet performed by herons, egrets and gulls, all a court guarded by crows and black kites. On the pathways, I feel like a guest for a company of birds, such as ducks, pigeons and sparrows. Not only birds, when the sunny days are gone, I sometimes glimpse in the water river rats, and even stoats playing or hunting in the thicket.

I visited a lot of cities built along river all around the world, from London to Buenos Aires. Nevertheless I never saw so much diversity of species in such a big urban area. This makes me remember that Kyoto is a model in terms of environment.

Kamo River

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Medical Interpretation

In the southern area of Kyoto City, there exists a large population of Japanese returnees(*1) from China and their families who speak chinese as their mother tongue. Since 1999, the Kyoto City International Foundatheir families who speak Chinese as their mother tongue. Since 1999, the Kyoto City International Foundation and the Center for Multicultural Society-Kyoto have arranged Japanese language classesand exchange meetings for Kyoto’s foreign population. In this southern area, two people have volunteered to provide interpretation services in various places, such as administrative offi ces, schools, hospitals, etc., in order to help the returnees ease into Japanese life. In 2003, a field survey on medical interpretation showed that in the course of three months, more than 300 interpretations were completed by the volunteers.

The Kyoto City Medical Interpreter Dispatching Service was founded on the principle of relying not only on an individual’s goodwill, but supporting the returnees organizationally. In 2003, the Kyoto City International Foundation and the Center for Multicultural Society-Kyoto further worked together by jointly starting this interpretation service: in 2004, Kyoto City joined. Today, over 1,500 interpretations are carried out annually at four hospitals(*2) in Kyoto City. The languages offered are Chinese, English, and Korean.

Mr. Hsu, a Chinese interpreter, kindly spared some time for an interview. He talked about the diffi culties he has faced, but also the wonderful feeling of satisfaction, especially in supplying medical interpretations.

The role of the interpreter is to convey as nearly as possible the exact words exchanged between patients and health care workers. To this end, the background of patient, an understanding of his/her culture, the medical treatment that may be required, and so on are just a few of the necessary points the interpreter must know.

Furthermore, according to Mr. Hsu, besides the above requirements, there are often unexpected diffi culties. For example, Mr. Hsu sometimes can’t understand the patient’s words right away; on such occasions, he tries to understand the thought process and ideas of the patient. ; all this while interpreting the words one by one. Since an interpreter must not become too close to the patients but still be trusted by them, he needs to build a good relationship as quickly as he can.

Nevertheless, Mr. Hsu said that he found great pleasure in the work when he could help eliminate difficulties for those receiving medical treatment. For example, some patients who can’t understand clearly the diagnosis, still have to understand how to take their medicine; the doctor’s explanation given through an interpreter is clearly of the utmost importance. Thus, Mr. Hsu thoroughly enjoys being a medical interpreter when he can contribute to helping people solve problems together.

*1 Returnees from China: this article refers to Japanese who had immigrated to China before the war but were forced by circumstances to stay behind in the north-eastern part of the country. This was largely due to the chaos surrounding the final days of the Second World War. They could return to Japan only after several decades had passed.
* 2 For more details, please contact the Kyoto City International Foundation (Tel:075-752-3511)

SUZUKI Shoichiro
Translation by FURUTA Tomiyoshi

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Soba Kiri

Japanese like noodles: especially soba, udon, ramen, and somen in summer. Among them, soba, or“soba-kiri” in the old name, became popular as a casual meal in the city areas in the Edo era (Tokugawa period 1603-1868). On the other hand, in rural areas in those days “soba-kiri” was a special meal prepared only on auspicious occasions or to treat others. Soba, or buckwheat as it is known in English, is ready for harvest after a few months in any soils and with less care, and therefore it was grown by people living in cold weather regions, mountain areas or infertile lands, where other grain like rice, oats, millet, beans or corn could not be cropped. The poor who could not afford oats or beans staved off hunger pains by eating handmade dumplings made of ground soba wheat. In the beginning of the Edo era, many workers and craftsmen were mobilized to build the city of Edo (Tokyo’s name in the old days). Udon noodles supported their work, filling the stomach as cheap and fast food. Noodles were also served to travelers at Chamises (Tea rooms or cafés) lining major roads like Tokaido. People liked more udon or somen noodles and signs with “Udon” were always displayed above “Soba” in the shop advertisement:“Udon and Soba-kiri”. In the late 17th century, itinerant sellers sold noodles at street side stands at night in Edo, which were called “Yotaka Soba” (Nightjar soba Stand). In Osaka and Kyoto udon noodles were served in the same way, which they called “Yonaki Udon” (Night calling udon stand). Thus, soba has become more popular than udon in Edo and udon more popular in Osaka.

Handmade soba is made in four steps: mixing, kneading, flattening and cutting, which will each now be explained. Mixing: Mix grated yam paste, soba wheat and all-purpose flour in a large bowl with both hands moving alternately in a circular motion towards the inside of the bowl till the powdered dough thickens into a large ball shape. Kneading: Knead the dough with the back of both hands. Press down the dough moving the hands slowly from one edge to the other, then turn it upside down and repeat kneading. Allow the dough to rest for about 30 minutes to one hour. Flattening: Flour the working surface and rolling pin and roll out the dough into a thin rectangle 1 mm thick. A variety of skills are to be used in this step: rolling the dough, curling the dough around the rolling pin, and letting the dough fall off the rolling pin. Cutting: Fold the dough on way, then again the other way and then into three once more the other way. Cut the roll into slices about 2 to 3 mm wide.

Soba contains a lot of nutritional elements. Protein relieves fatigue and sharpens concentration; rutin decreases high blood pressure and prevents cerebral strokes; methionine improves liver function and niacin prevents stomach ulcers; and finally but very importantly, vitamin B2 contained in soba makes the skin beautiful.

In Japan, there are many traditions about soba. In old days they distributed soba to the house owner and the neighbors in a sign of greeting when they moved into a new place. These days towels or hand soaps are used instead of soba. On New Year’s Eve, we eat “Toshikoshi soba” (year-crossing soba) hoping for good luck or long life.

Finally, please make a slurping noise when you eat soba, which is not considered bad manners, and you can savor the flavor of soba in a better way.

Ikuta Minoru
Translation by Kei

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The Yabusame Ritual of Horseback Archery

Yabusame Practice

One crisp, clear Sunday afternoon in early February I had the rare privilege of observing very proud gentlemen practicing the preservation of an ancient Japanese martial skill on behalf of the Japanese national heritage. These four men have every reason to be proud, for the fighting art they are keeping alive is a combination of two disciplines that are not so commonly practiced alone and even less so in combination. In the Yabusame ritual(*1), part of the Aoi Festival, which takesplace this year in Kyoto on May 3rd at Shimogamo-jinja Shrine, arrows are shot from the back of a moving horse, bringing together Japanese archery and horsemanship.

The Yabusame ritual was in the news when it was demonstrated in front of international royalty London’s Hyde Park in May 2001, and the use of the Japanese bow from a moving horse having been shown in various films, including the legendary 1954 Seven Samurai from director Akira Kurosawa. Indeed, the bow has a special place in Japanese history, with the first Japanese emperor of legend, Emperor Jimmu always being shown with a bow.

Archer in a costume of court nobles in Heian period

Archer in a costume of court nobles
in Heian period (794-1185)

Archer in a costume of samurai in Edo period

Archer in a costume of samurai
in Edo period (1603-1868)

Despite the high skill level necessary and the years of training required, a single run by horse and rider in the Yabusame ceremony is over very quickly. In some 20 seconds, the horse and rider cover about 250 meters, with the rider leaving three arrows in three targets, rarely missing even though the horse is running at high speed, which is quite some feat when one remembers that the rider’s hands are not controlling the horse’s reins but the bow, and the rider is not looking where the horse is going but at the target. The whole ritual is made even more dramatic, and obviously terrifying for enemies of old, as the rider shouts in a high pitch, ‘in-yo!’—or ‘darkness-light’, just before each arrow is released.

The world over, traditions are often preserved in ritual—certainly no more so than in Japan—and the Yabusame ritual is a part of the larger tradition and philosophy of which it is a part. It was a great experience for me to see this part of Japanese culture, and I felt a great deal of admiration for the reserved dedication expressed by the four riders I was able to watch practicing their archery. I recommend that visitors and residents alike go to see the ritual when it is demonstrated at the Aoi Festival.

*1 Yabusame ritual is practiced at the Tadasu-no-mori of Shimogamo Jinja Shrine on May 5 as a part of Shinto rituals to purify the main festival, Aoi Matsuri. Admission is free, and paid seats are available at a cost of 2,000 yen per seat including a brochure.

Special thanks to Shimogamo Jinja Shrine and non-profit organization Ogasawara-ryu/Ogasawara-kyojo

Kieran GREEN

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Japanese custom Where shall we take off shoes?


In Japan, it is the custom to take your shoes off at the entrance to private homes or apartments. Opening an entrance door of a house, you will find a landing called the “Genkan”, lower than the house’s floor and flagged or tiled; this is where to take off your shoes. Most probably the reason to take shoes off is to keep mud and dirt, which are attached to the shoes, away from the tatami rooms where we may spread futon to sleep.

On the other hand, however, in office buildings, no one takes shoes off at the entrance even though the entrance may be thoroughly cleaned. Have you ever seen a shoe sideboard in a lobby of these buildings? People on an elevator, in business suits, are wearing shoes, which is simply common sense. We also do not take our shoes off at the luxuriously carpeted entrance of four star hotels, but single-use slippers will be provided for the guests in their rooms. Do you think it is a discourtesy to take off your shoes in a public place?

When I was a small girl, we would change our shoes to slippers at the entrance to our school. These days, in a hospital in my neighborhood, I find hospital patients in slippers and out patients in shoes in the same waiting room. In my office, I am also wearing my shoes, even on carpeted floors; but at home, I am happily walking around bare foot in the summer.

However, there is definitely one place where all of us will take off our shoes; can you guess where? The answer is in tatami rooms regardless of location. Across the country stepping into tatami rooms with your shoes on is strictly prohibited; you are also required to take off even your slippers. It may be embarrassing to take off your shoes in rooms with beds or other European style furniture, however, please just take it as one of the unique Japanese customs. On warm days, you can be more relaxed with bare feet. Finally, if you have an opportunity to go to a public bathhouse, be sure to take off your shoes at the entrance.


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kokoka news * * kokusai koryu kaikan news

kokoka spring Festival!

kokoka Kyoto International Community House will host you in various ways. There will be light up during the evening. You can enter the Japanese Garden of kokoka, also there will be a world food stalls and special stage performances during the weekends ☆

  • ◆Time : Saturday March, 30th through Sunday April, 21st
  • ◆Place : kokoka Kyoto International Community House

Welcome party & seminar for foreigners held on April 21st!

Welcome to Kyoto who started to live in Kyoto from this spring! In this seminar, we will give you some useful information about living in Kyoto. We will also have a welcome party which anyone can participate.
*The information session will be held in Japanese, Chinese and English.

Free Counseling Day for Non-Japanese Residents

Looking for legal, visa, tax, insurance or pension advice? Or, do you have a need for mental counseling? We have experts and multi lingual interpreters to help you at the free counseling day. Please register ahead of time.

  • ◆Time: Saturday June, 8th 1:00 - 5:00 PM
  • ◆Place : kokoka Kyoto International Community House 3F Conference Room / Counseling Room
  • ◆Registration: Please call 075-752-3511 or come to kokoka 1st floor counter

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Library Letter - Kyoto International community House Library

kokoka recommends this book

『國重友美 英漢字® 作品集 御祝 Congratulation』
“Eikanji (English-Kanji characters) Collections by KUNISHIGE Tomomi – Congratulation”


Published by Kadokawa shoten

Does anyone know “Eikanji”? I assume a few Japanese know of it.

“Eikanji” are the characters created by Ms.KUNISHIGE Tomomi, which have the same meanings both in English and in Kanji. At the first glance her works look like Japanese brush writings but if you take a closer look you may notice they are written in Roman alphabet in the form of Kanji characters.

Although the characters are not standard Kanji, you can understand the meanings. Both Kanji characters and Roman alphabet are the same because in a way both are “characters”. Therefore, “Eikanji” can be a kind of intercultural communication beyond the barriers of different languages.

Check the book and see what you think.


If you are interested and would like to find out more,“Shodo-BRUSH WRITING” written by KUISEKO Ryokusyu(1988,Kodansha International) is recommended. You can learn about Japanese brush writing starting with basic techniques and going up to more advanced ornate characters.

For the meanings of, and how to read Kanji, please refer to “The Kanji Handbook” by Vee David (2006,TUTTLE PUBLISHING).You can also learn the stroke order.

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Volanteer member of this issue

Editors of paper edition


AZUMA Keiko / IKUTA Minoru / Kiaran GREEN / KOMATSU Takehisa / SAWAMURA Kaori / SUZUKI Shouichiro / SUZUKI Hidetoshi / TANINAKA Chiyo / NAGATAKE Yoshinobu / HIGASHIDA Miyu / Fan Bo / FURUTA Tomiyoshi / YAMASHITA Motoyo / YUZAWA Kimio

English proofreading collaborator


Designer of WEB edition

SUZUKI Shoichiro

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