Mitarashi Dango

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Sandy Lee (Wesleyan University, USA)

Sandy Lee

One of the first Japanese snacks that I had when I came to Kyoto was the Mitarashi Dango. Sold in packages at almost all convenience stores, cheap and easily obtainable, I did not expect it to be of much traditional significance. Browsing around the Doshisha University convenience store, for only one hundred and five yen I can buy twelve pieces of dango (glutinous rice flour). “What a deal for a filling snack comparing to what little else I can get with one hundred and five yen”, I thought. The set of dango comes in a package and is slightly roasted and chewy. It is also covered with brown sweet gooey syrup, which may seem weird to foreigners at first. Even though the syrup first seemed too sweet to me, eventually I came to like it and feel that it is an essential part of the dango itself.

Mitarashi Dango
Mitarashi Dango

Other than convenience stores, one can also purchase freshly made Mitarashi Dango at any local dango shop, of course, for slightly higher prices than one hundred and five yen. But, because of the relatively cheap cost of the dango and the fact that eating it fills me up quickly, as a student it became my favorite snack to purchase. As they are sold three sticks of package, it is easy to share with friends if I become too full from eating two sticks. Taking the Mitarashi Dango for granted, I did not know then that it was unique to Kyoto until I came across Mitarashi Dango key chains associated with Kyoto in Gifu Prefecture. I decided to purchase it as a souvenir for myself to remember Kyoto by although I thought it was funny that I bought a souvenir of Kyoto outside of Kyoto.

After a bit of research of the history of the Mitarashi Dango, it turns out that it is eaten in conjunction with the Mitarashi Festival held annually at the famous Shimogamo Shrine of Kyoto, hence the name Mitarashi Dango. These are sold in specialty shops around Shimogamo Shrine near Demachiyanagi Keihan Station by the Kamogawa River. During the popular Mitarashi Festival, for a price of two hundred yen, one can wade through the cool waters at the shrine and light a candle, both being symbolic of purification. Other than Tanabata, the Gion Festival, and the Tenjin Festival, I did not know that there was yet another interesting festival to take part in during the month of July.

Through the Mitarashi Dango, I found out about the Mitarashi Festival. I should thank the dango for offering me cheap tasty snacks and bringing me to the Mitarashi Festival! Now that I will be soon returning to my home institution, the Mitarashi Dango will surely become nostalgic of my stay in Kyoto. I also would not be surprised if other foreigners agree with me on the symbolic connection of the Mitarashi Dango to Kyoto.

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Catch a Dream in Japan
  Korean Players in Professional Baseball Kansai Independent League

Do you know about independent leagues of professional baseball? Talking of professional baseball in Japan, you may have heard the names of Hanshin Tigers, Orix Buffaloes, etc. These are the teams of NPB (Nippon Professional Baseball Organization), which is the league of highest level of baseball in Japan. Independent leagues are professional baseball leagues different from the NPB, and in the Kansai area there is the Kansai Independent League.

Mr. Hong Seong Yong and Mr.Jeon Joo Wook

Jeon Joo Wook  Hong Seong Yong

The players belonging to independent leagues are aiming to enter leagues of higher level, such as the NPB or the Major League in the USA. Compared to the NPB, the audience of independent leagues is quite small, and the salary of players is quite modest. The players are making their efforts in a hard environment. Now, there are also foreign players in the independent leagues. For example, for one of the teams in the Kansai Independent League, 06Bulls (Zero-roku Bulls), two Korean pitchers, Mr. Hong Seong Yong and Mr. Jeon Joo Wook, are playing. We interviewed them for this issue.

At first, as both players speak Japanese well, we asked them how they learned the language. Mr. Hong Seong Yong, who came to Japan five years ago, during his first year, because another Korean player was in his team, could rely on this player. However, in the second year, he became the only one Korean in his team. So, he tried to communicate with other Japanese players by himself in Japanese. He felt that he could speak Japanese well in the third year. Mr. Jeon Joo Wook had already played for other teams in Japan for a year. He returned to Japan this year after a three years absence. Now he can communicate well in Japanese. When it comes to food, Mr. Hong Seong Yong felt that Japanese foods were sweet and did not suit him in the beginning, but he became accustomed to them little by little, and now, on the contrary, he finds them delicious. Incidentally, we heard that Mr. Jeon Joo Wook likes takoyaki and okonomiyaki.

Lastly, about their playing, they said: “Although we have so many things to learn, we will overcome the problems one by one and our ambition is to enter a league of higher level”. Additionally, to the people who don't know baseball well, they said: “If you actually watch the good plays, you can discover the fun of baseball”.

After the interview, we felt that doing what you want to do is the most important thing. Learning the language and cultures comes second. Through a variety of experiences, they could overcome the barriers between Japan and Korea. Their challenge can encourage anyone to try harder at what one wants to do. We do hope they will catch their dreams.

The games of 06Bulls are played at Higashiosaka City, etc.

We recommend you go watch the games and experience the fun of baseball!/p>

06Bulls website:

SUZUKI Hidetoshi, KAKU Nana

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Yachiyo Ryokan

Proprietress of Yachiyo Ryokan

Yachiyo Ryokan is a traditional Japanese-style inn. It is said that Yachiyo was first established in 1580’s as a fish shop in Kamigyo Ward of Kyoto city and built up its wealth over years and owned a vacation house adjacent to Nanzenji Temple. After World War, the vacation house was transformed into the inn where both of meals and accommodations were serviced until today. Yachiyo stands at the quiet, picturesque foot of the Higashiyama Mountains, 5 km away from Kyoto station. It is convenient to go to Heianjingu Shrine, the Philosopher’s Path, and shopping area of Shijo Kawaramachi.

The proprietress (called Okami; her photo is on the left) radiated an open atmosphere as she greeted and bid farewell to the guests. She was kind enough to take time out of her busy management schedule for an interview which was followed by showing inner gardens and rooms.

Yachiyo Ryokan

As Yachiyo offers both meals and accommodations, guests may enjoy either a combined package or a mealonly plan in the garden restaurant with a wood deck. The signature food includes Kyoto cuisine such as hot tofu (called yudofu). The chef is willing to adapt the menu to various religious needs and allergies.

The inn structure, made of wood, is firm as well as solid and the furniture and decorations contribute to a warm atmosphere.

The inner gardens, the works by the outstanding Meiji era gardener Ogawa Jihei, borrowed the landscape of Higashiyama Mountains as a backdrop and introduced the water from the Lake Biwa Canal into the pond. Guests can enjoy plants, stone lanterns, and the pond. The weeping cherry trees in spring, the hydrangeas and lotuses in summer, and the lespedezas and red foliage of Japanese maple trees (called momiji) in autumn provide a seasonal contrast amid the green motif of moss, pines, and bamboos.

Yachiyo Ryokan

The bamboo curtains and kimono (a Japanese traditional wear) vary as season changes. Guests can also enjoy utmost luxury when they bathe in the open-air bath of the room. For guests, Yachiyo offers the internet connectivity and iPad rental service. Recent years have seen an influx of foreign visitors to Yachiyo. Almost equaling the number of domestic visitors, almost half of the Yachiyo’s guests have traveled from North America, Europe, and other areas of Asia. Some Yachiyo’s employees became so friendly with foreign guests that the employees themselves visited the guests on their trips overseas.

Okami stressed three things that she considers important: respecting the Kyoto’s tradition, introducing innovation, and most importantly entertaining guests hospitably in all of Kyoto’s four seasons.

Address : 34 Fukuchi-cho, Nanzenji, Sakyo-ku, Kyoto City, Kyoto Prefecture, Japan
Home page :

FURUTA Tomiyoshi

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Ghost Stories in Japan

Ghost Stories (Kaidan)

For the Japanese, ghost stories are associated with summer. As soon as summer season comes, TV programs start featuring ghost stories and ghostly experiences. Ghost games (called kimodameshi) and haunted houses are also the boom at this time of the year.

Do you know why ghost stories are strongly related to summer in Japan? There is a common belief that it is because being scared makes one feel chilly, even in a hot season. However, speaking about this phenomenon from a historical perspective, there should be different and deeper reasons behind this belief.

The birth of ghost stories stems from the Buddhist proselytization which was at its peak in the Kamakura era (1192-1333). Before that, Buddhism had been accessible only to aristocrats and the members of royal families, but from the end of the Heian era (794-1192) to the beginning of the Kamakura era, the religion gave opened up to common people. During this period, the proponents of Buddhism used in their sermons the haunting phenomena (yokai, ghosts and so on), which the people of that time believed to be real, to gain the followers. Their activity increased especially during the time of Bon (a Japanese Buddhist custom to welcome back the spirits of one’s ancestors in summer). This might be one of the reasons why ghost stories are related to summer.

As time passes, these sermons, which used ghostly phenomena were rearranged by storytellers to be performed for people’s enjoyment. With the development of printing technologies, the Buddhist sermons and mystery stories that originated in China were brought together, edited and published. Now we know how the ghost stories were transformed from Buddhist sermons into a widely popular Japanese summer entertainment.

Ishii, Akira (2003) ”Kaidan Banashi No Tanjou,”[The Birth Of Ghost Stories] in Komatsu, Kazuhiko (ed.), “Nihon Yokai Gaku Taizen,”[Complete Works Of Japanese Spectrology] Tokyo: Shogakukan, pp.321-350.


Ghost Train (Yohkai Densha)

ghost train

Last summer my grandson, who lives in Kanagawa prefecture, came to visit us in Kyoto and we went for a ride on a ghost train, operated by the Keifuku Arashiyama line.

We arrived at Arashiyama station about an hour before departure but it was already a lively scene and crowded with many families with kids. We also saw many couples enjoying themselves on a date. The “ghosts” hid themselves somewhere in the shadows until departure time, and then got on the train through each door just as the doors were about to close. All lights inside the train faded out and we took in the dark and gloomy atmosphere. The very moment the ghosts got on the train, people inside became confused and scared and we heard the sounds of crying and screaming. Various kinds of ghosts walked through the dark train weeping and howling, while the kids squealed in delight. Young couples also seemed to enjoy the event. My grandson had just become a first-grade pupil in elementary school but, surprisingly to me, he acted as though nothing unusual was going on. However, other children under six years old were extremely excited. The ghosts were students from Kyoto Saga University of Arts.

Why don't you take a ride on a ghost train yourself this summer? Reservations are not needed for this event. For further information contact the Keifuku Arashiyama train line: (TEL) 075-801-5315

IKUTA Minoru, translated by SAWAMURA Kaori

The Child Raising Ghost

One late evening, a woman with a glassy look visits a candy store, asking for the candies in exchange for one mom coin (a Japanese currency unit used in the past times). The storekeeper thinks that something is odd, but sells the candies anyways. The woman keeps visiting the store night after night.

On the seventh night, she comes again and tells the store keeper that she does not have any money left. She asks if he could give her some candies in exchange for a piece of the beautiful kimono that she was wearing. He agrees, so she tears off her kimono sleeve and gets what she had asked for.

The storekeeper, who has found her behavior unusual, finally decides to follow her to see who she really is.

At the end of the chase, the storekeeper gets to a cemetery, where he hears the cry of a baby. He digs up the tomb guided by the crying sounds and finds the body of a young woman holding a baby. This body was of the same woman, whom he saw every night at his shop, and he realizes that she is nurturing the baby in the tomb by feeding him the candies. With her profound love toward her baby, she got back to this world as a spirit to nurture her newly born child.


Hoichi The Earless(Miminashi Hoichi)

Once upon a time, a blind biwa minstrel, lived in a temple. His name was Hoichi. He was especially good at playing “The Tale of the Heike”. When he was alone one summer night, a samurai came up to him and invited Hoichi to a house where noble people were gathering to listen to his performance. Once Hoichi arrived, he was requested to play the part about the battle of Dan-no-Ura from the tale of the Heike. Hoichi obliged and everyone was so impressed with his performance that they were moved to tears. He promised he would return to them again.

Meanwhile, the priest of the temple was worried about Hoichi’s absence at night and followed him. He discovered that Hoichi was performing for an audience of ghosts who had died in the battle of Danno-Ura. The priest feared that Hoichi would be killed by the ghosts. To protect Hoichi, the priest wrote words all around Hoichi’s body, as it was believed that ghosts couldn’t see any body parts covered with words from a Sutra. Unfortunately, he forgot to write on his ears. The next night, the samurai ghost appeared again, but could see only Hoichi's ears. So the ghost grabbed the ears, tore them off, and disappeared with them. Afterward, Hoichi became a famous biwa minstrel known as Hoichi the Earless.

"The Tale of the Heike", one of the famous war stories in Japan, is about the rise and fall of the Heike clan throu(gh their struggle against the Genji clan. In the battle of Dan-no-Ura, many family members of the Heike clan, including women and children, samurai, and court officials died. Biwa is a Japanese traditional string instrument.


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kokoka news * * kokusai koryu kaikan news

Counseling Day for Foreign Residents

Do you have any questions or troubles regarding the law, visa, taxes, insurance, pension, etc? Would you like to discuss your issues or concerns with professionals? Professionals in these fields will be offering advice, guidance and support to foreign residents. Translators will also be available. Advanced reservation is required.

  • ◆When: Saturday, September 21st (Sat.) 13:00-17:00
  • ◆Where: Kokoka Kyoto International Community House, 3F, Conference Room
  • ◆Reservation by phone: 075-752-3511

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Library Letter - Kyoto International community House Library

kokoka recommends this book

“Furoshiki Tsutsumi” (A Complete Guide to Furoshiki)

Eigo To Mihongo Ni Yoru Nihon Nihon No Obake Hyakuwa

Written by Brandon Drew Hunter
Published by Tsukuba Shobou

How much do you know about Japanese ghosts, specters and yohkai?

Some of them are very scary, and some are thought to help people. In this book not only kappa(water creatures) and mermaids, but also raccoons and foxes whom are said to fool people, are also introduced.

When the hot season comes in Japan, people often play ghost games called "Kimo-dameshi"(a test of courage). For example, they go to places believed to be haunted by ghosts, where it is likely to experience cool shivers running down their spines. This is why haunted hauses are so popular in summer. We recommend you try visiting one. We bet he heat and humidity of Kyoto's summer will be blow away at once!


A haunted house is also good, but how about spending time leisurely in a well air-conditioned and comfortable museum?

Kyoto has a wide variety of museums and galleries. While visiting museums in Kyoto, having this book in your hands might be very convenient: "Exploring Museums in Kyoto", published by Kyoto Shibun Publication Cetner in 2013. An English edition is available. Our kokoka is also listed in it!

We are currently having the "Cool Kokoka 2013" campaign, from July 2nd (Tue) to September 29th (Sun). Please refer to our HP for details. kokoka/jp/index.html

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Volunteer members of this issue

Editors of paper edition

AZUMA Keiko / FURUTA Tomiyoshi / IKUTA Minoru / KAKU Nana / Sandy LEE / SAWAMURA Kaori / SUZUKI Hidetoshi / SUZUKI Shoichiro / TSUJINO Maiko / YAMASHITA Motoyo / YUZAWA Kimio

English proofreading collaborator

Karl JANSMA / Manuela ANTONIU / Megan ROBERTS / Michiru ONIZUKA

Designer of WEB edition

SUZUKI Shoichiro

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