Category Archives: in Japan

Kyoto part 8 (Saga/Arashiyama area)

Arashiyama (嵐山) is a famous place for sakura (cherry blossoms) in spring, and the landscape of the mountains with red and yellow leaves in fall. The scenery there is really picturesque. Arashiyama has been a representative sightseeing spot of Kyoto since noble families used this place as a resort area in the Heian period (794-1192). The Togetsu-kyô bridge (渡月橋), which hangs over the Katsura-gawa river (桂川), gives us a symbolic view of Arashiyama.

Saga or Sagano (嵯峨野) is another popular tourist area. This area stretches widely between  the north of the Katsura-gawa river and the south of Mt.Atago-yama (愛宕山). There is a small passage to visit sightseeing spots. It’s very convenient and pleasant for someone who likes walking when he travels.

Here I’ll show you what we did in these two areas. You’ll see we have strong legs.


Otagi Nenbutsu-Ji Temple (愛宕念仏寺)     Otagi-Ji Official Site

Around at 9 o’clock, we arrived at Saga Arashiyama Station, and walked a little looking for the bus stop, called Nonomiya (野々宮) stop. The bus went deep into the Sagano area, and brought us to Otagi Nenbutsu-Ji Temple. There was almost no one in the bus… I was a little worried, but this temple is famous for its quietness. Usually many tourists come to Saga and Arashiyama, but they don’t spend much time visiting places. They are always pressed for time. Fortunately we had plenty of time there, so we could visit many places (but still not all…).

This temple was established in the middle of the 8th century by Empress Shôtoku (718–770), the 6th empress in Japanese history. It was originally situated in the east of the Heiankyo (the former name of Kyoto), but the temple was terribly damaged by the flooding of the Kamo-gawa river and almost abandoned in beginning of the Heian period.

Commanded by Emperor Daigo (885–930), a priest of the Tendai sect, called Senkan Naigu (918–984), re-established Otagi-dera Temple. It is also said that Senkan wouldn’t stop chanting a prayer all his life, and he came to be called “nenbutsu shonin” (念仏上人), which means “Saint Prayer”. “Nenbutsu” is prayer. This is why Otagi-dera started to be called Otagi Nenbutsu-JiTemple. In 1922, this temple was moved to the current location for further protection of the hall and religious relation to Mt.Atago-yama.

However, restoration work was not going well. There were many difficulties. Then, in 1955, Nishimura Kôchô was selected as the chief priest of Otagi Nenbutsu-Ji, to restore the temple. With his arrival, “Shôwa no Rakan-bori” started in 1981. Rakans are stone statues representing the disciples of Buddha, and all rakans you see at this temple were carved by amateur visitors. Each statue is unique and characteristic.


“Sanbo no Kane” (三宝の鐘), the bells of the three treasures; the Buddha (佛), the Dharma (法), and the priests (僧). The bells send the mind of Buddha to nature.

Kokûzô Bosatsu (虚空蔵菩薩), the Bodhisattva of Space. His wisdom is said to be boundless as space itself.
(*more info later on this page  in the article for Kokûzô Horin-JiTemple)

At Otagi Nenbutsu-Ji you can get a map of Atago-kaido (愛宕街道).  Atago-kaido or Atago street goes down to Arashiyama. There are many sites to visit on the way!


First you come to Saga Torii Moto-machi (嵯峨鳥居本町). This is a preservation district for its traditional buildings. There are some souvenir shops too.

Adashi no Mayu-mura (あだしのまゆ村): this is a cocoon-doll shop. There are many cute dolls colorfully decorated. The one I chose was a princess in a palanquin. It’s very cute. I bought another one for my mother-in-law. It’s a good present for women! Each doll has a message strip hanging from the palanquin. My message says, “It’s a souvenir from Kyoto!” and my mother’s says, “Thank you to mom.” You can change the message. There are several versions. The staff were very kind too. They were serving tea to visitors!

Iwai (井和井): another souvenir shop across from Mayu-mura, specializing in bamboo products. Here, too, we were served tea! What a good service! There are various kinds of goods made out of bamboo. We bought bamboo cups. They always remind us of the trip to Sagano.

After shopping, we restarted to walk down the street and visited some temples.


Giou-JiTemple (祇王寺) Giou-Ji Official Site

This temple is also known as “Koke Dera”, Temple of Moss. When you step in its garden, you’ll see it’s a different world. It is very beautiful. It may be difficult for some foreigners to understand why Japanese love moss, but this is the beauty of Japan. We feel a long lapse of time, looking at this, and imagine how long it has been there. We think of this scene as the art created by time.




Rakushisha (落柿舎) Rakushisha Official Site

Rakushisha is the cottage of a poet, Mukai Kyorai (1651–1704). He was one of the ten disciples of a famous haiku poet, Matsuo Basho. It is said that there were 40 kaki trees around the house. It tells you how the life of the poet at that time was.

Have you ever heard “Shishi-odoshi” (鹿威し)? It literally means “scare the deer” in Japanese. It is a device to scare away birds and beasts damaging agriculture or gardens. When the end section of the bamboo tube is filled with water, the tube inclines, and the water discharges. The bamboo tube returns to the original angle, and then the bottom of the tube hits on the stone with a popping sound.


Jojakko-ji Temple (常寂光寺) Jojakko-Ji Official Site

This temple is located on the slope of Mt. Ogura, so you can get a full view of the Sagano area from there. In the Heian period, a court noble, Fujiwara no Sadaie, had a villa in this place, and in 1596 the head priest of Nichiren Sect, Nittei, established this temple as a place of his seclusion.


The Tunnel of Bamboo

Crossing the rail road, you will enter the bamboo tunnel. It is really amazing!

click (both photos)


Nonomiya-Jinja (野宮神社) Nonomiya-Jinja Official Site

In this magnificent bamboo forest, a small shrine stands quietly. But a lot of visitors !!!

When a new emperor ascended the throne, new Saio [imperial princesses] chosen by divination stayed in Nonomiya-jinja Shrine for a year or more to purify themselves before becoming representatives of the imperial family at Ise Shrine.

When a new emperor ascended the throne, new Saio would be chosen by divination from the unmarried imperial princess and queens, enter a Nonomiya that had been constructed at a pure place in Sagano and undergo a year of purification before going to serve at Ise-jingu Shrine.

After visiting Nonomiya-jinja, we came back where we were in the morning, the bus stop! And it was time to eat lunch.


In Arashiyama, we enjoyed traditional Kyoto cuisine.

Restaurant Ine [稲]: It is very close to Nonomiya-jinja and the bus stop. There are many shops around here. But I chose this restaurant because they serve Yuba [湯葉]. Yuba is a processed food made from soybeans. It is like skin of tofu.

 ← yuba

I recommend, “Teoke kumiage yuba gozen.” Teoke” means handy pail.  You see it in the photo above. Yuba is served in the pail. After you finish yuba, you put special sauce in it and drink it as soup. It is delicious!


Having had a great meal, we then headed for the famous bridge, Togetsukyo.


People, people, people … more and more people are arriving in the afternoon.

But anyway, our goal was not this bridge. We crossed the bridge, and continued to a less-known but “cool” temple.


Kokûzô Hôrin-ji Temple [虚空蔵法輪寺]

This temple is located halfway up Mt. Arashiyama. The Bodhisattva called Kokûzô is the principal object of worship at this temple, and it has been attracting people who wish for wisdom and artistic skills. Also, it is a guardian deity of those who were born in the years of Ox and Tiger of the Chinese zodiac.

And our goal was to visit Denden-gu [電電宮]. This is a tutelary shrine of Kokûzô Hôrin-Ji. Denden Myôjin, a god of thunder, is enshrined.  In the modern times, the use of radio devices is increasing, and in 1956 the then Director of Kinki Bureau of Telecommunications suggested that Denden Myôjin should be worshipped as the god of electricity and electromagnetic waves. This shrine also enshrine the spirits of pioneering researchers and entrepreneurs in the field of electricity and electromagnetic waves. A portrait of Edison, as a representative researcher of electricity, and another portrait of Hertz, as a researcher of electromagnetic waves, are hung in the Denden Pagoda.

Today this shrine also attracts many worshippers who work in the IT field.

You can buy some amulets and special stickers of Denden Myôjin. Denden Myôjin protects you during dangerous work using electricity or  against losing important data.

The view from Hôrin-Ji Temple is wonderful too.



The last effort in Arashiyama … we visited Tenryu-Ji Temple. We went back the way we had come.


Tenryu-Ji Temple [天龍寺]   Tenryu-JiOfficial Site  *World Heritage

Tenyu-Ji is the head temple of Tenryu-Ji school of Rinzaishu Sect. Its principal image is Shaka-nyorai. The patron of the temple in its founding was Ashikaga Takauji and the first chief priest was Mmusô Soseki.

Originally, a temple named Danrin-Ji was in this place in the beginning of the Heian Period [794-1192], which was established by Tachibana no Kachiko, Empress of Emperor Saga. However, after that, the temple fell into ruin over the next four hundred years. Then, Emperor Gosaga [1220–1272] and his son, Emperor Kameyama [1249–1305] , took care of the place and built an Imperial Villa, which they called “Kameyama-den”. Kameyama means “mountain of turtle”. It indicates the mountain we call Mt. Ogurayama today. This mountain looks like a turtle.

Ashikaga Takuji  [1305–1358] was the founder and first shogun of the Ashikaga Shogunate [1338–1573]. It was the beginning of the Muromachi Period [1337–1573] too.  He was a powerful senior vassal in the Kamakura Shogunate [1192–1333], but when Emperor Godaigo raised an army to overthrow the Kamakura government,  he sided with the Emperor. This is how the Kamakura era ended.

Ashikaga Takauji

Emperor Godaigo had been long planning to take back political power, but had difficulty in doing so. Actually he failed twice in his attempt to overthrow the Kamakura bakufu and was once banished to Oki Island. However he persistently refused to abdicate while Emperor Kogon was enthroned from the Jimyoin Imperial line.

In this situation, Emperor Godaigo escaped from Oki Island, and he raised an army with samurai who were not satisfied with the Kamakura bakufu. And one of them was Ashikaga Takauji. In the following year, Emperor Godaigo started a new government which integrated both court nobles and samurai with the Emperor on top of the structure.

However, in reality, the court nobles were more favored in the Emperor’s direct administration.

Ashikaga Takauji was terribly disappointed and came to think about re-establishing a samurai government. He banished Emperor Godaigo to Yoshino [Southern Court 南朝], present-day Nara prefecture, and placed Emperor Kômyô [from the Jimyoin Imperial line] on the throne [Northern Court 北朝]. This means, in our history, we had two emperors … and it is called the period of the Northern and Southern Courts, 南北朝時代 [1336–1392]. This state continued as long as 60 years.

During the conflict, social conditions were degrading. The Ashikaga clan also came to feel it was better to make peace, and finally in 1392, Ashikaga Yoshimitsu [1358–1408], a grandson of Takauji, reconciled with the South Court, which was actually weakening a lot during a number of battles. The two courts were put back together after Emperor Gokameyama [the South Court] returned the three sacred treasures of the Japanese Imperial Court to Emperor Gokomatsu [the North Court]. These treasures are the symbol of the imperial family.

After this event, the Imperial Court lost all its political power,  and more and more samurai were gaining power, which later led to the Sengoku Period [the Period of Warring States] and produced a number of famous Sengoku Busho [military commanders], such as Oda Nobunaga, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, and Tokugawa Ieyasu.

It is said that Takauji was actually a very generous and honest person. He felt really guilty when he heard that Emperor Godaigo died sadly in Yoshino. He was obsessed with this thought, and consulted a monk named Musô Soseki. And they decided to construct Tenryu-Ji Temple to appease the spirit of Emperor Godaigo.

However, at that time, there was not enough money to build a temple because of too many battles. Then he sent a trading boat called “Tenryu-Ji sen” to Gen [the name of China at that time] and made profit, which was used for construction of Tenryu-Ji Temple.

It is also said that Takauji was carrying soil with Musô Soseki for construction of the base of the temple.


This temple is not just beautiful but has a long long history.

We walked and walked in Saga and Arashiyama all day long. We were very tired but it was a lot of fun at the same time. Each temple or shrine has an interesting history. Please respect them when you visit them, thinking about their old old stories.

Kyoto part 7 (Abe no Seimei)

Abe no Seimei (安倍晴明) is one of the most popular persons in Japanese history. There are many novels and comic books based on his life, and some movies also tell you how mysterious this historical personage was.

He was born in 921 and became an onmyôji (陰陽師), a specialist of Onmyô-dô (陰陽道).


What’s Onmyô-dô?

Onmyô-dô is a traditional Japanese esoteric cosmology. It is based on Chinese “Inyô gogyô philosophy (陰陽五行説)“.

In Chinese philosophy, in and yô (陰陽 or yin and yang in Chinese pronunciation) represent negative and positive. It is the principle of duality. Everything has an opposite, and without the contrary force, the other element can’t exist. Life and death, male and female, sun and moon, fire and water … all things in the natural world are interconnected.


On the other hand, gogyô (五行) means five elements, Wood (木), Fire (火), Earth (土), Metal (金), and Water (水), which form all things in the universe. With these five elements interacting to each other and appearing and disappearing, things we see and we feel are also permanently changing and circulating.

These two philosophies were later integrated into one, and became Inyô gogyô philosophy.

When Inyô gogyô philosophy arrived in Japan, around the 6th century, it was accepted as a practical method in telling people’s fortunes, and then it developed little by little into Onmyô-do.

In the Heian period of Japan (794-1192), when Abe no Seimei was active, people believed that all bad things, like illness, natural disasters or social unrest, came from onryô (vengeful spirits). So Onmyô-do was under the control of the imperial government. It was a very important profession.

It was not until the middle of the 19th century that Onmyô-do was finally prohibited as superstition.


What did Abe no Seimei do?

Seimei was a master of Onmyô-do and thus in a high-ranking government position. He made calendars using his rich knowledge on cosmology, and used his spiritual power to solve various problems.

One day, the dog, which a court noble, Fujiwara no Michinaga, was taking care of with affection, tried to stop him from going out. Surprised at its unusual behavior,  Michinaga asked Seimei to investigate the situation. When Seimei practiced divination, he learned that the dog sensed Michizane was on the way to be cursed by someone’s shikigami.

*Shikigami (式神) is a supernatural monster considered to be some sort of a god (神 kami), which was used by Onmyôji. It is usually invisible. It helps Onmyôji to see through good and evil hidden in people.

Seimei used his shikigami to find who was going to curse Michizane, and settled the problem.

There are many mysterious stories like that.


Kanawa no Ido (鉄輪の井戸)

Kanawa no Ido means “the well of Iron Tripod”.

First I’ll introduce “Hashi-hime” story, which is considered as the original of “Kanawa no Ido” story.

Once upon a time, a woman named Hashi-hime, a daughter of a court noble, was living with her husband. But her husband cheated and married a second wife. Hashi-hime became furious and decided to practice “Ushi no koku mairi” at Kifune-jinja shrine (see the page of Kurama/Kibune). She stayed there for 7 days praying that she could become an oni monster so that she could kill the woman who stole her husband. Kifune Daimyôjin (a shito god) felt pity for her and told her to soak in the Uji-gawa river for 21 days if she really wished to become a demon. Then she did as she was told, and she became an org while she was still alive.

When she returned to Heiankyo (Kyoto), she made five horns by separating her hair into five parts, painted her face and body red, put a tetsuwa or kanawa (a tripod) upside down on her head, put torches on the three legs of the tripod, and put a torch bunting at both ends into her mouth. She scared people to death every night.

 One day, a man named Minamoto no Tsuna found “a woman” walking alone when he was crossing Modori-bashi bridge (戻橋) at the Ichi-jo Horikawa River.  She looked around 20 years old, and her skin was as white as snow. Tsuna offered to escort her saying that it was dangerous to walk alone at night. He dismounted from his horse and gave her a  ride on it. But after a while, Tsuna came to witness her changing into an oni. The oni grabbed his hair and tried to fly away, but Tsuna kept calm and cut its arm off with his sword.

Seeing the arm cut by Tsuna, Seimei told Tsuna to confine himself to his house for seven days and said that he would take care of the arm. Seimei, then, succeeded in sealing the vengeful spirit.

In “Kanawa no Ido” story, however, it is said that Hashi-hime couldn’t make her wish come true, which means she couldn’t become an oni. She was doing “Ushi no Koku Mairi”, but just the day before her wish was supposed to be realized, she died around the well, or some say she threw herself into the well.  Her ex-husband suffered from a nightmare every night and thought it was a curse from his former wife. He visited Abe no Seimei and asked him for help. Seimei made two dolls, one represented the husband, and the other one his present wife. Then, a figure with a tripod upside down on her head appeared. Seimei kept saying his prayers and expelled the vengeful spirit.

It is said that you can end bad relationships if you drink water from this well…

This well and the shrine stand quietly somewhere in a residential area of Kyoto…. It’s like this place is really hidden…. If you are interested, you can visit there. But be quiet. Don’t bother the residents living nearby.

Well, let’s get back to Abe no Seime again.


Seimei-jinja Shrine (安倍晴明神社): Seimei-jinja official site

Seimei-jinja Shrine was founded by Emperor Ichijo after Seimei’s death.

This is Ichi no Torii (Shinto gate). He used the crest of Gobosei (pentagram) as the symbol of Gogyô.

Shikigami is hiding behind Ichijo Modori-bashi Bridge.

Seimei-i (晴明井) is a well of Seimei. The water from the well was drawn by a magical power. It is said that by drinking this water you can  shut out bad diseases. Sen no Rikyu, known as a tea master, also brewed tea with the water from this well. His house stood near this well too (the photo on the right).

Do you see a big peach objet on the right side in the photo? In Onmyô-do the peach is the fruit that helps us to ward off evil spirits. You stroke it softly, and you will have its divine favor.

I also found a lot of Japanese bellflowers. These five-petal flowers are thought to represent the pentagram.

At this shrine, you can find various luck charms, and if  you are a foreign visitor they will offer you a magical sticker of this shrine. You just show them your passport. I also bought a special amulet sold only during the flowering season of Japanese bellflowers.

Visit Seimei-jinja shrine and get miracle power!!!

Kyoto part 6 (Kurama/Kibune)

If you wish to have a day in nature in Kyoto, I recommend you visiting the area of Kurama and Kibune. You can enjoy visiting historical places and hiking in a mountain at the same time. I like this area. It is rather cool in the summer too.

How to get there:

First you go to Demachi Yanagi Station (出町柳駅), where you find the Eizan-dentetshu Line (叡山電鉄), and take the train bound for Kurama. You will arrive at the terminal, Kurama Station,  after several stops, around 30 minutes.

I also suggest you take a Kurama and Kibune map given for free at Deamchi Yanagi Station or when you arrive at Kurama Station. It is very useful.

From Kurama Station, you walk  a little, maybe one or two minutes, to get to Kurama-dera Temple. And there first you will find an impressive Niô-mon (Deva gate). This is the gate where we enter the sacred area from the secular world. Once you get in, you should behave! No short-pants, no beach sandals!

After passing Niô-mon, you have two ways to reach the main hall of Kurama-dera, which stands halfway up the mountain. If you are determined to use your own legs, take the way on the left, and if you want to save your energy for later, turn to the right after the gate and take the cable car. This cable car is officially called Kurama-yama Kôsaku Railway, and operated by Kurama-dera. It is the shortest railway in Japan (191m), and the only one operated by a religious corporation. All staff are wearing “Samue”.  “Samue” is a garment that a zen monk wears when he performs sami, or duties such as daily sutra chanting and the cleaning of the precincts of the temple.

After the shortcut, you still have to go up the mountain to get to Kurama-dera Kondô (the main hall).

Kurama-dera Temple (the main hall):

In 770, Kurama-dera Temple was founded in the middle of the south slope of Mt. Kurama, with Bishamonten (Vaisravana) as the principal object of worship. It is protecting the north-side of Kyoto. It is also known as a power spot. You can get spiritual power there! Look at this tiger! They are the messengers of Bishamonten.


Another interesting story relating to this temple is Ushiwakamaru. It is the childhood name of Minamoto no Yoshitsune. Minamoto no Yoshitsune is a younger brother of Minamoto no Yoritomo, who established the Kamakura Shogunate in 1192. There is a long story between these two brothers.

・1156 Hogen Rebellion: This is a dispute about Japanese Imperial succession (Emperor Goshirakawa vs Retired Emperor Sutoku). The Minamoto clan and the Taira clan supported Emperor Goshirakawa, and these two families were gaining power in politics in Japan.

・1160 Heiji Rebellion: This is another civil war in order to resolve a dispute about political power (Retired Goshirakawa vs Emperor Nijo).  But this time, the Taira clan was for Retired Goshirakawa, and the Minamoto clan sided with Emperor Nijo. The result was prosperity of the Taira family.

In Heiji Rebellion, Yoshitsune’s father, Minamoto no Yoshitomo, died, and Yoshitsune was sent to Kuramadera temple, where he trained hard and mastered the art of war.

After that, he visited Hiraizumi, in the present-day Iwate prefecture, and the Ôshû Fujiwara clan patronized him.

Losing the battle against the Taira clan, the Minamoto clan was preparing to take revenge. The eldest son, Minamoto no Yoritomo, started to attack the Taira soldiers and finally defeated the family after some famous battles, like Ichi no Tani, Yashima, and Dan no Ura battle (see the page Shimonoseki). And the person who had given the most distinguished service in these battles was no other than Minamoto no Yoshitsune. Actually he was supposed to listen to Yoritomo, but he acted arbitrarily during and after these battles. Yoritomo was not happy about this because he thought his status might be threatened later by his competent younger brother.

Considered as a rebel, Yoshitsune again visited the Ôshû Fjiwara family and asked for help. The family head of the Ôshû Fjiwara, Fujiwara no Hidehira, supported Yoshitsune, because he didn’t like Yoritomo’s ruling power reaching the Ôshû Region. But he soon fell sick and died. After Hidehira, it was Yashuhira who took over as the head of the family. Yashuhira was, then, ordered by Yoritomo and put under big pressure to arrest Yoshitsune. Yoshitsune gave up fighting and killed his wife and child, and then himself.

This is one of the most popular stories in Japanese history.

Yoshitsune also has a lot of legendary stories too. Like, he actually survived and traveled to as far as Hokkaido, and there he met the Ainu people and planned to re-attack the Kamakura Shogunate together. Or he became Genghis Khan after crossing the sea…

It is also said that it was a Tengu who taught him the art of war at Kurama-dera temple. Tengu is a legendary creature found in Japanese folk religion and is also considered a Shinto god or a yôkai (supernatural creature).

 Image of Tengu (Click)

From the main hall, a long long mountain pass continues. You need good shoes.

It is the mountain where Yoshitsune was training! Not so easy. Even he needed to take a rest. This is the water welling from the mountain. Yoshitsune had some when he wanted to refresh himself.

The stone behind the wooden fence is called “Sekurabe Ishi.” It is said that Yoshitsune measured himself with this stone before leaving Mt. Kurama.

Fudô-dô: There is a hall dedicated to Fudo Myo-ô (a Buddhist god). And it is said that this is the spot where Ushiwakamaru met a Tengu.

Walk walk walk …. and walk in the mountain. This pass is called “Ki no ne no Michi.” It means the pass of tree roots.


Maô-den: This is a small shrine on top of an oddly shaped rock. It is said that 6,500,000 years ago Maô-son arrived on Earth from Venus. Maô-son is one of the Soten, and the Sonten means the triune god including Vaisravana, Saharabhuja and Goho Maô-son. Its body is formed from elements different from those human beings have, and it is in an eternal existence at the age of 16 and it doesn’t age.

There are some rocks on the ground by this shrine. They say Yoshitsune was training here with a sword. Do you see the cuts he left on the rocks?

From here, you keep going down the mountain… It is very hard too!

I think it is about 1 to 2 hours to do this hiking, and you should start from Kurama, not from Kibune. From Kibune, it is too steep to go up the mountain. And another good thing to start hiking from Kurama is that at Kibune there are many traditional restaurants. They are so popular during the summer that you may not be able to find a table (otherwise you make a reservation in advance). But if you arrive there after 2 o’clock you can relax and enjoy lunch rather quietly. I’ll show you some photos later in this page.

Anyway when you reach the Kibune-gawa River, you may find your legs shaking… Mine were shaking! But a little more effort to see Kifune-jinja shrine.

Kifune-jinja Shrine:

Although the area name is Kibune (貴船), this shrine name is pronounced “Kifune” (貴船) to show pureness and respect the god of water, Okamino-kami. The god is believed to bring rain. When people needed the sun, they offered a white horse, and when they needed rain, they offered a dark horse. And with the times, a horse drawn on the wooden plate came to be used as an offering, which is today known as “Ema.” This shrine is said to be the origin of “Ema.”

Kibune-jinja is also worshiped as the god of marriage, very popular among young couples and women. But on the other hand, it is also believed  as the god of separation. The god curses a person you want to separate from. If you wish so, you have to do “Ushi no Koku Mairi“: you place a curse on someone by nailing a doll representing him or her to a tree between the hours of 1 am and 3 am. But according to the shrine, Ushi no Koku Mairi is not for cursing, but for making a wish.

By the way, Ushi no Koku means the hour of cow. Kifune Myojin arrived at Mt. Kifune at the hour of cow, the day of cow, the month of cow and the year of cow.

The foundation date of Kifune-jinja is not known, but according to the shrine, Tamayori-hime no Mikoto, the mother of Emperor Jinmu ( considered as the first emperor of Japan), arrived here in the yellow boat, crossing the Yodogawa River and the Kamogawa River, and she enshrined the god of water here. Kifune is also written 黄船 ( yellow boat).

I didn’t see many people while hiking in the mountain, but I was a little shocked to see a crowd of people at this shrine. It is really popular. And as I explained earlier, those people come here to eat at traditional hotel restaurants. These restaurants are like the restaurants I introduced in the page Ponto-cho. They have tables on the floor which is placed over the river. At Ponto-cho, it is called “kawa yuka (川床)”, but here in Kifune it is called “Kawa doko (川床)“.

The restaurant I visited this time is Beni-ya.


Do you see a river running through under the floor? It is very cool and refreshing. And you see, normally the restaurant is full of people, but it was around 3 o’clock when we arrived here. We could enjoy our meal very quietly! If you don’t mind a late lunch….It is my advice.

They serve special river fish called “Ayu“. The dish name is “Ayu no Shio-yaki /Ayu grilled with salt” (photo on the left), and sashimi of “Hamo” (a kind of eel) with sauce made from Ume (pickled plum) (photo on the right).

Everything was delicious, and especially on the river ! Imagine you hear the water running and feel the fresh air coming down. We were 100 % satisfied.

I’d love to go back there again…

Kyoto Official Tourism: Kyoto official tourism site. English, French, Italian, German etc.

Kyoto part 5 (Ponto-cho)

Ponto-cho (先斗町)is a Hanamchi district located between the Kamo-gawa River and Kiyamachi-dori Street. Hanamchi is  a Japanese Geisha district. Many traditional tea houses and restaurants stand along the street. “町 (cho or machi)” in its name means a city, but it is not a city. It is actually just a street or a block area.

This area was originally a sandbank in the Kamo-gawa River, but reclamation work was started for the protection of the bank during the early Edo period, and it came to be called Shin-kawaramachi-dori Street.

Since this street runs along the Kamo-gawa River, some of the restaurants here have a nice panoramic view of the river. They have a special balcony overlooking a river, and it is called “Kawa-yuka”  (川床). Many visitors enjoy their lunch or dinner feeling the cool air from the river. The summer in Kyoto is extremely hot, so it is said to be a special feature of summer in Japan.

The origin of the name:

The name, Ponto (先斗), doesn’t sound like a Japanese word. According to one account, the origin of the name, Ponto, is found in the Portuguese language. Ponto may come from the Portuguese word “ponto” (point). But not for sure.

Another interesting theory was introduced in the Sankei newspaper. According to the article, the name comes from a Japanese card gambling term, sakibakari (先斗 in Kanji). Sakibakari means you bet all your money only for the first game.

There are several hypotheses like this, but we don’t know exactly where this name came from…

What to see:

Thinking about the origin of the name, Ponto, you should enjoy its history and imagine how the life here was before… The Hanamachi area is crammed with multinational restaurants and bars as well as high-class Japanese-style restaurants. Therefore, during lunch time and dinner time, this narrow street is flooded with people. To avoid the crowd, I visited there a little later after the peak time. I saw almost no one walking in the street, and I could enjoy my time quietly.

My purpose of visiting Ponto-cho this time was not for eating.

My plan was to find a small shrine hidden somewhere in a small alley.

Usu Daimyoujin God:

There are 32 small alleys linking Ponto-cho and Kiya-mchi dori Street, which run in parallel between Shijo-dori and Sanjo-dori Street. They are so small that they don’t look like alleys.

But there is a surprise! Take the number 5 alley, and you will find a small “hokora”(small shrine)  standing quietly in the kind of dark place.

If you don’t know its history, you will most likely pass by without caring.

Usu Daimyojin God lives here.

According to Kyoto folklore, there was once a racoon dog living in Konyaseki, Ôtsu, but Konyaseki came to be reclaimed. The racoon dog, which had lost its habitat, started to live in a “usu” (stone mill). The usu belonged to three persons, and they had an oracle. They asked a Shinto priest to purify the usu and constructed the small shrine. This is the origin of this small shrine according to the folklore tale.

I also found another interesting theory about this mysterious shrine. This was suggested by a professor from Kyoto University.

In the 16th century, a roman catholic church in this area disappeared because of crackdowns on Christianity. After that, however, the believers might have continued to pray using the “usu” as Deus (Christian God). The two words sound similar.

It is very exciting to imagine what was really happening in the past at this site… I love history.


Kyoto Ponto-cho NOREN-KAI


Zuisen-ji Temple: (on Sanjo-dori Street found on the north of Ponto -cho)

Another place I visited has a very sad story.

This temple was constructed to appease the sprits of Toyotomi Hidetsugu and his family. Hidetsugu was adopted by his uncle, Toyotomi Hideyosi, who had no young male successor at that time. However, after a while, Hideyori was born to Hideyoshi, and Thidetsugu became a great obstacle for Hideyoshi. In 1595 he was forced to commit hara-kiri under suspicion for treason, and all his family were also killed. Their   grave mound was treated badly and forgotten for many years. The flood at the Kamogawa-river also devastated the grave terribly. It was when the reign of the Tokugawa Shogunate started that this grave mound was rediscovered. Suminokura Ryoi, who played a major role in constructing canals and making the rivers of Kyoto more navigable, found the mound and felt very sorry for Hidetsugu and his family, and he constructed this temple.

I wanted to visit this temple to appease their spirits too. Life must have been much harder at that time than we can imagine today.


Ikedaya-Sodo (The Ikedaya Incident): (on Sanjo-dori Street)

The Ikedaya Incident was an armed encounter between masterless samurai formally employed by the Choshu and Tosa clans, and the Shinsengumi, the special police of the Shogun Government, in 1864 at the Ikedaya Inn in Kyoto. At that time, the Choshu and Tosa were planning to overthrow the Shogunate, and the samurai from the Mito and the Satsuma clans, were supporting the Shogun. Japan was divided into two.

Today, an Izakaya bar stands at the former site of the Ikedaya Inn. Do you see the commemorative plague in the photo?

This is a lumber dealer’s house, called “Suya,” where Sakamoto Ryoma was once living. He was a very important figure in the movement to overthrow the Tokugawa Shogunate. He negotiated for peace with Choshu and Satsuma, two powerful provinces that had long been hostile to each other. Thanks to his work, Japan could find a new way to modernization.


Last, I introduce an Odamasu doll. It is a traditional crafts product in Kyoto. By chance I found a shop near the Ikedaya Inn on Snajo-dori Street. They are sooooo cute. Find one you like. I think it will be a good gift!

Kyoto part 4 (Shijo-kawara-machi)

Shijô-dori Street is one of the main streets in Kyoto City, with a lot of shops and restaurants. It is always bustling with people. Not only Japanese but many foreigners are also walking in the street, looking for their destinations.

I’ll show you some photos of major sites in this area and give some practical information!

First I reserved a hotel room at Super Hotel in Shijô Kawaramachi. This is a chain hotel. Very reasonable and located with easy access to everything!  The hotel is also known for its effort to be eco-friendly in the operation. For example, if you stay several days and decline room cleaning, you’ll get a bottle of mineral water for free!!! There are many other surprises. I recommend this hotel as a start point of your trip.


Nishiki-Tenmangu Shrine (錦天満宮) website
Tenmangu Tenjin (Sugawara-no-Michizane) is enshrined here. Michizane was an eminent scholar and politician of the Heian Period of Japan (845–903). He was given preferential treatment by Emperor Uda, and then promoted to Udaijin (Minister of the Right) under the reign of Emperor Godaigo. He was leading a successful life. But he was also an object of jealousy to his colleagues. After being falsely charged by Fujiwara Tokihira, Sadaijin (Minister of the Left), Michizane was demoted to Governor of Dazaifu, the imperial office governing Kyushu, and then died there. After his death, a succession of natural disasters occurred, and they were attributed to a curse placed by Sugawara-no-Michizane. People were afraid of his “Onryo” (vengeful ghost). Then Tenmangu Shrine was constructed to appease his sprit.

He is today worshiped as the god of learning and business, Tenman-Tenjin, often shortened to Tenjin.

Try “karakul-mikuji” (a mechanical messenger of a fortune-telling slip).

Nade-Ushi” (photo on the left) is a messenger of Tenjin God. Stroke it gently, your academic skills will improve.

The Torii (Shinto shrine gate) of this Tenmangu is very unique. Since the buildings around the shrine were constructed without being calculated well, the Torii had to penetrate the wall of the neighboring buildings! Click on the image on the right.


Tako Yakushi-do Hall(蛸薬師堂)
A young monk named Zenko once lived in this temple. He had a heavily sick mother. One day he asked his mother what she wanted to eat, and she said she wanted to eat “tako” (octopus). He was at a loss when he heard his mother’s wish because monks were not allowed to buy or eat living things. He was thinking and thinking, and then finally decided to buy octopus for his weak mother. However, some people witnessed him buying octopus at the market and blamed him for his bad deed. Zenko was really troubled and prayed hard. Then the “tako” in his hand turned into the Lotus Sutra, giving out flashes of light. His mother was also covered with the light and then recovered from her illness. Since then, this temple has been worshiped by many people for recovery from diseases and removal of troubles.


Seishin-in Temple(誠心院) Website
The first chief priest of this temple is said to be Izumi Shikibu. She was a mid Heian period Japanese poet. She had a sequence of love affairs at the Imperial court. Her life was full of ups and downs.


Seigan-ji Temple(誓願寺) Website
This temple was constructed during the Asuka period (592–710) and moved to Heiankyo (Kyoto) later. However, the present main hall was built in 1964, so it is rather modern. The former priest, Sakuden-shounin, is considered to be the father of the art of Rakugo (comic storytelling). He was a monk at the time of the Sengoku period (Warring States/15th and 16th century), and was known as a great man of letters and master of tea ceremony.

Izumi Shikibu, who lost her daughter, shut herself up in this temple, and later she made a hermitage, which was the origin of Seishin-in.


Yada-ji Temple(矢田寺)
A merciful Ojizo-san (Jizo Bodhisattva) is enshrined in this temple. This Ojizo-sama even visits the infernal regions to save sinners. The bell of Rokudochin-no-ji Temple (Kyoto part 2) is to welcome returning ancestral spirits to this world during the o-bon week, and the bell of Yada-ji temple is rung when the spirits go home.


Hon-no-ji Temple(本能寺) Website
Hon-no-ji Temple is one of the most famous temples in Japan. We know it very well as Hon-no-ji no Hen (本能寺の変) or The Hon-no-ji Incidence. In 1582, Japanese daimyo Oda Nobunaga was forced to commit suicide at this temple when he was attacked by his samurai general Akechi Mitsuhide.

In this incident there are many mysteries, so many Japanese are fascinated by the history of that time.

The Hon-no-ji Incidence

Oda Nobunaga almost consolidated centralized power in Japan under his authority. Surviving the Sengoku period (Warring States), he overpowered many formidable daimyos in central Japan, and he was moving on into the west. For example, one of his generals, Hashiba Hideyoshi, who later achieved ruling power after Nobunaga, was sent to attack the Mori clan occupying the present-day Hiroshima. Like this way, Oda sent his samurai generals into all directions of Japan.

Nobunaga was staying at Hon-no-ji temple on the day of the coup. Hon-no-ji Temple is said to have been constructed to serve as an accommodation facility for Oda Nobunaga. After a time, the main hall was reconstructed for reinforcement, and a moat and a stone wall were added for security. It shows how cautious and vigilant Nobunaga was. However on the day when he was attacked, there were only 20 to 30 servants around him. Why wasn’t he more careful like always? It is one of the mysteries of Nobunaga…

Akechi Mitsuhide was one of the most competent samurai generals serving Nobunaga. Mitsuhide was ordered to go to the present-day Kagawa, Shikoku, to help Hashiba Hideyoshi to attack Takamatsu Castle, but he gathered his samurai soldiers at Kameyama Castle and said to them, “our enemy is at Hon-no-ji Temple!” They encircled Hon-no-ji temple and tried to kill Nobunaga sleeping in one of the rooms of the temple. Realizing something unusual, Oda felt hopeless and finished his life by himself. But his body was not found…

The reason why Mitsuhide betrayed Nobunaga is not clear. There are several hypotheses. Maybe it is because Mitsuhide was always humiliated by Nobunaga. It is kind of a revenge. Or maybe because he was ambitious to get ruling power. Some historians also say it may be because there was someone else behind this incident, who was controlling everything…We don’t know…

After the coup, Mitsuhide was chased after by Hideyoshi and killed by a farmer in the bamboo forest. At that time poor farmers killed samurai generals taking to their heels. It is called “mushagari” (武者狩り). If a defeated general was weak enough, even a farmer could kill him using a bamboo spear. The armor and swords were then taken away and sold to make money.


Takamtsu-shinmei jinja(高松神明神社)
Do you remember the story about Emperor Sutoku that I introduced in Kyoto part 2? He was defeated in the battle for the Imperial Throne. This shrine is dedicated to Emperor Goshirakawa, who won the battle.  When he was 7 years old, Takamatsu Palace was constructed and this shrine was also created as a tutelary shrine of this palace. The battle between the two emperors  also encouraged samurai warriors to gain power. The Taira clan and the Genji clan, who both later became important personages in Japanese history, sided with Emperor Goshirakawa. Realizing their power was strong enough to change the tide, they started to take advantage of the situation and came to take ruling power.

It is said that if you stroke your child on the head after stroking the stone which is used as the base of the Jizo hall, your child will receive wisdom.


Rokkaku-do Hall(六角堂)  Website
Rokkaku-do literally means “hexagonal building.” This temple is said to have been founded by Prince Shotoku (574–622). He was appointed as regent in 593 by Empress Suiko, his aunt, and he established a centralized government. “The Twelve Level Cap and Rank System” and “Seventeen-article Constitution” were attributed to him. He introduced the continental culture, which was more advanced than that of Japan of that time, and he also strongly believed in Buddhism.

However there are also many mysteries about him. Some historians even say that Shotoku-taishi didn’t exist.

The origin of Japanese flower arrangement:
On the north side of Rokkaku-do, there is a site where there was once a pond. Legend has it that Shotoku-taishi was purifying himself there. After that,  a small lodge was built by the pond, and a monk was living in it. It came to be called “Ike-no-bo” (a monk’s lodge by the pond). Today it is the name of the head family of a school of Kado (flower arrangement ) in Japan. The ancestors of the Ike-no-bo family were always offering flowers to the statue of Buddha, in the morning and evening, and then they became known as masters of flower arrangement.

Heso-no-ishi (Navel Stone):
Heso-no-ishi or Heso Ishi is said to be the center of Kyoto. When the capital was moved from Heijyokyo (Nara) to Heiankyo (Kyoto), Rokkaku-do was situated in the middle of the street. Emperor Kanmu sent a messenger to Rokkaku-do to make a request. The messenger said looking at the temple, “we’d be happy if you could move a little either to the south or to the north, otherwise we have to move you somewhere else.”   And then suddenly the sky got covered with clouds and a strange wind occurred. The messenger was scared, thinking that Kan-non bosatsu (Bodhisattva) got angry. Then, Rokkaku-do moved 15 cm to the north by itself. However the stone that was supporting Rokkaku Hall was left alone where it was. And this is the origin of “Navel Stone.”

Matchmaking willow tree:
There is a willow tree in the precinct of the temple. Emperor Saga (786–842), who deeply worshiped this temple, one day prayed that he could find a princess who was pure both in her mind and appearance. Then, in his dream, Nyoirin Kan-non appeared and told him that he would find a woman under the willow in front of Rokkaku temple hall. After he found the beautiful woman under the tree, he welcomed her as his wife.

There is also a small tea house at this temple. They serve green tea and Heso Ishi mochi (sweet mochi cake shaped “Rokkaku” hexagon).  You can find some souvenir goods too.


Where to eat!

To visit these temples and shrines, you need a lot of energy. Shijyo-kawara machi also has a variety of cafes and restaurants. Finding good restaurants is always difficult, but I feel in Kyoto good restaurants are everywhere, whether it’s casual or expensive.

TAWAWA: You can find this restaurant in Shimpukan (新風館) shopping mall on Karasuma-dori street. It is situated on the third floor. During lunch time it is all-you-can-eat style (1300 yen/90 minutes). For example, you choose your main dish from Meat/Fish, Pizza, or Pasta, and you can take as many other side dishes as you want. Drinks are free too. They use a lot of Kyoto vegetables and prepare many kinds of “obanzai” dishes (Kyoto-style home cooking).

Pizza grilled in the stone oven is excellent, and you can taste various obanzai foods.

Ichiran-ramen(一蘭ラーメン): It is located on Tako-yakusi dori street. They serve Tonkotsu ramen (noodles with pork-based soup). This chain ramen shop comes from Kyushu and has a very unique style. There are several rows of counter tables, and each counter table is divided by partitions. It is like a stable! My husband and I were laughing !!! Their menu is only their special Tonkotsu ramen, but they arrange the richness of the soup, the hardness of noodles, etc., according to your taste. You will be given a form which has several questions about your preferences.

Their ramen was excellent. I wish they would open one in Paris someday…

Katsukura(かつくら): this is a Tonkatsu (deep-fried pork) restaurant originated from Kyoto. We think Tonkatsu is a little heavy in the stomach, but Katsukura’s Tonkatsu is rather light. You feel you eat a lot, but it doesn’t feel heavy. They use 100% Japanese pork, and the frying oil (non-calorie) and bread crumbs are both their original. You can have as much rice and thinly shredded cabbage as you want, too. They are well selected (Japanese brand). Their Tonkatsu sauce is also special. They use a lot of red wine, and add apple and date to make it smooth and rich in taste.

I ordered the one recommended. It came with pork and shrimp! The waitress kindly told me how to prepare the special sauce. First, you grind sesame, and then you add their special sauce to it. It is really delicious.

Katsukura in Shijo-kawara-machi is found on Teramachi-dori street. It is just at the entrance of the Teramachi shopping arcade. We enjoyed tasting their tonkatsu at the counter table. It is fun to see the chefs frying a lot of pork!

Nishiki-shijyo  (錦市場/Nishiki Market): Don’t forget to visit this tantalizing street. It is also called “the kitchen of Kyoto.” A number of shops stand along the street. You can find everything here, meat, fish, sushi, Kyoto vegetables, green tea, sweets and many many more.

Goma-fuku-do(ごま福堂):This shop is specialized in goma (sesame) foods. My husband loves goma jam!

Miki-keiran(三木鶏卵):they sell a variety of egg dishes and sweets. One of their well-selling products is “an-pan” (bun with sweet paste in it).  It is very good!

You can find many more interesting things here. Enjoy shopping and tasting Kyoto specialities. You’ll never get tired or bored for eating in Kyoto. Every day you should try something new!