Flamenco is Flowering in Kyoto

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Carmen ALVAREZ (Spain)


My name is Carmen, and I am from Spain; I arrived in Kyoto for the first time in 2010 to teach flamenco dancing. It was April, and the city and the Kamogawa River were passing through cherry blossom season. I cruised on my bicycle alongside the Kamogawa every day after finishing my dancing classes at a flamenco school located in Karasuma-Oike, a central area of Kyoto.

I could breathe the air from the mountains, listen to the Kamogawa River, and admire the beauty of the cherry blossoms...it was like being in a pure land blessed by Buddhas. Near my apartment, I used to visit Bukkoji temple to meditate on my own; it is a large temple but not as well known as many other temples in Kyoto.

After six months, I went back to my country and carried on with my life in the city of Granada; I taught flamenco inside of a cave, Cueva de la Luz, and turned it into a flamenco studio in the mountains of Granada.


But I could not stop thinking about Kyoto and everything that I experienced there. I got to know many interesting people, from my Japanese flamenco students to a great variety of artists that lived in Kyoto; Japanese people from many cities in Japan, and other foreigners from all over the world. We shared very nice moments together in Kyoto. I especially remember times with my friend YOSHIDA Koichi, who introduced me to the shakuhachi, a bamboo flute. We used to go together to the Kamogawa River, and there, listening to the sound of the shakuhachi made me feel like I was traveling back in time.

The next year, I was called to work in Japan again, this time in Osaka, which is still very close to Kyoto. Almost every weekend I went to see the Kamogawa and my friends from Kyoto. We got together to chat and exchange personal experiences, to organize some events or to learn about Japanese or Spanish food; it was quite a celebration each time I went to Kyoto. Once, we even celebrated the birthdays of many of my friends together by cooking paella over a natural fire in the garden of a Japanese home. I thought it was cool, the sort of communion we were creating in Japan through the Spanish art form of flamenco in a city that is so culturally varied and at the same time so traditional as Kyoto is.

That is how I spent 4 years, coming and going from Granada to Kyoto and from Kyoto to Granada. I could not stop thinking and feeling everything that I was receiving and giving, so in the end I decided to take some more time and stay here, and be able to know just how much living in Kyoto was influencing me as a person.


Nowadays I am learning Japanese, starting from zero, to read, write, understand, and speak. For me it is very difficult because usually, Spanish people are very expressive, especially those of us who come from the south; we are very open and we like to talk a lot. Many Japanese people are surprised by my attitude, but at the same time they like it. I like to live in Kyoto, and exchange my experiences with the people that I get to know every day in this precious city full of art and temples.

There is another place I like in Kyoto. At kokoka Kyoto International Community House, I feel that I am always welcome, and I love to be there. We have already formed a flamenco dance group with the volunteers who teach Japanese to foreigners. And we will do a demonstration on the 3rd of November for the “Open Day” event at kokoka. Please come to see our performance!

web page : www.carmenflamenco.com

translated from Spanish by Juan VACA

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Let's go to see the Maiko Dancing!


Photo by
Kyoto Traditional Musical Art Foundation

The gorgeous kimono, kanzashi (ornamental hairpins), distinctive hairstyles and special makeup - have you seen the maiko in Kyoto?

Maiko and geiko are the entertainers who perform traditional Japanese dances and music at exclusive parties; maiko and geiko are the terms used in Kyoto. Geiko are independent as accomplished entertainers, and maiko are apprentice geiko. Most maiko are between the ages of 15 and 20, and their appearance is recognizable by the long obi (sash) that hangs down in the back and the wooden platform sandals; these are designed to emphasize their youthfulness and daintiness. Maiko wear their own hair in a classical Japanese style, and decorate it with the large ornamental hairpins, modelled on seasonal flowers and motifs.

The districts where maiko live are called kagai. At present, there are five kagai in Kyoto, named Gion-kobu, Miyagawa-cho, Ponto-cho, Kamishichiken, and Gion-higashi. The world of maiko may seem elegant and leisurely, but actually they undergo rigorous training every day. Every maiko must learn to dance, sing, play instruments such as the shamisen, and know proper etiquette, so they have to take many lessons, including tea ceremony, to refine their skills.

You can enjoy their dancing and music onstage every spring and autumn. Also, Kyoto’s five kagai put on a joint performance in June. Visiting an ochaya, where exclusive parties are held, to enjoy maiko and geiko performance, is actually a rather rare experience, but the dance stages are accessible to everyone. This is a good chance to learn about their refined artistry.

Autumn 2014 maiko and geiko performances

Onshu-kai performance of the Gion-kobu district

October 1 - 6, at the Gion-kobu kaburenjo theater
Tel 075-561-1115

Mizue-kai performance of the Miyagawa-cho district

October 8 - 12, at the Kamishichiken kaburenjo theater
Tel 075-461-0148

Suimei-kai performance of the Ponto-cho district

October 16 - 19, at the Ponto-cho kaburenjo theater
Tel 075-221-2025

Kotobuki-kai performance of the Kamishichiken district

October 8 - 12, at the Kamishichiken kaburenjo theater
Tel 075-461-0148

Gion Odori performance of the Gion-higashi district

November 1 - 10, at the Gion-kaikan theater
Tel 075-561-0224

If you feel like enjoying a maiko performance casually, on short notice, how about trying these places?

Gion Corner

Performances held daily at 6:00 and 7:00 p.m.
(during winter: only on Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays, and National holidays)

Kyoto Museum of Traditional Crafts

Performances held every Sunday, at 2:00, 2:30, and 3:00 p.m. Free of charge

Why not enjoy a maiko and geiko performance, and discover the world of Kyoto’s traditional beauty this autumn?


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Let's Play Karuta !


The card game karuta has been in Japan from long ago. Karuta uses two decks of cards, yomifuda (reading cards) and torifuda (grabbing cards). First, the grabbing cards are spread out, face up. Then the reader reads aloud whatever is on the reading cards, one by one. Players look for and take the grabbing card that matches the reading card; the player who collects the greatest number of cards wins the game. This style of playing, called chirashidori, is the most common. There are many types of cards used in karuta games, but the most famous one is Hyakunin Isshu Karuta, which uses waka (classic Japanese poems), and another famous one is irohakaruta, which uses Japanese proverbs on the cards.

Hyakunin Isshu is a classical Japanese collection of 100 selected poems by 100 poets. Because the most famous one by far is the Ogura Hyakunin Isshu, the name Hyakunin Isshu generally refers to the Ogura Hyakunin Isshu. An excellent poet of the 12th to 13th centuries, FUJIWARA no Sadaie (also called FUJIWARA no Teika) selected 100 poems written in the 7th to 13th centuries for this anthology. Also, karuta that uses the waka from the Ogura Hyakunin Isshu is simply called Hyakunin Isshu, too. Ogura Hyakunin Isshu poems include changing of seasons, poems of love and other subjects. Because these waka were written in archaic Japanese, middle school and high school students are taught the Ogura Hyakunin Isshu poems as part of Japanese classical literature.

Hyakunin Isshu Karuta is very familiar to many people in Japan, because it is not only an enjoyable game, but a good way to learn Japanese and waka, too. Also, with Hyakunin Isshu karuta, there are tournaments for kyogikaruta (competitive karuta). Recently, competitive karuta has become well known to many, because of the gathering popularity of the manga "Chihayafuru”, that has competitive karuta as its subject.

The waka in the Ogura Hyakunin Isshu are composed of 31 syllables, in 5 lines of 5, 7, 5, 7, and 7 syllables each. In the Hyakunin Isshu karuta, only lines 4 and 5 of the waka are printed on the grabbing card, while each poet's name, image, and their complete waka are printed on the reading card. In addition to playing chirashidori, we also play bouzumekuri (don't turn over the “monk” card), using only the reading cards. Even a player who can’t read Japanese can enjoy playing this game.

Let's play KARUTA

LIK volunteers at "Let's Play Karuta" 2013

In Japan, when relatives gather for the New Year holidays, many families enjoy playing Hyakunin Isshu karuta. Because karuta has simple rules, even primary school children can enjoy it. The "Life in Kyoto" volunteer group will hold a "Let's Play KARUTA!" event at kokoka on OPEN DAY. While enjoying Hyakunin Isshu karuta, let's learn some Japanese! By all means, please come and participate!


Let's Play KARUTA!

Date: Monday, November 3, 2014 (National Holiday)
Time: 10:00 a.m.- 12:00 noon, 1:00 p.m.- 4:00 p.m. Fee: Free
Location: kokoka 3F Conference Rooms 3 and 4
Participants: everyone (children from primary school, adults, foreigners)

*For foreigners who can't read Japanese, we will have Hyakunin Isshu karuta in romaji. Participants will be divided into groups according to Japanese language ability.
For further details, please check our website:

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Translation into Enjoyment

It’s difficult to describe how difficult translating is. I think that the radio program, “Short Stories by MURAKAMI Haruki Read in English”, is a new challenge; It is broadcast by NHK Radio 2 from 11:00 pm every Sunday for language learning and is also available on the Internet. It is intended for enjoyment of listening to and reading the writings of MURAKAMI, a likely candidate for a Nobel Laureate in Literature. For the six-month period from this April, the short story “The Dancing Dwarf” was chosen for reading and discussion. The two persons heard in program are: professor NIIMOTO Ryoichi, of Kyoto University of Art and Design, who leads the program (when living in New York, worked with American literature for 20 years) and Mr. Colin Stinton, a professional actor, who reads the text.

Jay RUBIN, who has a doctorate in Japanese Literature, translated “The Dancing Dwarf”; he has translated many stories by Japanese novelists, and is most famous for his longstanding achievements in translating MURAKAMI’s work. Even if you are not a Murakami fan, you may find this program worth listening to.

Most interesting is the part of the program that provides a comparison of the translations. In that portion, professor Niimoto compares a sentence he translates (intentional beginner’s translation) to professor Rubin’s version (Rubin translation). In this article, two translations from a recent broadcast will be compared, and the Internet translation by Google (Google translation) will be shown. In the story, the main character “boku” (I, me) was about to decide to let the dancing dwarf get into his body, in order to have dancing ability, to get a beautiful girl’s love at an upcoming dance party. Following are the translations of what his thoughts were in facing this decision; the original Japanese text is “boku wa shoujiki itte kowakatta”

Google translation: “I was afraid to be honest”
Intentional beginner’s translation: “To tell the truth, I was scared”
Rubin translation: “I confess I was afraid”

The Google version may mislead readers to think it means, “I was afraid to be truthful”. The intentional beginner’s translation uses the phrase “to tell the truth” that is taught in school and is commonly known to many Japanese. The word “confess” in the Rubin translation, meaning to “admit something,” is often used in place of “admit”. Professor Rubin, understanding the expression in Western culture, most likely chose it for Western readers to appreciate the nuance of the original story. Since the original Japanese text and the English translation have footnoted explanations, it is recommended to look at these to better understand the story.

Professor Niimoto was kind enough to spare some time for an interview and said that readers could enjoy Murakami’s literature using either interpretation. He added that words ought to be selected not simply by looking in a dictionary, but more importantly by understanding it through the literature of the translating country. He stressed that in no way is this work easy. But, for this program’s listeners, it is enjoyable.

Among Japanese literature, the stories by Murakami have been those most translated into foreign languages. How about listening sometime to this radio program?

FURUTA Tomiyoshi

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Let's go to a Local Athletic Meet (undoukai)!

Athletic Meet
Athletic Meet

There are events called undoukai (athletic meet) in Japan; an undoukai is an enjoyable function where many people gather for athletic contests, games and group dance movements. They are held mainly in autumn, in keeping with a national holiday named Taiiku no hi (Health and Sports Day). This commemorates the day of the opening ceremonies for the 1964 Summer Olympics in Tokyo. Taiiku no hi was made a national holiday in 1966, and is celebrated on the 2nd Monday of October. Of all the undoukai, many are held in local communities and at schools, and the key feature is all the participants are acting as one, in unity, supporting and helping one another to succeed in the events.

In undoukai, there are athletics and performances such as:

Tama ire (ball-toss game) - people in teams throw balls into baskets fixed to tall poles within a set time period. The team with the largest number of balls in their basket is the winner.

Tsuna hiki (tug-of-war) - two teams pull on a rope from opposite ends. The team that pulls the other team over the centerline is the winner.

Taifuu no me (eye of the typhoon) - 4 or 5 people hold a long bar and run a course around 2 or 3 safety cones, running as quickly as they can. The rule is they must make a complete circle all together for each cone; the team with the fastest time to the finish line is the winner.

Mukade kyousou (centipede race) – a number of people line up, using long straps to connect their left ankles and right ankles to each other, front and back, to form a “centipede”, and race against other teams. The first team to reach the finish line wins.

Rirei sou (relay run) - several teams are formed, with an equal number of members; each person runs a set distance and passes their baton to a teammate. The team that reaches the finish line the fastest is the winner.

From the time I was an elementary school student through senior high school, I participated in many undoukai and have seen various athletics and performances there. Because I was not good at sports, I was very timid, so I put my efforts into cheering for my team rather than the games. However, I think I had the opportunity to learn the importance of unity and team cooperation from these undoukai. At some local athletic meets, if you help with operations or join in the games and performances, the organizers provide free lunch and drinks. So how about going to and joining in a community sports festival?

KANAYA Chinami

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Antique and Used Book Fair at the Temple

Antique and Used Book Fair

Late summer is gone, and the best season for reading books has come. From October 30 through November 3, an “Autumn Antique/Used Book Fair” will be held at the Hyakumanben Chionji temple. This book fair is a market for all kinds of written material; it is held jointly by sellers of antique and used books operating in or around Kyoto. It is held in spring, summer and autumn every year; the spring fair is at Miyakomesse near Heian Jingu shrine, the summer fair is at Shimogamo Jinja shrine, and the autumn fair is at Hyakumanben Chionji temple.

Chionji temple, which was established about 800 years ago, belongs to the Buddhist Joudo Shuu (Pure Land sect). Straight ahead through the main gate is Mieidou hall, which enshrines an image of the founder. The autumn antique book fair is held in front of Mieidou hall.

Within the event area, each bookseller has their own space, and visitors can look around freely. There are academic books, art books, religion and philosophy books, picture books for children, juvenile literature, novels, magazines, hobby books, and sometimes you can find foreign books. In addition to books, some spaces sell old maps, picture postcards, and LP records. If the items you buy are too heavy, it is possible to have them shipped, but only within Japan. There are also some events like a bookbinding workshop (reservation required) and charity auctions.

Why not see if you can find some really interesting books at the book fair during this great season for reading books? The booksellers who participate in this fair usually run antique/used bookstores, and it can also be interesting to visit their stores.

If you would like to get more information, please check the official blog of the Kyoto Antique Books Study Group at: http://koshoken.seesaa.net/


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Library Letter - Kyoto International community House Library

kokoka recommends this book

Geisha & Maiko of Kyoto Beauty, Art, & Dance

Geisha & Maiko of Kyoto  Beauty, Art, & Dance

Photos・Text: John Foster Schiffer Publishing

If you say “Kyoto” , some people think of maiko (apprentice geisha) or geisha (in Kyoto they are called geiko, professional entertainers). You can really feel again that “I am in Kyoto” , when you run across them in the middle of an old townscape.

This book has beautiful pictures of them, along with interviews of them written in English. It enables you to understand the story you have wanted to know for a long time. Because the pictures are large, you can understand the details of their makeup and ornamental hairpins, which you could not appreciate unless you see them up close.

After you have read the book, when you happen upon them, perhaps you will see them from a different angle.

Wordplay Picture Encyclopedia

Tongue twisters and palindromes are part of the Japanese language. When you are tired of studying Japanese from a textbook, do you try to practice Japanese while playing? You are bound to realize what the fun part of Japanese is, if you read “Kotoba asobi e jiten” (Wordplay Picture Encyclopedia) [edited by Kotoba to Asobu Kai, published by Asunaro Shobo, 2007] The “ekakiuta” (sing and draw) is about a charming chef, and is really fun!

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Volunteer members of this issue

Members and Collaborators

FUJITA Risa / FURUTA Tomiyoshi / IKUTA Minoru / Juan VACA / Karl JANSMA / KAMEDA Chiaki / KANAYA Chinami / Kevin ROBERTS / Megan ROBERTS / Michiru ONIZUKA / OHARA Manabu / OKAMOTO Yuko / SUZUKI Hidetoshi / YAMASHITA Motoyo / YUZAWA Kimio / WANG Xiaoqin

Editor of this WEB page

SUZUKI Hidetoshi

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