One International Student’s Life in Kyoto

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Luo Weibiao (China)

Author and his bicycle

Author and his bicycle

I study illustration at Seika graduate school. I’ve always loved Japanese cartoons and animations since my childhood and this is the reason why I came to Japan to study. I’ve been in Japan for two years and I’ve come to like Japan very much.

Kyoto is easy to travel by bike. I was called, “The child who grew up on a bike” by my parents and continue to enjoy riding my bike. I am happiest when I am riding my bike, taking in the surroundings and pedaling leisurely, other than the time spent at school and home. I love the regular “Mamachari”, and not the fashionable racing bikes. Although my current bike is a cheap secondhand one without gears, I still often go from Takaragaike Pond to kokoka Kyoto International Community House, Kawaramachi and Nijo Station.

As I live near Takaragaike Pond, I pass by the scenery here every day. There’s a small river next to Doshisha Junior and Senior High School, and I usually go to school along the river. At the time of my entrance ceremony to the graduate school, cherry trees on both sides of the river were in full bloom, and that was the beginning of my life in Kyoto. As the blossoms fall, the river becomes beautifully pink with the petals. I see many wild animals by this river, including deer, monkeys, raccoons, small herons, black cranes, Japanese cormorants, ducks, black kites, swallows, crows, owls, salamanders, snakes and so on. I think it is wonderful and great that they coexist in this town with the people and different animals. Cherry blossom viewing in the spring, firefly catching along the river in the summer, boating in Takaragaike Pond in autumn, playing in the snow at Myomanji Temple in the winter.....the whole year is really fulfilling.

One of the reasons I like Kyoto is that Kyoto-vegetables are fresh and delicious. I don’t dine out, so I usually cook my own meals. When I was a child, I hated vegetables, but as I started cooking, I came to appreciate the taste. You may laugh but one day I didn’t feel like cooking and so I went to a super market to buy a packed lunch, but when I got home, I noticed the shortage of vegetables and cooked another vegetable dish. I like vegetables so much that I can’t be satisfied unless I eat a lot of vegetables. On a side note, the vegetable shop I usually go to is said to be founded one hundred years ago.

Artwork by author 1

Artwork by author 1

Although I’m a bit lonely because I live alone, my friends who travel from China always come to Kyoto, famous for its history as the old capital. It has lots of ancient temples and shrines, beautiful gardens with appearances that change with the seasons and various places of cultural interest. Many of my friends knew Kyoto better than me. We saw “Miyako” dancing at Hanamikoji, bought food in Nishiki’s markets and prayed for successful relationships at Jishu Shrine together. Thanks to them, my life has been enriched.

Artwork by author 2

Artwork by author 2

Kyoto has a lot of fantastic aspects, but the best are its people. I’ve met a lot of warm-hearted people, and my situation took an unexpected new turn. I’ve held several illustration exhibitions, joined in with some performances and been a guest speaker, and that is all thanks to these people. The important goal now, is that as an foreign student, to find my potential in this country. I’m going to graduate from school soon, and looking for some work as an illustrator now. I will be happy if I can find a job here and pay back to the people in this town someday. I believe Kyoto is generous enough to support various lives at any time, and I hope it is beautiful at all times.

※I wrote this article in December, 2014, but early in 2015, I received a job offer to work in Osaka as a game designer. I will continue to do my best in Kansai!

Translated by MATSUNAGA Yuko

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Find Your Match at "kokokon"

kokokon 2014

kokokon 2014

Do you know how many single Japanese people in their 30- 40s live in Kyoto city? By the statistics, about 50%! Some people are busy with their work, some haven’t met anyone special yet, some are just too shy to invite someone on a date…And there are many!

That is why kokoka Kyoto City International Community House has decided to hold a program called “Global Marriage Match Making”, or “kokokon” to provide a chance for singles to meet and have an international exchange.This year, “kokokon” will be held again on March 8 (Sun). Last year “Life in Kyoto” volunteers took part in the event and reported back their experience. This year’s event won’t be exactly the same as last year, but it may be useful for those who are considering to participate.

The “kokoka Global Marriage Matchmaking (kokokon)” took place in March last year. The participation was limited to single people in their 30s and 40s, who were Japanese residents or workers in Kyoto city, and to foreigners living in Japan. One of the main objectives of “kokokon” was to provide a chance to people interested in marriage to find a partner. The number of Japanese and foreigner participants was almost equal, but we noticed that most of the foreigners came from different part of Asia.

In the beginning, the purpose of the event and schedule were explained in both Japanese and English. Then the participants were divided into 5 groups and each one learned how to play korean drums, do yoga, aikido, capoeira and even dancing salsa with a partner up on the stage. Everyone appeared to be a little tense at first. As each of these activities went on, the ambience started to relax little by little. People began to participate in the workshops not only within their groups, but even with the other groups under the stage!

By the time we switched rooms for the second half of the event, almost all the participants were talking amongst themselves. It was at this point when things really took off. It started with a little quizzing about the different dating customs of various countries to help people who are interested in meeting someone from a different culture. Participants were able to have drinks, a light meal while chatting among each other. People started to talk about their reasons for coming and what expectations they had.

We found many people who came specifically because they wanted to meet a partner from another country having different perspectives. Interestingly, we met a lot of people, who think very positively of about international marriage and respect different cultures, and this seemed to be emphasized after the event. Even though some people did not find their partner for life on that day, they enjoyed making new friends, socializing with people from other nationalities and sharing a good time at the event. Through this event, kokoka was able to provide a chance to meet people that look at things from a different perspective.

If you are still single we recommend you come to “kokokon”. Who knows, maybe your partner will be waiting for you there.


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Hina Ningyo(Hina Dolls)

Hina Dolls

Hina Dolls

March 3 is commonly referred to as Momo-no-Sekku. On this day, families in Japan celebrate Hina Matsuri (the Doll Festival or Girls' Day) to pray for the well-being and happiness of the girls of each family. During this time, families display hina ningyo (hina dolls), and make offering of peach blossoms, hina-arare (cubic rice crackers), hishimochi (diamondshaped rice cake), and shirozake (sweet sake) to the dolls and pray for good health for their girls.

Hina dolls are the centerpiece of the Doll Festival. The glamorous fashions and lifestyle of the Imperial court from the Heian period can be seen from looking at the hina dolls. On the top shelf is a male doll called obina and a female doll called mebina. The two represent an aristocratic couple and are the main dolls of the display. On the second shelf, there are three court ladies who take care of the aristocratic couple. On the third shelf down are five male musicians who provide entertainment.

Hairdressing a hina doll

Hairdressing a hina doll

Traditional Kyoto-style hina dolls are handmade by highly skilled artisans. The process of making hina dolls is divided into many individual tasks, each task being assigned to an artisan such as making the doll’s head, hairdressing, making the hands and feet, making the accessories, or kimono dressing. Since each part is performed by different specialists, this makes it possible to create these detailed, high-quality dolls.

Process of making Kyoto-style hina dolls:

Head: Made of wooden powder, and glass eyeballs are set into the head. Then gohun (white paint made from shells) is applied on the surface repeatedly. Lastly, the lip, eyebrows, and hairline are drawn.
Hairdressing: The doll’s silk hair is placed onto the head, and dressed by a comb and an iron.
Hands and feet: Wires are put into paulownia wooden board to make fingers. Then gohun is applied on the surface again and again. Lastly, the nails are colored in.
Accessories: Tiny accessories, such as the folding fans and ornaments for the dolls, are made from the same materials as their real-life equivalents.
Kimono dressing: Final process after all the parts get put together. Gorgeous kimono made of Nishijin-ori textile is put on the dolls.

You can see various traditional Japanese dolls, including hina dolls, at the Spring and Autumn Doll Exhibition in Hokyo-ji temple which preserves many historical dolls.

Spring Doll Exhibition in Hokyo-ji temple:

Period: March 1 - April 3, 2015
Time: 10:00 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. (Reception until 3:30 p.m.)
Fee: Adults 600 yen, Children 300 yen
Address: 547 Dodo-cho Horikawa Higashi-iru Teranouchi-dori Kamigyo-ku Kyoto-shi

Also, the Doll Festival Ceremony will be held as the opening of the exhibition in the temple. Day and time: March 1, 11:00 a.m.-11:30 a.m.

Why not enjoy the Doll Festival and observe the lovely hina dolls that carry the prayers of families this spring?


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Let's Listen to a Community Broadcast

You want to get familiar with the area as early as possible when you will live in a new place. You want to get lifestyle information, the livelihood and flow and trend of the place, and become a part of the community. One way is to listen to the radio.

My recommendation is a community broadcast, FM79.7MHz, KYOTO SANJYO RADIO CAFE. KYOTO SANJYO RADIO CAFE is a NPO broadcasting station that focuses on the promotion of community activity of the Kyoto citizens. Needless to say you can also enjoy music, a language that crosses borders. They also broadcast information about the town. For example, it introduces the Nishiki Market and discusses important knowledge including disaster prevention information and medical information. Some programs have the citizens of the area participate in the talk shows. The atmosphere and lifestyle of the locals can be understood from listening to the programs and it can help you understand the area’s way of thinking. Of course, you can learn how to keep a conversation going and proper grammar after listening to native speakers. Hearing Kyoto dialect and traditional events, you deepen the understanding of different cultures.

You can listen to KYOTO SANJYO RADIO CAFE from a smartphone, just download the ListenRadio application. Why not incorporate listening to the local broadcasting station into your daily life to get information and music? If you do not have a radio, you can also access it from the website:


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When You Have Hay Fever

Hay Fever

Recently, you may have seen many Japanese people wearing a medical mask. The main reason to wear a mask is to avoid spreading diseases such as the flu or a cold. However, there is another reason for wearing a mask. February and March is the season when hay fever is most prevalent due to the release of pollen from Japanese cedar. Hay fever is caused by an allergy to the pollen of Japanese cedar, cypress or other plants. The number of patients who suffer from hay fever increases every year. In particular, the numbers of patients who suffer specifically from Japanese cedar is remarkable. If you have hay fever, you may have symptoms like sneezing, a runny nose, nasal congestion and itchy eyes.

If you have these symptoms, you should go to an otorhinolaryngologist (ears, nose, throat doctor, 耳鼻咽喉科) first. After being examined, you can find out the causative agent of your allergy and the strength of the allergic reaction, and you can receive medicine for your allergy. It is important to go to a hospital and take medicine according to the doctor’s instruction because the type and amount of medicine changes depending on your symptoms. I go to an otorhinolaryngologist and receive treatment. Treatment is usually not painful at all, and it can temporarily remove nasal congestion. There are cases where receiving treatment before pollen disperses can help delay the onset of the symptoms and make the symptoms milder. Therefore, you should go to an otorhinolaryngologist when you feel symptoms of hay fever may be developing.

Hay Fever

To prevent aggravation of the symptoms, there are a few steps you should take. When you go out, you should wear a mask and glasses. When you return home, you should enter your room after brushing off the pollen from your clothes and hair. In addition, it is important to avoid wearing clothing made of fabric or material that pollen may cling to, like wool. Also, it is important to avoid drying the laundry and airing a futon outside

As with any illness, when you notice a symptom that worries you, you should go to a hospital. In kokoka, there is a handbook called “Easy Living in Kyoto”. In this handbook, it has information about hospitals with foreign language interpretation services. You can see it from the website*.


KANAYA Chinami

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Borrowing Scenery of the Garden of Entsuji Temple

Borrowing Scenery of Entsuji Temple

Borrowing Scenery of Entsuji Temple 
[enlarge the photo]

There are a variety of techniques used in designing a garden. Among them, borrowed scenery (借景, shakkei) is a technique where the garden makes use of the surrounding scenery such as the mountains or trees, visually incorporating them into the garden. It presents a grand and integrated beauty. Examples of famous borrowing scenery are: the garden of Shugakuin Imperial Villa and Katsura Imperial Villa. Although, the garden of Entsuji Temple* in the Iwakura area of Kyoto city is not well known, it uses borrowing scenery very well with Mount Hiei. The Temple, 12 km north from Kyoto Station, stands at the tranquil base of the Kitayama Mountains. Mt. Hiei is 850 meters high and is known as the Mt. Fuji of Kyoto. However, you don’t need to look up to see the mountain from the temple, because it sits 5 km to the east of the temple.

The construction of the garden goes back to the 1630s under the reign of Emperor Gominoo (also called Gomizunoo). In order to search a good place for a relaxing retreat, the Emperor looked around Kyoto for more than 10 years and finally he screened out the place, Iwakura. There is nothing to block out the view of Mt. Hiei over the garden. It is far more grand to see it from here than to see from downtown Kyoto as it shows its magnificent panoramic view.

The garden has a natural frame to visually build Mt. Hiei into the garden. The inside of the frame is like a canvas for painting. The bottom of the canvas is the fence with about 50 varieties of trimmed plants including sazanka, a kind of camellia. The top are the branches of cypress or cedar. The sides are the trunks of the cypress or cedar. On this canvas, the sky as well as the Mt. Hiei is perfectly laid out. You would not be able to see any scenery of the four seasons more beautiful in Kyoto than here; cherry trees full blossom in spring, green leaves in summer, tinted leaves of trees in autumn, and the snowfall in winter. The most beautiful borrowing scene of Entsuji is a momentary changing of light and hue from sunrise to sunset. It would have been great if Claude Monet, an outstanding impressionist painter, could paint it in series throughout the day and seasons.

* Address: 389 Hataeda-cho Iwakura Sakyo-ku Kyoto-shi

FURUTA Tomiyoshi

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Never a Same Experience, Concerts in Kyoto
  - Report of AKI-RA sunrise’s concert

AKI-RA sunrise

In Kyoto, you can enjoy concerts at various unique places. Kyoto hosts large outdoor music festival such as the Kyoto Music Exhibition held in Umekoji Park or the Star Festival held at Kyoto STIHL (R) Forest (Nantan city). You can also enjoy concerts at the club “Takutaku”, which was renovated from an old storehouse and other typical places that represent Kyoto, such as the temples and shrines. I would like to report the appeal of concerts in Kyoto through one artist, “AKI-RA sunrise”, whose concerts I experienced a few days ago at a machiya (traditional townhouse) and at a restaurant.

Mr. AKI-RA is an impromptu musician born in Kyoto. I highly suggest watching one of his performances on his website*. His performance using a variety of old and new musical instruments will amaze you. His origins of becoming a musician began at the age of 18, when he was traveling to Spain and Morocco. He communicated with the locals using an East-African musical instrument “Djembe” and was moved by the experience. His goal is to harmonize regions, people, nature and the Earth through music.

I saw his performance for the first time at a machiya called “Bonjour! Gendai Bunmei”. When he performed with the instrument “hang”, the sounds were like waves, producing a resonating and pure sound. It seemed to gently envelope me and made me want to live life pure, like this sound. And I felt solemn, because his performance was not directed at the audience but directed towards an even bigger existence. When I told that to Mr. AKI-RA, he said, “the theme of my sounds is 'to tune with the Earth'.” I thought he meant to play the most suitable harmony for that time and space. But I later found out that it has deeper meaning.

A live show was held at Mr. AKI-RA’s favorite restaurant “Icchomai” with dinner served during breaks. Mr. AKI-RA said, “As everyone takes in the same foods, the same energy, everyone there starts to meld and become in tune with one another, resonating and aligning, enabling us to sympathize and relate with each other.” I think the reason why Mr. AKI-RA plays music at various locations is, it is interesting to play music by feeling the story of the place, people, and the elements and those give him inspiration. I was moved when I felt a relationship form with the people that gathered here by chance at his concert along with being moved by his performance. I thought this was what he meant by the meaning of “to tune with the Earth”. Please enjoy the concerts held in Kyoto. Thank you.

Great news for everyone who is interested in hearing Mr. AKI-RA’s performance! At the Rinpa** 400 year anniversary projection mapping Mr. AKI-RA’s recordings will be used at the event. This event will be held at the Kyoto National Museum from March 12 through March 15. Advanced booking is necessary to participate in the event***. Admission is free, please feel free to go and watch.

** Rinpa is a school of Japanese painting. The founders are TAWARAYA Sotatsu, OGATA Korin, etc.

OHARA Manabu, translated by KAMEDA Chiakii

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kokoka news * * kokusai koryu kaikan news

"kokokon" - Global Matchmaking Party at kokoka!

Come and meet lots of people from different cultures at our fun and casual get-together at kokoka.

We are hosting this event for singles, Japanese and foreign alike, as an opportunity to exchange language, culture, and friendship.

We encourage you to leave your worries behind and open the door to a new future!

  • ◆Date & Time: March 8, 2015, Sunday, 2:00 p.m.-6:00 p.m.
  • ◆Place: kokoka Kyoto International Community House (6 min on foot from Keage Station on the Tozai subway line)
  • ◆Participants: Single people in their 30’s and 40’s, both Japanese and foreigners, 50 men and 50 women
  • ◆Requirements: Foreign applicants must live in Japan. Japanese applicants must reside or work in Kyoto
     *If the number of applicants exceeds the limit, participants will be selected by lottery
  • ◆Participation Fee (Includes Snacks and Drinks):
     Foreigner 2,000 yen, Japanese 3,500 yen
  • ◆Activities: Workshop, quiz, games and party

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Library Letter - Kyoto International community House Library

kokoka recommends this book

The World of Hina dolls

Japanese Calligraphy IT’S A SHODO WORLD

Publisher: Publisher: Yomiuri Newspaper,1987

In various parts of Japan, there is an old tradition of displaying hina dolls. They are even depicted in ukiyo-e (Japanese Woodblock Printing) and the dolls vary from place to place and have also changed over time.

In this book, you can see pictures of the ox-drawn cart figures, the detailed drawers at the base of the stage, and the rice crackers and cakes beautifully arranged.

Also in this book, they show the Hina Nagashi, an event in Nara prefecture, where they let hina dolls flow down the river. This event is also held in Kyoto at Shimogamo Shrine and we recommend everyone to attend

* Many events are mentioned in the book but there may be a few events that have been cancelled since the publication of this book. Please make sure to check before going to the event.

A professionally made Hina doll is certainly beautiful but did you know you can also make your own hina doll using origami? With the book,“Origami in Your Life” [Touhoushuppan, 1996], you can follow along, step-by-step to make a hina doll. Why not try and make your very own hina doll this year?

The book also has instructions to make other things such as an ancient Japanese battle helmet, a ship, and even chopstick rests and envelopes.

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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 / Kevin ROBERTS / MATSUNAGA Yuko / Megan ROBERTS / NAKAGAWA Satomi / OHARA Manabu / OKAMOTO Yuko / SUZUKI Hidetoshi / SUZUKI Shoichiro / YAMASHITA Motoyo / Yoshinori TAKEDA / YUZAWA Kimio / WANG Xiaoqin

Editor of this WEB page

KANAYA Chinami

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