Kyoto’s Beautiful Four Seasons

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Violeta Misaki TAKANO(Brasil)

 Snowy day at the park near my house

Snowy day at the park near my house

I am a second generation Japanese-Brazilian. I came to Japan as a student to study in Japan where my parents were born. I chose a university in Kyoto because I wanted to study in a typical Japanese city. Since the Amazon area I came from is hot and humid throughout the year, the beauty of the four seasons that I experienced for the first time moved me. There were many mango trees in the city where I grew up, and the things that made me notice a change of season were, the ripe mangos falling from the trees in November, and the rainy season continuing from December for several months.

In Kyoto, the ume (Japanese apricot) flowers and the cherry blossoms bloom as if they were glad that spring is coming. In summer the trees grow green leaves and make people feel their life force; in autumn, the leaves turn into blazing reds and shining golds. As the snow falls in winter, the lonely-looking scene changes to a fun world. It surprised me that the colors of the scenery vary with the seasons.

Me and my kids (New Year)

Me and my kids (New Year)

One good thing about Kyoto is that people can enjoy the beautiful scenery of the seasons at places that are not even sightseeing spots, like the park near my house, the streets going to school and office, or the university campus. Also, because trees are planted in public squares and house gardens, and potted plants are put at the entrance of houses, it helps people enjoy each season. Since I have gotten married and raised children, I have noticed more than ever that there are a lot of parks in Kyoto, and many places where people can feel close to nature. For example, even in the center of the city, at the Gosho, in Umek?ji K?en park, or by the Kamogawa river, while I am close to plants, birds, and insects, I can safely play with my children, and this makes me very happy. I experienced snow for the first time in Japan. The area where I live now only has snow once or twice a year; I wait happily every year for this gift from the sky. When the snow piles up, my children and I go to the park near my house and play. When it is snowing, even familiar sights look like places I am visiting for the first time. We enjoy taking pictures, making snowmen and snow rabbits, and throwing snowballs.

Snowman and my second son (at 2 yrs)

Snowman and my second son (at 2 yrs)

In the morning after a snowfall, I see many people carrying cameras with them, going to scenic places to take pictures. I am proud to live in Kyoto where it is so beautiful that it is "on the air" as a news item, always during the seasons of cherry blossoms and tinted autumn leaves.

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Pocket/Body Warmers and Hot Water Bottles


Winter in Kyoto gets very cold, but Japanese people have many useful things to get them through the cold winter comfortably; I will introduce some of them to you .

Although you can get warm with a heating unit in your room, when you are outside, that will not work. In that case, a kairo (disposable heater pack) will help you; to start getting warmth from it, you only have to crumple it with your hand. There are two types of kairo; one you put in your pockets, and the other has adhesive so you can stick it to your skin wherever you want the heat. You can easily find both kinds in convenience stores, drug stores, and supermarkets. Although these disposable heater packs are already used in many parts of the world, such as North America, they do not seem to use them as frequently as the Japanese do.

The other thing I want to recommend to you is the yutanpo (hot water bottle). This is a warming device that is generally used when you go to bed at night. All you have to do is fill the container with hot water, close it, and put it in your bed: by your feet, next to your body, or under your pillow. Because it can be reused any number of times, it is very economical. The yutanpo is not only found in Japan; in Europe, it was developed in the 16th century, and called a “hot water bottle” because they were made of ceramic or glass

There are many interesting stories about yutanpo. It was originally invented in ancient China, and the word for it was pronounced “tang-po” in Chinese. The Chinese characters for this can be translated as: “tang” means hot water, and “po” means old lady. The tale behind the word seems to be that in the winter, when you are young, you may not need warmth or a wife, but when you get old, you may want warmth at night and an old lady to keep you company.

It is said that yutanpo was introduced to Japan in the Muromachi period (14th-16th centuries). In Nikko city, Tochigi Prefecture, at the Rinnoji temple, there is a dog-shaped yutanpo that was used by Tokugawa Tsunayoshi, a shogun in the Edo period (17th-19th centuries). He was known as the “dog shogun” for the law he made, which prohibited the killing of dogs or living things. On cold winter nights he probably slept holding his dog-shaped yutanpo in his arms. If you use your imagination to picture this, it is a little amusing.

IKEBE Takashi

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Christmas in Kyoto: How they do it in Japan

Christmas illumination(near Kyoto Station)

Christmas illumination(near Kyoto Station)

Last year in this issue of Life in Kyoto, we looked at how the Japanese celebrate the New Year. Now we will try to explain the unique ways that the Christmas spirit is spread in the month of December.

The history of Christmas in Japan is said to have started with a Mass held by Jesuit missionaries in Yamaguchi Prefecture in 1552. When Christianity was banned in Japan in 1612, a small group of kakure kirishitan (hidden Christians) practiced “underground” until sometime in the Meiji period, when religions were again allowed. The influence of the Western countries at that time brought Christmas parties and gift exchanges, but it was not widespread. Throughout the 2nd World War, all kinds of celebrations were suspended, but through the 1960s, American television shows helped the popularity of Christmas by presenting it as a romantic time. Nowadays, the Christmas observances here have developed into a special time that is very different from what Western people are used to.

There seem to be two types of Christmas here; one is the romantic kind, and the other is perhaps the commercial kind. Since less than 1 percent of Japanese are Christian, there is not much of a religious Christmas here, although most of the Christian churches have celebrations and ceremonies to honor the day of December 25.

Christmas tree at Kyoto Station

Christmas tree at Kyoto Station

The secular Christmas is well known by the various decorations and promotions of the businesses that profit from it, particularly the stores which sell anything that can be gift items, and the food and drink industry. Gift giving is usually done from parent to child, and the present (only 1 per child) is left next to the child’s bed or under the pillow, to be found on Christmas morning. Because most homes don’t have a fireplace or chimney, Santa Claus has to come through the bedroom window. Parties for children, with games and other activities may be held, and Christmas gifts and cards may also be exchanged between friends and family.

Also, there is usually no space for a full-size Christmas tree, so a small plastic mini-tree is decorated and put somewhere safe, on the refrigerator or a bookcase. Most families celebrate Christmas with a family dinner, including a Christmas cake, which is not a fruitcake, but usually a white sponge cake, covered with white icing, whipped cream or chocolate frosting, and decorated with strawberries, holly leaves, miniature Christmas trees, flowers, and maybe a little Santa figurine. Department stores, supermarkets, and bakeries all have varieties of this cake, and take orders well in advance. The main course for dinner is not roast turkey, ham, duck, or goose as in Western countries; it is “Christmas Chicken Dinner” from Kentucky Fried Chicken! The stores take early reservations for these takeout meal combinations, and people line up to get their bucket dinners throughout the day on the 25th.

The Christmas store displays and lighting are often put up at the beginning of November, and you can see Christmas lights on many buildings and decorated Christmas trees in some malls and private homes. The emphasis of much of the advertising and promotion that you see is directed toward the romantic type of Christmas, and is very similar to the commercial buildup to St. Valentine’s Day in America. Christmas Eve is the most important time of the year for young couples, when they can exchange special gifts, have a fine dining experience in a fancy restaurant, and stroll around the city, looking at Christmas lights or store window displays. For those still young at heart, there are many entertainment specials at hotels and clubs, featuring dinner shows with popular performers, live music and dancing. Due to the heavy demand, reservations for any of these activities have to be made as early as possible, and the prices can be much higher than any other time of year. Although Christmas day is not a holiday, and most people still have to go to work or school, some couples spend a romantic night away from home on Christmas Eve, and some hotels will be booked up full on that night, at higher room rates than normal.

No matter which kind of Christmas you prefer, you know that it will be fun and memorable here in Kyoto, but only if you participate in celebrating!


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Japan’s standard winter food:
   naberyori! (hot-pot cooking)

Mizudaki nabe(image)

Mizudaki nabe(image)

One home-cooked dish essential for Japanese in winter is naberyori, nabemono or just simply nabe. This Japanese hot-pot dish generally means boiling many ingredients: meat, seafood and seasonal vegetables in a ceramic pot called a donabe, and eating this together as a group. It is distinctively the nabe custom to let the hot pot (with cooked ingredients inside) simmer over a takujokonro (portable tabletop cooking stove), and have the people serve themselves, ladling some nabe into their own bowls.

The variety of ingredients and tastes of nabe ranges widely, and typical styles are mizutaki and yosenabe. The ingredients of mizutaki are chicken and vegetables, boiled in kombudashi (weak kelp broth), and served with ponzu (soy-based sauce with vinegar and daidai, a bitter orange). The ingredients of yosenabe, almost the same as mizutaki, are cooked in tsuyu, a broth of soy sauce, and are eaten without any other seasoning or dipping sauce. After eating all the food in the pot, people often make zosui, a kind of risotto, by adding rice to the nourishing leftover broth. This will be eaten as the last part of dinner, which is called shime (to finish).

Most Japanese really like nabe, and there are quite a few families who have nabe dinner once a week during winter. The ingredients can be changed, as you prefer, to make kimuchinabe (Korean kimuchi), also called chigenabe (Korean stew), or you can make motsunabe (giblets stew). Recently, pre-made packages of various flavors of soup stock for nabe recipes have been available in the stores. The reasons why people like nabe are not only “nabe warms us up,” but also “it helps us eat more vegetables,” “it has a rich variation of tastes and ingredients,” and “cooking it is simple and takes less time.” As these reasons show, naberyori is broadly supported as a well-balanced and timesaving dish. It is true that some people are reluctant to follow the typical practice of nabe - to share food out of the one pot with others - even the Japanese, but it is also true that those who support nabe state as one reason that “we can get the family together,” and it is a “good chance to have dinner while enjoying chatting with friends.” In short, nabery?ri represents a happy and relaxed home for the Japanese.

Here we introduce the classic mizutaki recipe, and we hope you can enjoy sitting around the nabe dinner table together with your family and friends, and warm your hearts as well as your bodies, and it will help to overcome the chilly winter of Kyoto.

Life in Kyoto Mizutaki recipe (for 4 people):

torimomo (chicken thighs) about 400g, cut into bite-size pieces,
1/2 hakusai (Chinese cabbage), 2 stalks negi (onions) sliced diagonally,
1 package (300-400g) tofu, 8 shiitake mushrooms, 1 package enoki mushrooms,
1/4 ninjin (carrot),
50g harusame (“glass” noodles, reconstitute in water before putting into the pot),
8 cups (1600ml) kombudashi*, 1 cup (200ml) ponzu sauce*

*Ready-made kombudashi and ponzu are sold at most food stores. If you would like to make these yourself, instructions are provided below.

[Kombudashi] Wipe off the surface of the kelp (10g) with a damp cloth, and put it into 8 cups (1600ml) water in a donabe pot, and heat at medium heat until just before boiling, then remove the kelp.
[Ponzu sauce] 1/2 cup (100ml) shoyu (soy sauce), 1/4 cup (50ml) komezu (rice vinegar), 1/4 cup (50ml) citrus juice (daidai/bitter orange, lemon or yuzu)

1. Boil kombudashi in a donabe pot on medium heat.
2. Add the chicken pieces, and boil for about 15 minutes, skimming off the floating residue carefully. Then add the rest of the ingredients and continue boiling until done.
3. Serve with ponzu sauce.

KITA Miyuki

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Let's start 2015 with karuta!

In our previous issue* (Oct./Nov. 2014), we introduced the card game karuta which has been in Japan from long ago. There are various types of karuta games, but the most famous one is Hyakunin Isshu Karuta, which uses waka (classic Japanese poems) from Ogura Hyakunin Isshu. In this issue, we will show the world of waka from Ogura Hyakunin Isshu.

Amanohara, furisake mireba, kasuga naru, mikasa no yama ni, ideshi tsuki kamo
[Poet] Abe no Nakamaro
I look up into the sky and I find the beautiful moon. Is that the same moon that rose above Mt. Mikasa in Kasuga, my hometown? (That moon carries me back to my hometown.)

The poet in this waka, Abe no Nakamaro, studied abroad in China. He became a government official and lived in foreign countries for a long time. What was he thinking when gazing at the moon? He was abroad in a place that has a different culture, but he looked at the same moon as in Japan. He may have thought about the difficulties of living abroad or his family in Japan. If you get more information about each poet's background, you can comprehend the meaning of their waka better.

Ooeyama, ikuno no michi no, too kereba, mada fumi mo mizu, amanohashidate
[Poet] Koshikibu no Naishi
Because it's a long way to Amanohashidate via Ooeyama and Ikuno, I didn't visit my mother who lives near Amanohashidate. I didn't receive a letter from her either.

The mother of the author of this poem was a well-known poet, so there was a rumor that all of her waka were actually composed by her mother. Once, when Koshikibu no Naishi attended an utakai (poet's gathering, where each composes a waka in order), another attendee asked her sarcastically, "Did you get a letter in which your mother wrote a waka for you? (Will you read your mother's waka as your own?)" So she composed this waka (Ooeyama...) immediately, as a direct answer: "I didn't get a letter from my mother (I can compose waka like this by myself.)"

In this waka, she showed her skillfulness by using some homonyms (e.g. fumi has two meanings: "a letter" and "to visit") and in including the names of 3 places (Ooeyama, Ikuno and Amanohashidate). She refuted the rumor and proved she was also a good poet. By the way, her mother was Izumi Shikibu, and the poet who made a sarcastic remark was Gonchunagon Sadayori; the waka they have composed were also selected for the Ogura Hyakunin Isshu.

Because these waka were written in archaic Japanese, they are not easy to understand. But waka has been really popular in Japan and it has a rich culture. Above all, we can know many things which the people hundreds of years ago thought and felt; I think that this is the most interesting aspect of waka. In the New Year season, the Japanese Karuta House holds a Karuta Hajime Shiki (Ceremony of the first karuta play of the new year) at Yasaka Jinja shrine. Why not go and see some elegant Japanese entertainment from an ancient time?

Karuta Hajime Shiki (Ceremony of the first karuta play of the new year)

Day & time: Saturday, January 3, 2015, 1:00 p.m.
Location: Yasaka Jinja shrine


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Let's visit Ebessan!

From January 8 through 12, the Ebisutaisai (Ebisu Grand Festival) will be held at Kyoto Ebisu Jinja; the Tokaebisu Festival on January 10 is commonly called Hatsuebisu (first ebisu).

Statue of Ebisu-shin

Statue of Ebisu-shin (image)

Do you know what Ebisu-san, Ebisu-shin, or the better-known Ebessan is? He is one of the shichifukujin*(Seven Deities of Good Fortune), and is said to bring good luck to people. He is usually shown holding a fishing rod in his right hand and a large sea bream (ocean fish) with his left hand. For entertainment to celebrate the new year, a puppet figure of the Ebisu deity is made to dance, and this performance and the performers are also known as Ebisu or Ebisumawashi.

Kyoto Ebisu Jinja is one of the Nihon Sandai Ebisu (three major Japanese Ebisu shrines), along with Nishinomiya Jinja in Hyogo and Imamiya Ebisu Jinja in Osaka. The priest Yosai-zenji built this shrine about 800 years ago, to guard the area around the Kenninji temple. To get to the shrine, go along Shijo-d?ri toward Yasaka Jinja, and then go south on Yamato-?ji; it takes about five minutes to get there. It’s not a very big shrine.

If you have been to a Tokaebisu, you are probably familiar with shobaihanjo sasa mottekoi (carry a bamboo branch for business prosperity). This custom originated in Kyoto Ebisu Jinja, and has become widespread. The bamboo branch is known as a symbol of faith and bringer of good luck as one part of the symbolic group known as shochikubai (pine, bamboo and plum). It became the symbol of prosperity of businesses and family fortunes for three reasons: it grows straight, with evenly spaced knots/rings; it is resilient; and it has green leaves that do not fall.

From January 8 through 12, the following is a partial list of events to be held:

January 8, 2:30 p.m. Mochitsuki shinji (rice pounding ceremony)

January 10, 11:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m. Toei joyu no hoshi ni yoru fukuzasa no juyo
(an actress presents “good fortune bamboo branches” to visitors)

January 11, 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Maiko-san no hoshi ni yoru fukuzasa to fukumochi no juyo
(a maiko presents “prosperity bamboo branches” and “good fortune mochi balls”)

How about visiting other shrines related to the shichifukujin (Seven Deities of Good Fortune) after visiting Kyoto Ebisu Jinja?

Miyako shichifukujin (7 Capital Shrines/Temples of Deities of Good Fortune)

Ebisu:Ebisu Jinja
Daikokuten:Matsugasaki Daikokuten
Bishamonten: Toji temple
Benzaiten: Rokuharamitsuji temple
Fukurokuju: Sekizanzenin temple
Jurojin: Kodo temple
Hoteison: Manpukuji temple
*There are many stories and places related to the shichifukujin.

IKUTA Minoru, translated by KANAYA Chinamii

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Library Letter - Kyoto International community House Library

kokoka recommends this book

Japanese Calligraphy IT’S A SHODO WORLD

Japanese Calligraphy IT’S A SHODO WORLD

Text: Gakusho FURUYA
Images: Shoko MATSUI
Publisher: Taiseido Shobo, 2007

In Japan, at the start of the New Year, there is a custom of kakizome(1st calligraphy of the year). And speaking of shodo (calligraphy), there are people who know it as well. As for kakizome, at the beginning of the year, people use it to wishfully write out their hopes and goals for the year, trying to become more skillful in forming the ji (characters).

In this book, the kanji (Chinese characters) and hiragana (cursive script) characters in the aisatsu (greetings) and the haiku (poems) are written in beautiful calligraphy.

Since there are explanatory notes for each page of calligraphy, it is possible to know the meaning of the words and the setting or context for each poem.

Have you yourself tried calligraphy? Using this book as an example, if you concentrate on practicing, surely the feeling inside you will become peaceful, serene and calm.

sumie, suibokuga

Drawing with sumi (India ink) is not just for writing characters; there is also the art form of sumie (ink painting) and a branch of it called suibokuga (ink and water painting).

The book “JAPANESE INK-PAINTING” by Ryukyu SAITO [Charles E. Tuttle, 1959] shows this famous artist’s work together with the tools he uses, brush holding technique, and brush stroke style, carefully introducing these in English. After reading this book, you will probably see the ink painting artwork in temples and art museums with a more discerning eye and a new perspective.

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Volunteer members of this issue

Members and Collaborators

FUJITA Risa / FURUTA Tomiyoshi / IKEBE Takashi / IKUTA Minoru / Juan VACA / Karl JANSMA / KAMEDA Chiaki / KANAYA Chinami / KITA Miyuki / MATSUNAGA Yuko / OHARA Manabu / OKAMOTO Yuko / SUZUKI Hidetoshi / SUZUKI Shoichiro / YAGI Teruo / YAMASHITA Motoyo / YUZAWA Kimio / WANG Xiaoqin /

Editor of this WEB page

KANAYA Chinami

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