The Taste from Pure Kyoto Water

June 29, 2014

Sasakishuzo’s Handmade Sake

By Akari Yamamoto Kaho Nishimura










Kyoto’s food culture, and the traditions and skills of saké making are the most important considerations for Sasakishuzou, a Japanese brewing company established in 1893. The company’s location, near Nijo Castle in Kyoto, is known for its very pure and rich water. It is is called Rakuchu. In 2014, Sasakishuzo’s brand of saké named Jurakudai Junmaidaiginnjo (聚楽第 純米大吟醸) was awarded the gold prize for Best Japanese Wine-Glass Saké in one section of the Daiginjoshu Contest. Sasakishuzo has earned respect from several chefs of authentic Kyoto cuisine because its sakés suit these foods very well. This match is very essential for Kyoto cuisine. Sasakishuzo is not only preserving, but passing down traditional Kyoto tastes.


Sasaki Akira

Sasaki Akira



In spite of the fact it was early morning Sasaki Akira took time from his busy schedule at Sasaki Shuzou to have an interview with us. He spoke in  Kansai dialect, so we could feel a close relationship with him and he gave us a very warm welcome. Sasaki always thinks of Kyoto cuisine culture  so we could feel his passion of Japanese saké. He was born in April 1st, 1970 in Kyoto. After working in a sales position for an industrial-machine distribution company, he started the job of saké making at age 25. Now, through events promoting Japanese saké, he is out  to increase the number of  Japanese saké fans. At the end of our interview, we could take this wonderful picture of him with a bottle of Sasakishuzo saké.






KAHO NISHIMURA: What is the characteristic of Sasakishuzou?


SASAKI AKIRA: I believe the sake our company makes is the most suitable beverage for kyo-ryori (traditional Kyoto cuisine). When Kyoto chefs go to other prefectures to prepare Kyoto dishes they always take our saké with them.





IMGP0078AKARI YMAMOTO: We know you also make a non-alcohol Japanese saké. How do you produce this beverage? Why did you decide to make it?

Actually, it is completely different from regular Japanese saké. You know that non-alcohol beer tastes like beer, but our non-alcohol saké does not quite taste like Japanese saké. The reason why we decided to produce is related to our production schedule. We make sake during the fall and winter, so we are not so busy during the spring and summer months. We wanted to make a new beverage that used similar techniques to those of saké making. Therefore we decided to try and make a non-alcohol “saké” during spring and summer and sell it as a seasonal product.




KAHO: Do you have any rivals? Which one makes the best saké?

There are many sake companies in Japan. Big companies make half of all saké in Japan and many small local companies make the other half. The smaller companies —like ours— compete on high quality. We always make an effort to brew the best saké we can, but it is a challenge to get customers to choose our product when there are so many other high-quality sakés. However, actually we do not have a bad relationship with other makers. We are actually good friends and give each other help, so our relationship is not like real rivals. We all consider ourselves part of a fraternity that preserves Japanese culture. We believe that we should not be satisfied with just making saké, but that we have a responsibility to educate others about the unique food culture of Kyoto through saké making.

AKARI: Who are the people who come to your shop?

In a single day, we have almost one hundred customers. They might be someone who is visiting from another prefecture for sightseeing, or students on a school trip, or local people. On average, the age of most of most of our customers is from thirty to forty.

KAHO: We will write this article in English so various foreign people will see it. Do you ever think about selling your products overseas? What points about sake do you want to bring to attention to the people in the world?

I think in the future, we should introduce Japanese food culture with Japanese saké to the world. However, I hope to tell them that Japanese food is mostly very good because it has been refined by high techniques.


This candy is similar to a whisky bonbon, however it has Japanese sake inside. We can experience a new taste and texture.

Recently, Sasakishuzo is trying to make other special products with Kyoto food companies, a bakery and a traditional Japanese sweet shop. This new project uses thetechniques used to make saké. One technique is called 麹糖化技術 (converting rice with malt to make sugar). The two companies we are working with are Mangetsu and Shizuya. Both are very famous in Kyoto and some of their products are popular as souvenirs. Making sweets and bread that use saké ingredients with these companies is one very good way to expand the Kyoto’s food culture to other places. This candy is similar to a whisky bonbon, however it has Japanese saké inside. We can experience a new taste and texture.



Exploring Porta

By Chihiro Nakagawa and MayaInoue

When you arrive at Kyoto Station, the first thing that will probably catch your attention will be Kyoto Tower. However, what you won’t see are the crowds of people that fill the shopping mall beneath Kyoto Station every day. Many of them are visitors to Kyoto who come here to buy souvenirs before they head home.


One of many entrances to Porta

When you arrive after a long train ride, you may feel tired. Some of you might wonder if there are any cafes, restaurants or shops nearby. By descending the escalators or stairs in front of Kyoto Station you will encounter a huge underground shopping mall with all different kinds of souvenir shops, clothing stores, restaurants, bakeries, cafes, and even a Starbucks coffeeshop. This commercial zone is called Porta.

porta entrance2

porta entrance

Porta first opened in 1980 and was the first underground shopping mall in Kyoto. Later, another underground mall was built (with parking lot and subway entrances) below Oike Street, between Kawaramachi and Karasuma streets. Porta was refurbished in 1997 at the same time the new Kyoto Station was being built. In 2009, it was also renovated again on an even larger scale. In 2014, Porta will be refurbished again. Adjoining Porta, there is a smaller shopping area whose name is The Cube.Porta and The Cube are interconnected. There are many more stores in Porta, although the Cube features more fashion shops.


suvenia shop

Also in Porta there are several stores that specialize in popular Kyoto foods and souvenirs, such as yatsuhashi (a cinnamon-flavored confection), macha (powdered green tea), baumukuchen (a western-style cake). Of course, there are not only foods and sweets but also local products such as dyed fabrics, fans, pottery, tea implements and so on. There is an information office next to the centrally located Starbucks. And nearby you can find some ATMs. The office provides guide maps to Porta in several different languages.



Here is the Porta Shopping Guide. It gives you the locations of Porta’s many shops, restaurants, and cafes.  On the left side of this map are some restaurants that offer all kinds of meals—Italian, Chinese, deep-fried pork cutlets, soba noodles, udon noodles, deserts and of course Japanese specials. You can easily find toilets that are clean and easy to use on this map. When you open the Guide further, it shows pictures of the cuisine offered by the various restaurants and cafes in the mall. This is helpful in deciding where to go and eat!





One restaurant we especially want to recommend to visitors is Harvest. This restaurant uses only natural organic foods on their large menu.

Harvest also serves vegetables made in Kyoto, which are called kyo-yasai. The menu is good and healthy. Harvest is buffet style,

 so for ¥1500 you can eat a variety of different dishes and soups and go back for more. Of course, the other restaurants in Porta are worth trying too!


Porta’s theme character is called “Portan” (see photo). Portan can be seen entertaining people up and down the mall, especially during Christmas season. You can buy goods based on this cute character in Porta.

porta subway

Entrance to the North-South subway line in Porta

As you can see, there are many attractions in here. When you arrive in Kyoto in the morning, you can pick up breakfast and have a cup of cofee before you begin your sightseeing. And when you leave Kyoto you can have dinner and pick up souvenirs. Porta is an especially convenient place for visitors who come to Kyoto by train!


by Keisuke Togashi & Hosokawa Kenichi

Have you ever heard the name “Nintendo”?  Yes, of course, everyone knows this name because of games such as Wii and 3DS. It’s a world famous electronic game company.  I guess most of you have played some kind of game from Nintendo, but did you know that this company started in Kyoto?

The Beginning

On September 23,1889, Fusajiro Yamauchi, an industrial artist, made a company named “Nintendo-Karuta” in Kyoto city, near Heian Shrine.  This was the beginning of the history of Nintendo.  At first they only made and sold ‘hana-fuda’ and nothing else (‘hana-fuda’ is a traditional card game played in Japan).  Their cards were first sold in Osaka and Kyoto, and later became very famous throughout the Kinki area.  After that, ‘hana-fuda’ became a hit with gamblers, and the company grew bigger.  Pro gamblers used new cards for each new game, so earnings from card sales rapidly increased.  Yamauichi, however, wasn’t satisfied only selling these cards, so his company started to produce trump cards and began selling them in Japan in 1907. He also planned to expand his company with the sale of these trump cards, and to do this he focused on collaboration with a tobacco company.  This was because the packets used for cigarettes and the trump cards were about the same size.  They were also both used by people when gambling.  After successful negotiations with the Japan Tobacco Company, ‘hana-fuda’ became very well known to the public and were sold all over Japan.  Thereafter, Nintendo-Karuta became the biggest card making company in Japan.

Nintendo Headquarters

Nintendo Headquarters


Paper to Electronics

The first president of Nintendo, Mr. Yamauchi, died in January 1940. After his death, the grandson of the second president was installed as the third president. He introduced a lot of big hit products, such as Disney trump cards and rulebooks. However, he was not only looking at the cards business. He also had intentions on moving into management of the taxi, hotel, and food industries.  Unfortunately, he was largely unsuccessful in this.  Then, in 1964, the Tokyo Olympics was held, and people in Japan were very excited about it.  Following this, they finally lost interest in trump cards, and production was stopped.

Nintendo continued to invent a lot of entertainment goods, but they didn’t sell that well. It was then that a decision was made to go into the electronics field in the toy industry.  No other companies were pushing in this area, and it seemed the only way to make a comeback.

Nintendo Games

The first T.V game for the family was made to fill an order from Mitsubishi.  In the mid-1970s, a famous table electronic game, “Space Invaders” was produced and became a real smash in Japan.  From that point on, many kinds of games were made and distributed by Nintendo.  In the 1980s, Nintendo founded a new company in America call “NOA” Nintendo Of America.  At first, Nintendo in Japan tried to sell a game called “Radar Scope” in America, but it didn’t work well.  After this, another game was made with a character named “Mr. Videogame”.  This character was later to be renamed “Mario”.  In 1981, “Donkey Kong” was introduced and in this game, players had to move Mario around and rescue Princess Peach from the giant gorilla ‘Donkey Kong’ by jumping and climbing over obstacles.  Through all this activity, Nintendo achieved the honor of being acknowledged as the world’s best game creation company.

After the First TV Game

Next, Nintendo decided to focus on the market for businessmen who needed to kill time while riding the Shinkansen. From this, the first portable game, “Mr. Game & Watch”, was created in 1980.  The initial target was mainly adults, but many children also liked it, so this portable game became a huge hit in Japan. A few years later, the king of portable games, ‘Game boy’ was created.

Computer Games for the Family

1983 – Family Computer (Fami-Kon)

1985 – “Super Mario Brothers” (the first big hit game from Nintendo)

1996 – Nintendo 64 (first 3D graphics)

1998 – Game boy Color (first full color portable game)

2001 – Nintendo Game cube

2004 – Nintendo DS (first touch screen game)

2006 – Wii (first wireless remote and internet service)

2011 – 3DS (world’s first 3D portable game)

2012 – Wii U

After the success of the Super Mario series, Nintendo became more famous than ever. Almost every Japanese citizen knew the name “Nintendo”, and it soon went global.  No one could ever have predicted that the simple ‘hana-fuda’ Company that almost went under many times, would go on to become the world’s most famous game company.

Address and Access

Kyoto city Minami-ku Kamitoba, Hokotate-cho 〒601-8501

About 7 minutes on foot from Karasuma Jujo subway station (exit 3 or 4)
About 5~10 minutes by taxi from JR Kyoto station

Kyoto’s Top Sake Maker: Gekkeikan

by Yuria Shinya

Gekkeikan (月桂冠) is one of the most famous brands of sake, or rice wine, in Japan. The Gekkeikan brand is the result of a very long history; the Gekkeikan company has been brewing sake for more than 370 years in the southern part of Kyoto in area known as Fushimi.

Fushimi is an ideal place for sake brewing because of its natural environment. Appropriate temperatures and good-quality water are required to brew sake. In Fushimi, both of these important factors exist.

The city of Kyoto is set in a basin, surrounded by mountains on the north, east and west. These mountains keep Kyoto very chilly in wintertime. A cool temperature of around 5℃ is important to mature sake in a brewery. So cold winter temperatures created by Kyoto’s natural basin is why sake brewing became so deeply rooted here.

Photo 1. The Gokougu spring

Also, especially in Fushimi, there is a lot of high-quality groundwater that has been there since ancient times. One day in the Heian period (794-1185), rare and fragrant spring water started flowing out at a shrine in Fushimi. It was christened “Gokougu” (御香宮, see Photo 1.),by the Imperial Court. This water was soft and full of rich minerals. Sake made from this groundwater felt really smooth on the tongue.



Photo 2. Large casks


Sake used to be matured in huge wooden barrels (see Photo 2). Unfortunately, these are no longer used and sake fermentation is controlled by computers now.






Photo 3. Gekkeikan Sake Kobo

However, today it is still possible to see the casks and a traditional brewery, which was built in 1906, at the Gekkeikan Okura Kinenkan(月桂冠大倉記念館),which is where the Gekkeikan Memorial Hall is located. This brewery is named Gekkeikan Sake Kobo(月桂冠酒香房, see Photo 3). Here, we are able to see the process of sake– making throughout the year. At this brewery, 40 kiloliters of sake are brewed per year even now.



The Process of Making Sake

The traditional way of making sake is so complicated, however I will explain in a simple and concise way now.

STEP 1. Wash the rice

→ The grade of sake often depends upon the percentage of polished rice that is used. The rice grain husks are removed to make polished rice.

Casks for washing rice









STEP 2. Steam the rice

→The rice is steamed for around one hour.

Container for steaming



STEP 3. Making moromi (醪), the sake mash

→ Steamed rice, koji (rice mixed with the micro-organism aspergillus oryze), yeast, and water are put into barrels (see photo 2) and the mixture is allowed to ferment for 20~30 days. Koji  helps turn the rice starch into sugar content; yeast helps to turn the sugar content into alcohol.

STEP4. Squeezing the sake mash

Moromi is put in a bag and squeezed by a big press. From this process sake gains a smooth texture.

Tool for squeezing sake









STEP5. Fermenting the sake

→ The sake is then is fermented for one year or more.



Kinds of Sake

More than 50 kinds of sake are sold by Gekkeikan. Each of them tastes a little different. It is fun of to try many different kinds in order to find your favorite one. Below are two kinds of sake and one plum wine made by Gekkeikan. It is possible to sample these at the Gekkeikan Okura Kinenkan(月桂冠大倉記念館).


 Tamanoizumi Daiginjo NamaChozosyu(玉の泉 大吟醸生貯蔵酒)








Daiginjo means top-quality sake brewed at low temperatures from rice grains milled to 50 percent of weight or less. It is a really fresh and fruity taste. It is better to drink it well chilled.

Ginjosyu (吟醸酒, 甘口/slightly sweet taste)








Ginjo means high-quality sake brewed at low temperatures from rice grains milled to 60 percent of weight or less. This is a good, full-bodied sake. The label and shape of the light blue bottle in this picture is a retro design.

Plum wine








This wine, or umeshu in Japanese,  has a delicate taste and flavor of plum. Many plum wines are served as an apertif.




The Gekkeikan Okura Kinenkan(月桂冠大倉記念館) is in Fushimi ward in southern Kyoto. It is a 5 to 7-minute walk from Chushojima Station on the Keihan Line. Or it is a 10 to 15-minute walk from Momoyama Goryo-mae Station on the Kintetsu Kyoto Line. >> Access Map

It is open from 9:30-4:30PM. And it is closed over New Year holidays and the O-Bon Festival  in mid-August.

Admission: Adults (¥300); Children ,aged 12-17 (¥100); Children, aged 0-11 (free).
Please make reservations in advance for group visits.


There are more detail information on this website. >>The Gekkeikan Okura Kinenkan(月桂冠大倉記念館)





by Kenta Nakashima, Aya Suzuki, and Rie Susuki


Daigo-ji is a very famous and important temple of the Shingon sect of Buddhism in Fushimi-ku, to the southeast of Kyoto City. It was made a world heritage site by UNESCO, due to its wealth of national treasures and its historic importance.

This temple was founded in 874 by a Buddhist monk named Shobo, who, upon his death became known as Rigen Daishi (Great Master of Holy Treasures.) Shobo worshipped a local god here at Kamidaigo Mountain, and the simple hermitage he constructed was later to grow into the complex of temples known as Daigo-ji. This expansion came through the patronage of the imperial family, and notably the Emperor Daigo, who in 930 entered the priesthood after sickness forced him to abdicate. A very pious man, he was buried in the temple grounds just a few hours after he entered the temple as a monk, having taken the name Hokongo. Subsequent emperors, Suzaku and Murakami, also supported the development and expansion of the complex, with most of the main buildings being built in the 10th century.
The temple complex at Daigo-ji is spread out over two levels. The Kami Daigo is the upper level, and the Shimo Daigo the lower level. The five-storey pagoda here is a national treasure, and the oldest surviving building in Kyoto Prefecture, being built in the year 951. Kondo, the main hall at Daigo-ji, was originally built in 904, but arsonists set fire to it, resulting in its destruction in 1295. The present building was actually relocated from Mangan-ji, another temple in Wakayama Prefecture, and reconstructed on this site. One other great attraction at this temple, along with Sanbo-in, is the exquisite small temple building Benten-do, which sits serenely above the pond here, casting a majestic reflection on the still waters.

Along with many other temples in Kyoto, Daigo-ji was heavily damaged during the Onin War period between 1467 and 1477. However, much later, Toyotomi Hideyoshi pledged tremendous financial support, as well as personal involvement, in restoring Daigo-ji to its former greatness.


Built in 1115 by Shokaku, Sanbo-in is located in the central part of the Daigo-ji complex, and is the place where generations of Buddhist monks have traditionally resided. In Sanbo-in, the architectural detail is generally arranged for a specific purpose. A very good example is the main drawing room, Omoteshoin, which overlooks the whole garden. The design and aspects of this room are typical of the style of the Momoyama and Heian periods, when Shinden-zukuri, or mansion style architecture, was first introduced. This Omoteshoin is specified as a national treasure. The garden of Sanbo-in is also the garden that Hideyoshi Toyotomi designed himself for the grand ‘Hanami of Daigo’, a legendary flower viewing party.


Aoi no ma (The Aoi Room)

Kyoto has three major festivals; the Aoi Matsuri, the Gion Matsuri, and the Jidai Matsuri. Depictions of the Aoi Matsuri are represented in paintings in this room.

Akikusa no ma (The Akikusa Room)

Landscapes presenting scenes with good examples of foliage that typify and illustrate the season of fall adorn this room.

The Chokushi room (Chamber for Receiving Imperial Messengers)

Images of a bamboo forest with flowers and birds are painted on the sliding doors in this room. The paintings are Momoyama period pieces, and are said to be the work of the Hasegawa group.

Karamon (Chinese Gate)

This stunning entrance, built in the Momoyama period, was intended for use as an envoy gate, said only to be opened when a messenger from the Imperial Court arrived. The entire gate was decorated in black Japanese lacquer work, with four large gilded crests of chrysanthemum and paulownia in kinpaku (gold leaf.)

Kamo no sanseki

These are three rare shaped stones in front of the pond here, each offering a different representation or meaning. The left stone expresses ‘rapid flow’, the middle stone ‘still water’, and the right ‘interrupted flow’.


Okushinden was built at the beginning of the Edo period. In this room, there is a fine example of ‘Chigaidana’, or staggered shelves, named “Daigodana”. The Daigodana is considered one of the three major works of shelves in the whole country, along with the Kasumitana of the Shugakuin Imperial Villa, and the Katsuratana of the Katsura Imperial Villa.

omikuji (a written fortune telling)

Hideyoshi Toyotomi & Hanami (Flower Viewing)

The viewing of flowers is a traditional and time-honored event in Japan, and this temple is particularly famous for its cherry blossoms. So much so, that there is actually a well-known phrase, “Flower Viewing of Daigo” in Japan. In 1598, Hideyoshi Toyotomi held a monumental flower viewing party in this temple, which became known as the largest flower-viewing event in history. He personally designed and landscaped a special garden in the environs of Daigo-ji Temple for this affair, and reformed and rebuilt the temple on a larger scale to include it within Sanbo-in. In spring, many kinds of flowers bloom here, along with the approximately 700 cherry trees that were planted for the hanami spectacular, for example, varieties such as Kawazu-zakura, Shidare-zakura, Someiyoshino, Yama-zakura, Yae-zakura, Obeni-shidare, and Oyama-zakura. It is possible to see the blossoms of these trees from around the last ten days of March to the first ten days of April. It is said that Hideyoshi invited many people to the big event: his legal wife, noblemens’ concubines, 1300 ladies of the house, his son Hideyori, a high ranking feudal lord, Toshiie Maeda, and many more dignitaries. For this major occasion, the women changed clothes at least three times, and eight teahouses were constructed around the site to cater for guests. The women could also take a bath in some of the teahouses, if they so wished. Hideyoshi died five years after this, but he certainly added to his legacy with this party.

Today, an event to commemorate this is held on the second Tuesday of April each year. The main attraction is ‘The Grand Procession’ (hotaikou-hanami gyouretsu). Selected people dress up as famous historical figures, like Hideyoshi, etc, and march in this procession. However, you will not see any samurai in armor or with warrior’s helmets. Instead, they wear loud, party type clothing for viewing the flowers and blossoms. If you go along, you can enjoy both the procession and the gorgeous blossoms. It is truly a case of killing two birds with one stone.
Many events are held at this temple, and it is possible to witness and enjoy a variety of scenes throughout the four seasons. I’d like to seriously recommend you visit here and enjoy one of the very best traditional Japanese events, “Hanami.”

Information and Access

Address:22, Higashioji-cho, Daigo, Fushimi-ku, Kyoto City
Tel:(075) 571-0002
Open:9.00 am ~ 4.30 pm
Fee: Sanbo-in 600 yen
Reihokan 600 yen
Garan 600 yen
Access: Take the Tozai Line subway to Daigo Station, and then walk east for 10-15 minutes.

Toji Temple

by Maya Nogami

Its colossal pagoda or its popular flea market — it’s hard to say which of these delights Toji is best known for. A Shingon-sect Buddhist temple, Toji is located in the south-central part of Kyoto city, within walking distance from JR Kyoto Station. One of Japan’s earliest Buddhist temples, Toji was founded in 794, in the Heian era, when Japan’s capital city was changed from Nara to Kyoto. It is a registered World Heritage site.

Although everyone calls this temple Toji, its true name is “Kyo-o-gokokuji.” “To” means “east” and “ji” means “temple” in Japanese. This shorter name came into use because the temple was built on the east side of the legendary Rajomon, portal of the Heian Palace. And actually, a long time ago there was a temple called Saiji on the west side of the palace; “Sai” means west in Japanese.

Toji’s key structures are a five-storey pagoda, a kondo and a kodo. At 55 meters, Toji’s pagoda is the highest wooden tower in Japan. The pagoda was rebuilt many times because of fire. It was first constructed in 883, during the Heian era, but burnt down in 1055. Rebuilt in 1086, it burned down again in 1270. After these fires, in two similar cases, rebuilding was stopped two more times owing to flames. Finally, in 1644, the present pagoda was built as a donation by Iemitsu Tokugawa, the third Shogun in the Edo era.

The kondo is a temple building which enshrines idols. Inside Toji’s kondo are a Buddha statue and some Bodhisattva sculptures. The building is one of Japan’s national treasures. It is said that the first kondo at Toji was built in 796, but destroyed by a fire in 1468. It was rebuilt in 1603 and that structure still exists. To construct it, carpenters used a variety of different skills, not only Japanese ones but also Chinese techniques.

By contrast, the kodo was originally the place to take lectures or discourse. Toji’s kodo is one of Japan’s important cultural properties and in turn it contains many important cultural properties or national treasure images of Buddha. This building was first erected in 825 but it was destroyed a few times because of typhoons, earthquakes and the fires of riots. Rebuilt again in 1491, it has now stood continuously for more than five centuries. Carpenters who built it used only traditional Japanese techniques.

Some routine events are held at Toji, and “Kobo-ichi”, a monthly outdoor flea market, is well known. Traditionally Japanese have believed that the deities or the Buddha have had relationships between their world and ours at the festivals of temples or shrines. Therefore people believe that they gain more merit when they visit shrines or temples on festival days. During the Heian era, the priest Kukai, who was the abbot of Toji, died on March 21st. To commemorate this great man’s passing, people started to hold an outdoor market festival on the 21st day of each month. At first there were only a few kinds of shops, such as tea rooms, but from the Edo era, many kinds of vendors appeared, such as gardeners or pharmacists. Nowadays, the market festival is still held on the 21st of every month and there are 1200-1300 outdoor shop stalls that day. Moreover, we can find not only traditional shops but also second-hand clothing stores and antique stores. Every month, thousands of local people and visitors from all over Japan and around the world visit Toji to enjoy its market festival in the shadow of the great five-storey pagoda.


by Ayako Senju

There are many specialty shops in Kyoto. Mayumura, a small and fancy shop in Saga-Arashiyama near Adashino-Nembutsuji Temple, is in my opinion one of the best souvenir-craft shops to visit in Kyoto.

I accidentally discovered this shop when I was researching about Okuribi, the fire festival that is held in August in Kyoto, but once I visited Mayumura, I fell in love with it.

Mayumura is a very tiny shop and far from Kyoto Station, but I was very astonished by its warm Kyoto-like mood.

The name “Mayumura” literally means “cocoon village” and in this shop many small objects and mobiles made out of silkworm cocoons are displayed.The shop owner, Tetsuo Kamata (蒲田哲夫), opened Mayumura in the ’60s. He is called soncho in this shop — soncho means “village head” — so he is the chief of the Cocoon Village.Sachiko(幸子), who is Mayumura’s marketing manager, is Tetsuo’s wife.

What is Mayumura?

Two Mayumuras! About Arashiyama Mayumura

A new Mayumura outlet has opened in Arashiyama, and this one is closer to Tenryuji Temple and Keifuku Station.The chief’s younger brother, Yoshikazu, is a former office worker,but now he owns the new Mayumura. Working in an office didn’t much suit him, so when he was about 30 years old he decided to start his own shop just like his elder brother, Tetsuo. Tetsuo helped Yoshikazu search for a new location for his shop that was easy to get visitors.They finally settled in Arashiyama. Yoshikazu learned how to make cocoon objects from Tetsuo, imitate his calligraphy, and create cocoon crafts exactly like those made by his elder brother. As time went on, Yoshikazu’s crafts came to have their own originality.

The Attractions of Mayumura

Kyoto, the Silk Town

Tetsuo wanted to make a shop related to something in Kyoto, and thought about the silk fabric that Kyoto is famous for.That’s why he came to make these craft objects out of silkworm cocoons.Except for Mayumura, no other shops in Kyoto sell silkworm cocoon crafts, and the chief makes all of the objects he sells.Visitors enjoy looking at these miniature handicrafts, which are all crammed into the atmosphere of this Japanese-style shop. The cocoons he uses are sent from Nagano Prefecture.

The Warm-hearted Shop Assistants

Chief Tetsuo,his family, and neighborhood housewives all run this shop together.They offer a cup of hot green tea and sweets to each visitor, who can settle down and relax in chairs in the shop. This offering of tea and sweets is a way to show gratitude to their customers. The communication between the visitors and shop assistants is one of the real joys of Mayumura. Though the assistants only speak Japanese, they are able to communicate to many foreign visitors by using gestures. Sometimes the shop is crowded with people, but then visitors can just wait and sip hot tea.

Great Location


The Arashiyama branch owned by the younger brother is in front of Tenryuji Temple, very close to Keifuku Station.
The main shop is farther north, about 1800m — the same length as an unraveled thread of a silk cocoon.Even though the main shop is far from JR Station and bus stops, visitors enjoy getting there on foot.
The pink area in the map is a “preservation district for groups of historic buildings,” and many old houses and shops can be seen there. The road is narrow and close to the mountains. Nearby are historical locales such as Adashino-Nembutsuji Temple, Daikakuji Temple, Seiryoji Temple, and so on. You can see Tori-gate Mountain, one of the five mountains with bonfires in August, in the Gozan-no-Okuribi Festival.

Interview with Ms. Kamata

I asked Ms. Kamata some questions, and translated her answers into English.

When did you open this shop?

We opened this shop 31 years ago. At that time, Saga-Arashiyama was a dark and ominous place, so people used to be warned not to walk around there so as to avoid meeting with ghosts at nightfall. My husband, Mr. Kamata, ventured to open his shop there, and our relatives were surprised and said, “You are going to open in a place that is haunted by ghosts? We can’t believe it!” But opening Mayumura turned out to be successful. Little by little people came to visit, and other shops opened around here.

What is Mr. Kamata like?

He is very talkative. Whoever the visitors are, they can enjoy talking with him.A few weeks ago, he communicated with French people for one or two hours by gestures.Those guests looked like they had a really good time! He is very particular about his shop, so he makes everything by himself. He made all of these cocoon dolls, and even the design of the paper bags. He is a very punctual person, and has a schedule the whole year, every single day. This week he makes dogs, next week he will make cats, and the week after next he will make monkeys. Sometimes he goes to play golf, but he wants to sleep in his house, so he doesn’t stay in hotels. If someone wants to meet him, they have to call the day before they come, or he won’t meet them.

Do you and your staff speak English? How do you communicate with foreign people?

No, we don’t, but we often communicate with them by using gestures and simple words. I want to make sense, while they want to understand what I mean. It’s hard to explain… When we offer them tea and sweet beans, sometimes they put the beans in their tea! So I gesture to explain that they should eat the beans first, then sip the tea. It’s a common custom in Japan, but it may be confusing for them. By the way, one foreign tourist came and said that he wanted to buy only Japanese-style souvenirs. He traveled around Kyoto and searched for nice souvenirs, though he hadn’t bought any goods yet. But when he found Mayumura, he bought a cocoon doll. “This is what I wanted!” he said.


Markets Selling Handmade Goods In Kyoto

by Tomomi Nakashima

Do you like shopping? Or browsing the stalls of flea markets? And chatting with the stall keepers? If you do, then you’ll probably be interested in Kyoto’s Tetsukuri-ichi, or markets that sell handmade goods.

The entrance of the handmade market, Chion-ji Temple

The markets’ concept is to provide a place for people to show and sell the goods they’ve made by hand. The first market was held at Hyakumanben in Chion-ji Temple on April 15, 1986. Then the markets spread to Kamigamo Shrine and Umekoji Park. At Hyakumanben, it has been held once a month, on the 15th, since it started.  At first, there were only six or seven stalls, but now the market has grown to over 50 stalls. The market is so popular that a drawing is held to decide who can show and sell goods. Although there are some regular sellers, the type of stalls and their locations change each month.

A stall owner and the goods she baked

There are a lot of kinds of handmade goods, such as cookies shaped like cats, dogs and dolls that look as if they came from picture books and colored with natural coloring; baked cakes decorated with colorful polka dots; accessories which are made of wire and stone; post cards with written messages by the artist and illustrated with original characters; wool which is dyed naturally; and clothes printed with pictures of kabuki performers. Moreover, there is even a stall where you can get a massage!

Some of the stalls and handmade goods

Sometimes in the market, there is the stall that has accessories which are made by crochet. The stall owner says that the handmade market is not the usual flea market because people who are interested in handmade goods, and want to feel their charms and buy them, come. “I’m one of them,” she said, “so I can enjoy talking with visitors and other stall keepers. I feel happy when visitors have an interest in my work, and I help them choose which design or color is best suited for them. At Hyakumanben, people come from a lot of regions ― people who live near Hyakumanben, also visitors sightseeing in Kyoto from Kanto and Kyushu. I think it is the biggest handmade market in Kyoto, so it’s really worth seeing.”

You can buy various sorts of handmade goods, and on the other hand, you can be a stall keeper too.This is another way that you can enjoy the market.Although there are some rules governing the market, basically you can be a stall owner and sell your own handmade goods.In Kyoto city, there are other places where the handmade markets are held regularly.Inabayakushi, or Heijoji Temple, near Karasuma-Shijo has a handmade market on the 8th of every month. Its motto is to make a pleasant, warm, holiday-like atmosphere for everyone there. That’s because it attempts to recreate the night markets which were held every month during the Meiji era. In Shin-puh-kan, near Karasuma-Oike, a market is held which is called the “Art Market”. This is held every two months, and most of the stalls sell accessories and other small articles.Each of these markets has its own character and atmosphere. Now you can enjoy handmade markets in Kyoto on your own. Have a fun time!

What I bought at the handmade market

Ikenobo-style Flower Arrangement

by Tomoya Hirao; Yoshimi Morino; Yuki Fukuhara

Japanese style flower arrangement is one of the famous cultural traditions of Japan known around the world. We call them ikebana. Generally, all Japanese flower arrangement styles are lumped together as ikebana but we cannot say they are all the same. In fact, today there are many different schools and groups of ikebana. They arrange flowers for different ideas, purposes and reasons. Ikenobo is one famous school. It is in Kyoto. Its history is long and its style of arranging flowers and purpose are both quite interesting. What is ikenobo, how is it different and how did it start?

What is the difference between other systems of flower arrangement and Japanese ikebana? Flowers are generally known as the symbol of beauty around the world. Flower arrangements are popular in the world. Many people stick flowers in vases to wreath their rooms, houses and other places. Flowers are one of the most popular interior decorations but Japanese ikebana has a special meaning. It is not only for interior decoration but it also has a natural meaning.

Originally, ikebana was only done by monks or men and it was thought of as a spiritual practice. They arranged flowers for the gods and in order to clear their minds. They gave more meanings to flowers and created ikebana as a high cultural practice. In Japan, people do not say “arrange flowers”. They say “hana wo ikeru”. It means giving life to the flower. When Japanese arrange flowers, they make them look more beautiful but they also try to feel nature. They arrange flowers to recreate nature in miniature to see individual flowers which have been left behind. Ikebana is like one of the ways to communicate with nature. Over time, the ways and styles have changed but there is still the basic idea of ikebana.

There is one famous episode which illustrates the idea of ikebana. It is a story of Rikyu (famous tea master in the Azuchi period) and Hideyoshi (the ruler who controlled Japan during the Azuchi period). One day, Hideyoshi heard that Rikyu’s garden had beautiful morning glories which covered the whole garden. He asked Rikyu to have a tea ceremony while looking at those beautiful flowers. Rikyu accepted the order and told him the date to come but Hideyoshi arrived to find all of the flowers cut down and gone. Hideyoshi got angry, but when he entered the teahouse, there was a beautiful flower arranged on the dim floor. This single blossom surprised Hideyoshi and reminded him of hundreds of other morning glories which had been cut down. This was not just a single blossom, but one that reminds us the existence of hundreds of others. In this way, Rikyu attempted to make invisible flowers real through the visible.

As ikebana has its own idea of arranging flowers, ikenobo has its own idea, purpose and reason to arrange flowers, too. Their idea is to express peace through flowers. When they arrange the flowers, they try to arrange them so they show the image of a peaceful life. The flower arrangement got popular with common people in the Muromachi period. First, people tried to arrange them for the interior decoration of their house by using beautiful flowers but they also arranged them to show something. At that time, there were many wars. So, many rulers had their own areas, fighting each other to become the leader of Japan. People were tired of those wars and wanted a peaceful life. So, they arranged flowers to show the peaceful life in their design. Ikenobo accomplished this new style of flower arrangement. Predecessors of ikenobo respected the idea of peace and tried to express peace with flower arrangement. Of course, there are many other styles in ikenobo flower arrangement but this idea is the basis of them all. They thought that trying to think about the appearances of field flowers and greens is a respectable action. They also thought, without the distinction of flowers and greens, you could see a peaceful life in the arrangement of flowers.

As time went by, flowers were not only a religious offering, but people also began to arrange them for decorating rooms or personal appreciation. Then, people who are good at flower arrangement came out to the public places. Flower arrangements were created by Buddhist monks of temples as offerings. Most of those great flower arrangers were Buddhist monks. They contrived ways to arrange flowers, the combinations of many kinds of flowers, the balance and proportions of flowers and vases, and made the many bases of ikebana. Ikenobo appeared from the temple Rokkakudo in Kyoto and grew up there. Ikenobo Senkei, a patriarch of Ikenobo, had a good skill of arranging and he became famous in the samurai class. He went to a lot of samurai houses and made many beautiful flower arrangements. In books which have been written during this period, there were many stories about how he impressed a lot of people with flowers. After him, a lot of his followers made ikenobo more sophisticated and popular. Sometimes they got invited to the houses of court nobles to arrange flowers so that people recognized ikenobo as a highly qualified flower arrangement. One of his followers, Ikenobo Sen’no, formulated the ideology of ikenobo and wrote a book about the ideas and styles of ikenobo, and Ikenobo Sen’ei succeeded after him and made the book popular. Later, flower arrangement became popular in the samurai class and studied as part of the general education for that class. Then, flower arrangement spread to all parts of Japan, exchanging styles between Kyoto and other areas.

Even though flower arrangement got popular, ikenobo artists are still special. They are not like other artists of flower arrangements. They arrange flowers based on their ideas, purposes and reasons, and give life to flowers. Ikenobo artists arrange flowers to show the peace in them. Ikenobo artists put flowers in vases, arrange them, give life to them and show a peaceful life in a little nature.

If you want to see some ikenobo flowers and about learn ikenobo, there are some places that you can visit. There are three schools in Japan, Ikenobo College, Ikenobo Cultural School, both in Kyoto, and Ikenobo Ochanomizu School in Tokyo. You could ask for further information there. Sometimes artists display their flowers in some of the department stores in Kyoto. You could visit them and actually look at those flower arrangements.

Here are some pictures of flower arrangements by ikenobo students at Kyoto University of Foreign Studies.

Spirits of the Forest

by Akiko Omatsu
Fushimi Inari Shrine
At the foot of forested Inari Mountain in Kyoto’s Fushimi Ward, a short train ride south from Kyoto Station, stands Fushimi Inari Shrine, the main sanctuary of thirty thousand Inari shrines scattered in all parts of Japan. This ancient place of worship, which is the largest Shinto shrine in Japan, appears in the pages of literary classics such as The Pillow Book (Makura No Soshi) and The Gossamer Years (Kagero Nikki), but what most distinguishes the shrine is the enchanting maze of footpaths running behind the buildings and up the mountain, lined with more than a thousand closely-packed red torii gates.

These paths, which appear in the movie “Memoirs of a Geisha,” form a beautiful vermillion “tunnel” covering about four kilometers. If you walk up the mountain at a modest pace, it takes about two hours. In Kyoto, it is popular to come around the mound or small shrine up on the mountain, a primeval area rich in atmosphere. This brief pilgrimage is called oyamameguri. Along the way you encounter ponds and small waterfalls… and perhaps spirits of the forest as well.

It is said that the shrine, originally established in the 7th century, burnt down (along with much of Kyoto) during the Onin War (1467 – 1477). The present buildings were reconstructed later in the Muromachi era (1336 – 1573) and are now certified as an important cultural property.

The word “Inari” in a shrine’s name means that the shrine is sacred to a deity named Ukano Mitama no Okami (宇迦之御魂大神) which controls grain. The divinity of Fushimi Inari Shrine (and its many fox spirits) is said to bring prosperous business, big harvests, road safety and so on, so the a faith of many people in the deity is generous.

There are many statues of foxes (kitsune) around the grounds of the shrine. The foxes’ mouths hold rice or a scroll, or a key to the granary. They gaze at people, often from high positions. It is very funny because each face is different. Take a close look!

Within the inner shrine is a small roofed area protecting two stone lanterns, each of which is topped by an omokaru stone. It is said it that if you make a wish, and then pick up one of the stones with both hands, and you feel that the stone is lighter than you expected, your wish will comes true. But if you feel it is heavy, your wish will be unfulfilled.

Fushimi Inari Shrine has many festivals throughout the four seasons. For example, there is an Adults’ Day Festival in January, a Spring Festival in February, an Industry Festival in April, a Rice Planting festival in June, a Harvest Festival in October and a Fire Festival in November. The shrine also draws millions of visitors for New Years celebrations. Call up Kyoto’s Tourist Information Center for detailed and up-to-date information in English (Tel. 075-371-5649 ).

For access by train, take the JR Nara Line and to Inari station (two stops from Kyoto Station), or alternatively, ride the Keihan line and get off at Fushimi-Inari Station. It’s a short walk to the shrine from either station.

As with most Shinto shrines, entrance to Fushimi Inari Shrine is free of charge. Moreover, the shrine is always open. The spirits of the forest await your visit.