How about exploring Kyōto*?

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IWAI Nicolas (America)

Me and my relatives from Wakayama

Me and my relatives
from Wakayama

I am a Japanese American from Illinois, USA. Since I am half Japanese, I was first introduced to Japanese culture at a very young age. I watched a lot of Studio Ghibli movies with my family and ate Japanese food, such as umeboshi and rāmen. As I continued to learn more about Japan, my interest in the culture and language grew more and more. Naturally, I wanted to come to Japan to see all of the historical sites, learn the language, and meet my relatives, who live in Wakayama prefecture, for the first time. On July 23rd, 2017, I finally got my wish! I am now living in Kyōto City and working as an Assistant language teacher through the Japan Exchange Teaching (JET) Program. To fully enjoy my stay here, I have been exploring as much of Kyōto city as I can.

Since this is my first time in Japan, I am still getting used to my new environment and dealing with homesickness. To grow familiar with the city, I have kept myself busy. I am playing badminton with a club every week, visiting my relatives, and volunteering at the kokoka Kyōto International Community House. Kokoka helps foreigners who are travelling or living in Kyōto. They give advice on living in Kyōto and tourist sites. Moreover, they wish to help the spread of foreign cultures throughout Kyōto city. I have recently joined the “Life in Kyoto“ newsletter team as a new English editor. Through this opportunity, I can meet new people, share my experiences with this newsletter’s readers and keep my English ability sharp.

Sanjūsangendō Temple

Sanjūsangendō Temple

In Kyōto, one of my favorite things to do is to see the amazing shrines and temples. There are two temples that I recommend to you. The first temple is Sanjūsangendō, also known as “The Hall of the Lotus King”. It is famous for having 1029 statues inside and being the longest (120 m/393 ft) wooden structure in Japan. In the middle of the temple, there is a giant golden statue of Kannon. On Kannon’s left and right side there are 1000 human-sized Kannon statues with 28 attendant and guardian statues standing in front. It is a breath-taking sight, that will make it hard to look away.

Konkai Kōmyōji temple entrance

Konkai Kōmyōji temple entrance

The second temple is Konkai Kōmyōji. I think that less people know about this temple. I have met people born in Kyōto who have not gone to Konkai Kōmyōji! In my case, I accidentally found this temple when I was on my lunch break. I was walking around my school’s neighborhood when I found a patch of temples with a large sanmon gate (a gate which symbolizes the path to Buddhist enlightenment). Upon entering the temple, you will see a massive washitsu (traditional Japanese style room lined with tatami floor mats) with two large, decorated pillar-like structures hanging from the ceiling and stone statues standing along the back wall. There is a peaceful beauty to this temple that I enjoy. After admiring this temple’s beauty, I recommend getting mitarashi dango (grilled rice dumplings served with sweet and salty sauce) at the shop right in front of the temple entrance. It only costs 100 yen for three skewers!

I am very happy that I get to live in Kyōto city. Even though I have already found so much, there is still plenty hidden in this wonderful city. As you enjoy Kyōto, don’t forget to see Sanjūsangendō and Konkai Kōmyōji. They both have a peaceful and spiritual atmosphere that you must experience. After seeing these temples, I challenge you to find a temple yourself! With all of the temples and shrines in Kyōto city, it shouldn’t be difficult.

* Pronunciation tip: any vowel with a macron over it (ā, ī, ū, ē, ō) has a “long” vowel sound, 1.5 to 2 times longer than the regular vowel sound

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Kyōto’s Speciality: Sugukizuke

~The Making of Sugukizuke ~

Suguki plant ready for pickling

Suguki plant
ready for pickling

Have any of you ever eaten sugukizuke? All over Japan, many regions boast a variety of local tsukemono (Japanese pickles), and Kyoto also has many different types. In this article, I’m going to introduce sugukizuke, one of the three major pickles of Kyoto.

Upon writing this article, I visited Mr. Naotsugu Tani’s workshop, who ships sugukizuke, and learnt about the pickle. Sugukizuke is made from suguki, a type of parsnip, and it is said that it originated from that that was originally grown in a garden of a Shinto priest who gave his services to Kamigamo Shrine. Apparently, suguki would be pickled by priests of Shinto Shrines, and was valued as an offering to the Imperial Court, or as a gift to the aristocracy, but by the Meiji Era this was passed on to neighboring farmers, and eventually ended up being made in the average household. Incidentally, the seeds for suguki are not sold commercially, so each year farmers take the seeds, and save them for use the following year. Mr. Tani explained to me, that because of this, the suguki leaves and the fleshiness of the turnip slightly varies from family to family.

Pre-pickled suguki in the barrel

Pre-pickled suguki
in the barrel

The process of making sugukizuke starts from first growing the suguki itself. Every year around late August, from just after obon they plant the seeds over a couple of times, and harvest the turnip after roughly 70 to 80 days. Harvesting continues until December, and each year from November, the process of pickling the suguki begins.

Straight after being harvested, the suguki are peeled, have the corners rounded, and with the leave tops still intact, are generously salted in a large barrel, and then left overnight to be pre-pickled. The next morning from around 5 am, the suguki are removed from the large barrels, washed thoroughly with water, then placed into barrels for proper pickling, have weights placed on them, and are blended with the salt for a week to 10 days. Following that, the suguki are then placed in a temperature controlled room, go through lactic acid fermentation, and are finally completed. Mr. Tani said that at his workshop, the finished suguki are mainly sold wholesale to pickle stores.

Pickling process old style (back) and modern style (front)

Pickling process
old style (back)
and modern style (front)

Every year, the suguki that have grown the strongest are put aside, and in the new year after the pickling process has been finished, the suguki are replanted in the soil. They then wait for the May flowering, and gather the seeds? apparently as suguki is part of the Brassicaceae family, they bloom yellow flowers. Every May, Mr. Tani is careful to not crossbreed the suguki with other Brassicaceae plants that are blooming at the same time.

Mr. Tani also grows cucumbers, tomatoes, and Kamo eggplants, so working around the time when suguki seeds are planted, he harvests all of the other vegetables in August, and starts preparation for planting the suguki seeds.

I am in fact from Chiba prefecture, so I had never tried sugukizuke, but upon writing this article, I actually tried it. The unique sourness and the texture of the suguki was very good, and it would not only be perfect for white rice, but also for osaké? I think that I have found a new favorite food.

Sugukizuke, one of the tsukemono that Kyoto boasts. I hope that you all try it? you might just find the deliciousness addictive!

MARUYAMA Toru, translated by HASHIMOTO Sayuli

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Hina-Matsuri (Hina-Ningyō)

7 step hina-ningyō set

7 step hina-ningyō set

Do you know what day the 3rd of March is? In Japan, it is called Hina-Matsuri. Families who have daughters display traditional Japanese dolls, also known as hina-ningyō̄, in their houses. They do this to wish that their daughters grow up healthy.

Hina means "baby bird" or " child" and can also mean small or adorable, while matsuri means "festival". I think Japanese people find the word hina inherently cute. These days it is a common name for younger girls and can even be found in the top ten list of the most popular Japanese girl’s names of 2017.

Ichimatsu-ningyō doll

Ichimatsu-ningyō doll

Hina-ningyō has a long and rich history in Japanese culture. It is said that since the Edo period (1603-1868) people have kept their hina-ningyō sets in decorated, shelved displays, as shown in the image. Do people still display these dolls today? Even though I am a girl, I didn’t have a hina-ningyō in my house when I was a child.

However, there are still many Japanese households with these dolls. Depending on the family’s preferences and how many daughters there are in the family, the type of dolls and way of displaying them may differ. To show how much these displays can vary from family to family, I interviewed my friends and coworkers, who are women in their twenties and thirties, and discovered they still have dolls in their houses. Their responses were as follows.

Only child (One daughter)

As a child, I had a 7 step hina-ningyō set

Two siblings

I had a 7 step hina-ningyō set and my younger sister had an ichimatsu-ningyō.

We shared one hina-ningyō and displayed it until we graduated elementary school.

We shared one hina-ningyō in a glass case.

Three siblings

We shared the same hina-ningyō when I was younger. Now, I display Odairi-sama and Ohina-sama in a glass case for my 2-year-old daughter.

I had a 7 step hina-ningyō as a child. When we packed it away, we had to cover the dolls’ faces with tissues. The small pieces, such as the swords, are so small we sometimes confused which parts belong to which dolls.

I had hina-ningyō as a child. My sister and I had dolls made to look like us. There was a store where we could order dolls with similar features to our own.

Four siblings

My older sister had a 7 step hina-ningyō, and me and my younger sister had ichimatsu-ningy?. I intend on buying a small hina-ningyō, which does not take up too much space, for my 1-year-old daughter.

Even though I was raised in Japan, I didn't know that many people bought ichimatsu-ningyō for their second daughters. The reason I didn’t have hina-ningy? in my house as a child is because I was too scared of them, so my parents didn’t buy any for me -horror stories in Japan often include dolls. There is not just one rule of hina-ningyō and the decoration style differs for each family. In my opinion, this makes each collection one of a kind.

translated by HASHIMOTO Sayuli

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Korean Envoys to Japan

Saiunin temple

Saiunin temple

TOYOTOMI Hideyoshi, who acquired political control of Japan in the 1580s, invaded Korea in the 1590s, and it is said that as many as fifty thousand Korean civilians were brought to Japan as prisoners.

TOKUGAWA Ieyasu, the first TOKUGAWA Shōgun took control after Hideyoshi’s death in the 1600s. Since he valued the relationship with the Joseon dynasty, which was in control of the Korean Peninsula at that time, he immediately terminated the Japanese invasion into Korea.

In order to return many of the prisoners, TOKUGAWA welcomed envoys from Korea and concurrently cooperated with the Korean dynasty to build a peaceful relationship. There were 12 envoys, which started from 1607 and continued until 1811. There were more or less five hundred participants per delegation.


Tomb for Sōgon,
founder of Saiunin

Each delegation started at Seoul, continued on land toward Busan and began their voyage toward Japan. After a brief stop at Tsushima, they continued sailing towards Yodo port in Kyōto. While in Kyōto, they stayed at the Daitokuji temple, Honkokuji temple, and Honnōji temple. From then on, they travelled to Tōkyo and Nikkō through Tokaido, a road connecting Kyōto with Tōkyo, sharing their experiences with many people along their way.

At first, the purpose of the envoy was to bring prisoners back to Korea, and later to celebrate the new shōgun as he assumed the shogunate. From the side of the Tokugawa Bakufu (Tokugawa government), the envoy was a good opportunity for appealing domestically and internationally that Japan was under the governance of Tokugawa Bakufu and getting information on the Korean and Chinese political climates.

Although the primary purpose was to return prisoners, it is said that only seven thousand, five hundred Koreans returned to the Korean Peninsula while tens of thousands remained in Japan. There are many who continued to stay and pass along their culture and craft to the Japanese people. One of them, a Buddhist monk named Sōgon, founded the Saiunin temple in Kyōto. He was kidnapped at Pyongyang when he was fifteen and brought to Japan. He travelled and lived all over Japan until ultimately coming to Kyōto when he was forty-one years old. I went to the temple at Kurodani in Sakyō ward, a beautiful place of autumn foliage, heard his life story from the staff of the temple, and visited the tomb where he sleeps eternally.

The diplomatic letters, sent from the Joseon Dynasty to Tokugawa Shōgun, allow us to understand the complexity of both cultures. The pictures of the proceedings of the delegations help show the large populations involved. UNESCO added these historical records to its Memory of the World Register in October, 2017. Let’s take this opportunity to reevaluate the importance of peace and human right.

FURUTA Tomiyoshi

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Saint Valentine’s Day

For my dear papa!

"For my dear papa!"

February 14th is Valentine’s Day. It’s a day for women in Japan to express their romantic feelings towards men they love by giving them chocolates.

The name Valentine is an English name from the Latin name Valentinus. What kind of a man was he? Legend has it that in the third century A.D. in Rome the Roman Emperor Claudius II was having difficulties enlisting young men as soldiers for war. Thinking that these young men were unwilling because they didn’t want to leave their families or those they loved, the Emperor prohibited their marriages. However, Saint Valentine, a Christian cleric, secretly married these poor soldiers. When the Emperor, who was persecuting Christians, found out about this, he ordered Saint Valentine to acknowledge his misdeeds and renounce Christianity. Saint Valentine refused, so he was arrested and imprisoned.

While Saint Valentine was in prison, his prayers to God miraculously cured the sight of his jailer’s blind daughter. The rumors of this reached the ear of the Emperor and Saint Valentine was executed on February 14th, 269 A.D.. Before his execution, he sent a letter signed, “From your Valentine”, to the cured daughter, which is said to be the origin of the Valentine’s Day tradition in Western countries, where special cards are sent to loved ones on February 14th.

In Japan, chocolate has become the symbol of Valentine’s Day. This is said to have started in 1958, when a chocolate company launched a Valentine’s Day chocolate sales campaign in a department store in Tokyo. These days, many Japanese people now enjoy this new tradition. Although this started as a chocolate industry’s marketing strategy which doesn’t have much to do with the original Valentine’s legend, the part about expressing feelings of love to those you care about is still the same.

So, how do people in your country express their feelings of love to those they care about?

Translated by Sho

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kokoka news * * kokusai koryu kaikan news

Scenes of Life & Culture Photography Exhibition -My Favorite Japan,China and Korea

Culture Photography Exhibition

Culture Photography Exhibition

All kokoka volunteers are planning a photography exhibition to introduce the life and culture of people in Japan, China and Korea.

  • ◎Photos Wanted!!
  • ◆Theme: “Feel of City & Life in Japan, China and Korea” Photos should be of scenes of culture, custom or lifestyles of people.
  • ◆Photo Rules: Maximum of 3 photos per applicant. Size of photo should be 2MB to 10MB. Application
  • ◆Application Period: January 20 (Sat) - February 18 (Sun)
  • ◆Please check the website below, and apply now!
  • ◆Contact details: Kyoto City International Foundation (KCIF)
  • Tel: 075-752-3511 e-mail:
  • ◎Scenes of Life & Culture Photography Exhibition
  • ◆Exhibition Period: March 13 (Tue) - 18 (Sun) 9:00 - 21:00 (the final day close at 14:00)
  • ◆Exhibition Place: kokoka Kyoto International Community House

Experience Japanese Culture@kokoka- “Tea Ceremony (Chado)"/ "Japanese Language Class”

Hajimete no Ocha

Hajimete no Ocha

At kokoka, we regularly run courses entitled “Touch Kyotō Courses”, where introductory class on tea ceremony “First Time Tea Ceremony-Hajimete no Ocha” and basic Japanese Language class “Easy Japanese-Yasashii Nihongo” intended for foreigners are held. Both classes are once a week, ¥7,000 for 3 months (12 classes).

New classes are starting this April. Please apply at the reception counter (1F) after March 1st. Please check the websites below.

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Library Letter - Kyoto International community House Library

Kyoto Short Stay Guidebook
-Small accommodations selected by travel lovers -

Handbook of Japanese Cooking

Author/Editor: Arica
Publisher: Mitsumura Suiko Shoin Co.Ltd., 2011

When you find out that your family or friends from overseas are coming to enjoy Kyoto, how about selecting accommodations from this Guidebook for their stay? They may be a little inconvenient compared with hotels, but why miss this charm of Kyoto! It’s more enjoyable for your guests to feel Kyoto not only by sightseeing and shopping but also by the charm of Kyoto’s accommodations. There are variety of places to stay, from whole machiya (traditional wooden houses or merchant houses in Kyoto) to guesthouses to pilgrim’s lodgings…. Yes...they are all worth looking into, making us feel like staying there ourselves.

“Revised edition: Paris, Not in Guidebooks”

Congratulations! This year, the City of Kyoto and Paris, France will celebrate the60th anniversary of their sister-city relationship. At this opportunity, why not find out more about the city of Paris by reading “Revised edition: Paris, Not in Guidebooks” (Author: Inaba Koji, Publisher: Hankyu Communications, 2012). In this book, you will find not only the beauty of Paris, but will also see other images of Paris not easily found.

While reading this book, you may feel unknowingly drawn to visit Paris.

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Volunteer members of this issue

Writers, Editors and Contributors

FURUTA Tomiyoshi / HASHIMOTO Sayuli / IKUTA Minoru / IWAI Nicolas / KANAYA Chinami / Karl JANSMA / LIN Hsiu Feng / MARUYAMA Toru / NAKAMURA Yoko / NOGUCHI Lika / SUZUKI Shoichiro / SUZUKI Hidetoshi / YAGI Toshiyuki / YUZAWA Kimio/

Editor of this WEB page

KANAYA Chinami

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