February 17, 2014

by Maria Kakiuchi and Akane Ogawa

Oiran was a kind of ‘woman of pleasure’ of the Edo period (1600~1868) in Japan. Unlike common street prostitutes, oiran were glamorous courtesans, who were cultivated in the traditional Japanese arts, the classics, calligraphy, tea ceremony, waka poetry, the shamisen (Japanese harp), and the game of go. This made them primarily entertainers. They were very popular in the brothels of the Yoshiwara in Edo (now Tokyo), Shinmachi in Osaka, and Shimabara in Kyoto. One can read about oiran in traditional Japanese literature, as well as see images of them in ukio-e, a genre of woodblock prints and paintings. Of course the oiran seen in ukiyoe works is more opulent than real.

The Way of Oiran

Back in the Edo period, sometime prostitutes were put on display behind bars for potential customers to look at. This practice was called harimise. Oiran, however, did not practice harimise. On the contrary, oiran took an active role in the process of selecting a customer. In this way, we might say that the oiran chose the customer, rather than the other way around.

If a man really wanted to be with an oiran, he first had to make contact with a tea house and have lots of money. Next, he had to engage in a three-step process to get together with an orian. In the first step, the oiran just sits and observes the customer. She does not eat, drink, or talk, but rather just gets a feeling for the potential customer. If he passes that stage, the next time he comes, the oiran gets closer to the customer, but doesn’t interact much. This is also a testing period. Finally, if the man makes it to the third stage, he can go into a room with the oiran. He must present her with a set of chopsticks with his name engraved into them, along with an envelope of congratulatory money. From that point, he is forbidden to visit other prostitutes. To do so would be considered cheating, and would be seen as a great insult.

What is Oiran-Dochu?

In edo period, the oiran would dress in their best costumes to go and collect their valued customers and bring them to the teahouse and on a special day. Then they would parade around the area of the pleasure quarter with their most beautiful and ornate clothing on display. This included the wearing of two combs, and six Japanese hairpins in the front and six in the back. This style of Japanese hairpin was particular a sign of nobility.

Differences Between Oiran and Geisha

Some people might certainly ask the question, “What is the difference between a geisha and an oiran? Aren’t they the same thing?” The answer is, “No.” Although they appear to be similar, in that they both dress up in beautiful traditional clothing and entertain guests, the geisha never were involved in prostitution like the oiran were. Instead, the geisha specialized in playing the host at private parties, with dancing, music, and games. In fact, the rise of the geisha corresponded with the fall of the oiran. They were much more accessible to the common visitor, rather than just for rich men who wanted sex.

Dress Up Like Oiran for a Day

Although the oiran have died out, the tradition of dressing like one still remains. In fact, you can experience dressing like oiran yourself right here in Kyoto! The place is called, Oiran Keiken Studio Yumekoubou, which translates into something like ‘Oiran Experience Dream Studio.’ If you want to take some amazing photos of yourself dressed like an Edo period Oiran, there are the steps you need to take:

1. Call to book an appointment. You should try to book one as soon as possible, because sometimes it’s already fully scheduled.

2. Go to the studio on the day and time of your appointment and the staff will give you some information about oiran.

3. Get your face made up by professional make-up artist. Then, if you have an image that you want to be, for example, looks big eyes, be sexy, pretty and so on, just tell your image to them and they will make it happen. It doesn’t matter if you are already wearing make-up or not when you arrive. They will take care of everything. If, however, your skin is weak or has some alleges, you should tell your artist about it before he or she gets started. It’s okay to put contacts on, but it could be a bit uncomfortable, so make sure you bring your contacts case with you in case you have to take them out. Also, if you really want to put on the make-up by yourself, you can. But there is no telling how it will look.

4. Choose your hairstyle. There are mainly 2 styles.

Classic style. This is a wig. Ornamental hairpins are the main characteristic. We recommend it for people who have short hair.
Modern stylehttp://search.creativecommons.org/
Modern style. This is done with all of your real hair. No wigs involved.
You can choose the hairstyle you want, and the artists will do it for you.
The classic style is popular with most customers because it gives them the traditional image of being Japanese, just like the oiran really were back then.

5. Choose a kimono. There are about 30 different kinds of kimono in the studio, so you can choose the one you want to try. Kimono are all the same cost, so you can choose the color and design freely.

6. Take pictures. A professional photographer will take your picture. The purpose of taking the picture is you get right into oiran. Then, the photographer will capture your beauty. A space is also provided so that you can take pictures with your own camera. You can’t have an experience like this so often, so this is a perfect opportunity to capture your memories of Japan.

Our photoThe authors of this article dressed as oiran.

7. Choose the photos you want to keep. If you see some really good ones, you can buy them directly from the studio.

Points to note

* Pregnant women cannot dress up like oiran, because of the tight girdle they must wear.

* There is no parking area. Therefore, you should come by bus or taxi. The studio is very close to Gion bus stop.

How to get there from Kyoto station…

  • Use the bus…Catch the bus that number 100 or 206 and get the bus off by Gion bus stop. Then, your back toward to Yasaka shrine and go straight the Shijyo-street. When you can see “Akaneya”(あかねや), turn right.
  • Use the taxi…Tell the driver “Shijyo-kiritoshi”. You go about 50m in Kiritoshi, then the place is left side.
  • Any photos you buy are sent to your house one month later.
  • It takes about 3 hours from start to finish to complete the dressing up like oiran process.
  • There is no age limit, so anyone can dress up like oiran.
  • There are people who can speak English, so don’t worry about language.

You want to make good memories in Japan, why don’t you try it!


花魁体験STUDIO 夢工房
Oiran Keiken Studio Yumekoubou


Kyoto-city, Higashiyama-ku, Yasaka shinchi sueyoshi86

Club Metro

Club Metro – Metro Daigaku

By: Keita Kitagawa, Miho Hosotani, Takuma Osawa

Club Metro was opened in 1990, and celebrated its 20th anniversary in 2010, now making it one of Japan’s oldest clubs on the club circuit. Since its opening, Club Metro has focused on the music media, and the dream and things that artists try to communicate through their art. Of course, it is not always easy to build a club culture, especially in Japan, and without the customer’s empathy, this could not be realized.

Today, in contrast to Japanese society in the past, we can gain a certain understanding and sense of value about “Club Culture” or “Subculture”. Since its 14th anniversary, all Metro staff have been in step with a new experiment to include exposure to art, movies, literature, and even Maiko culture. Through this, Metro hopes to open up a ”space” to transmit a wider vision.

Besides music, the main function of Club Metro is to serve as a meeting place for lecturers and researchers. It is a place where you should not feel bound by the outside world and where you can enjoy a variety of entertainment forms as well as original performances.

In the spirit of philanthropy, they also host many charity and community events, such as:

7th of July 2013,

Drums 4 Drums: 

A Fundraising Event in Aid of People in Rural Kenya

Drum and Dance performances, DJs, Great food and good friends.This was a fundraising event to help women and kids in rural Kenya, who have to make long trips just to get water for their families every day. All proceeds from the day were donated to help purchase Q-Drums, a rollable water drum that can easily transport up to 50 litres of water at a time. Please check out these cool drums on the Kopernik website. http://kopernik.info/

April 28th, 2013

Across the Universe:  An international party

 The purpose of this party was to expand friendship and respect among as many people as possible, as we are all of the same community of human beings. Many Kyoto University of Foreign Studies international students attended along with Japanese students.

 The main music played was 70’s and 80’s disco, R&B classics, soul, black music style…etc.  A DADAKAKA concert and DJ entertainment from DRAGON EARTH by Japa-Jamaican brothers: Dragon (Alex Tatzuma) and Earth (Hieroglyphic I poetry) was the highlight of this gig.  In fact, they are the Club Metro owner’s sons, and Alex is a Kyoto University of Foreign Studies student!  Besides all this, the event offered an international youth fashion show corner, where international students dressed up in their home country’s fashion and walked the runway to hip-hop sounds.


It is possible to reserve this place for concerts, parties for old boys’ or girls’ associations, or for the after party of wedding.

Students Party

  • Price Plan:

It costs ¥ 60,000 (5.5hours) More than 5 bands / groups (¥10,000)

¥500 (one drink minimum)

(It is possible to extend the time period if you pay an additional fee, but for every 30 minutes of extra time taken, a fee of ¥5,000 will be charged)

* If you want to select this plan, you will need to produce a current student ID card.

  • Equipment Rental

Guitar amps×2 / Bass amp×1

Microphones×10, DJ set ,/ Mixer and lighting effects.

Drum kit ¥3,000


Private Party

  • Price Plan:

It costs ¥80,0005.5hours More than 5 bands / groups (¥10,000)

Free Drink plan 3,0003hours

Buffet plan 1,0004-5dishes

Buffet plan 1,5004-5 dishes + hors d’oeuvre + dessert/fruit

  • Equipment Rental

Guitar amps×2 / Bass amp×1

Microphones×10, DJ set / Mixer and lighting effects.

Drum kit ¥3,000

Gallery Space 

It is also possible to rent the space as a gallery for exhibiting photos ,paintings, art work ,posters and so on, and …. Its FREE!!!


Access to Club Metro

  • By Kyoto City Bus and Kyoto Subway:

From Kyoto Station subway station take the Karasuma line train to Marutamachi Station.  Next, take a 204 City bus eastbound to the Marutamachi /Kawabata stop , and take a short walk to Club Metro.

  • By trains:

From JR Kyoto Station, take the Nara line train to Tofukuji Station and change to the Keihan line.  Next, take the Keihan line train northbound and get off at Jinguu Marutamachi Station . Club Metro can be found at exit #2.


http://www.metro.ne.jp/ Club Metro Web Site (last visit on 10th January, 2014)  

Interview with Alex Tazsuma, Club Metro owner’s son and Kyoto University of Foreign Studies student (On 2nd January, 2014)


 The Most Popular Radio Station in Kyoto 

By Kenichi Hosokawa & Keisuke Togashi

89.4. Do you know what this number represents? It is the frequency for α-Station,  the only radio station in Kyoto that services this city and the Kansai area. Founded in 1990, it didn’t begin broadcasting until July, 1991.

When they first set up a new broadcasting station, it was placed in office building in northern Kyoto near Kitayama Street. However, in 2006, they moved their offices to the COCON KARASUMA building, which is located just south of the Shijo-Karasuma intersection in downtown Kyoto.

What “α” means?  

The α in the logo stands for  an “Alpha Wave”, a brain wave measured on an electroencephalogram. It has the indicates a state of relaxation and comfort. So the  “α in α-Station means to be relaxed. 


There are many workers in the radio station’s offices, but only three or four people are in the studio at one time. For one program there is a DJ, director, and assistants who check the sound and the timing. In regards to the choice of the songs that are played, the staff members who are in charge will make a decision for that day’s music. Mainly, the programs are divided into half Japanese music and half Western music, which is very rare in Japan. But when there is a sudden change of the weather and there is some tragic news, there is a prepared list of songs and music to change the atmosphere.


α-Station ‘s concept is “More Talking, More Music”

The station does not only want to create a schedule arranged to the minute, but also present serialized programing. They want listeners to forget the time and relax while listening to talk and music.


Five Broadcasting Points

Target Audience

The Target audience is people who have a modern and fashionable sensibility, are playful, mostly aged 19~30s. But they are not the only target audience.

Main type of music

Adult Contemporary Music.

Their collections of music includes more than 40,000 CDs!


Programing Style 1—News & Music 

The station does not only broadcast music, but gives timely news


Programing Style 2 —Listener-Oriented

Broadcasts are not a one-way information transmission. Always try to have communication with listeners

Station Colors: Blue & White 

Image Color = Blue (alpha blue) pure white will make it stand out. Blue is the color of the sky, and white is the color of a cloud. It will give you relaxation.

Based on these 5 concepts, the target audience is mostly people in their 30s, a little older than the audiences of other stations. Daytime programming is aimed at housewives and women workers; the target audience for night-time programming changes to high school students.

Programs on α-Station

Sunnyside Balcony… (DJ changes every day). A program aimed at women who have interests such as cooking, travel information about Kyoto and listening to relaxing music.

J-AC Top 40… DJ: Taniguchi Kiyoko

To get young listeners, the station started to broadcast the J-Pop chart ranking. Since this program started, ratings for listeners under age 20 have increased. This is the most popular program on α– Station.

Stardust Parade… DJ: Hayashi Tomomi

This program is for young people and features mainly new music. Ms. Hayashi will listen to the young listener’s worries and then give them advice.


 Sato Hideki

Sato Hideki, who is a teacher at Kyoto university of Foreign Languages, is also a DJ at α-Station. When he was a child, his dream was to become a DJ, but he had forgotten this dream for many years. When he graduated from university, he started teaching in a preparatory school. 1991, α– Station needed a newscaster who could read and speak English, so he applied for this job and became a newscaster at the station. 1993, he became the DJ he really wanted to be from his childhood. After he became DJ, he found it harder than he thought and so he worked to communicate with his listeners so they would understand his talk without any misunderstandings. He learned how hard the job of a DJ really is.


Alpha Station Activities

α-Station conducts many other activities besides broadcasting.

 Alpha Academy

This school invites people from various fields to teach what they know. It’s the new style of education. By doing this, students have a chance to learn new things, and it will help to enrich and develop Kyoto culture.

ANA School

Speaking training includes vocal exercises, reading out loud, and abdominal respiration breathing. All of these will help improve your speaking skills.

Radio DJ School

If you want to be the DJ in the future, you should join this class. They will conduct an oral examination, and teach you how to be an eloquent speaker. Your motivation will improve.

Gospel School

Classes where you can learn and improve your skills of both singing and dancing. You don’t need to know how to read music to attend this class. 

Workout Tennis Plus

Collaboration with the Higashiyama Tennis Club. You can learn how to play tennis—for beginner to advance players.

α Mo’cool Festa

This festival is held every year on last day of the Gion Festival. A specially invited guest artist attends; and this year’s guest is Shimizu Shota (famous Japanese R&B singer)

Kyoto Sanga F.C

α– Station supports and cheers on Kyoto Purple Sanga, Kyoto’s professional soccer team!!

Programs inform listeners about recent news of the Sanga Football Club.  Comments and messages from the players will be on the program. For the listeners, tickets for Sanga games are given away as a present.

Many Kyoto people love 89.4  α-Station!

Gozan-no-Okuribi (Part II)

by Ayako Senju

The Stages of Gozan-no-Okuribi
My Photo Diary of Festival Preparations
All Citizens Unite for Gozan-no-Okuribi
Tips on How to Enjoy Gozan-no-Okuribi
Some Interesting Stories

The Stages of Gozan-no-Okuribi

The main day of Gozan-no-Okuribi is August 16th, but members of the
Five-Mountain Daimonji Preservation Committee work on the festival the entire year.
Here is a brief and general schedule of their preparations.

General Preparations
Clean the mountain, make repairs to the mountain road.
Cut the firewood around February.
Winter is the driest season, so it is the best time to cut trees and store wood.

The Day of the Festival: Noon
People write down their wishes on gomaki. The gomaki are sacred wooden boards upon which people write their name and their wishes.
Sometimes they also write the names of those close to them who have passed away.
To bless the gomaki and the firewood, sutras are read by a temple priest.

The Night of the Festival:
Standby on the mountain.
Light the fires.
Let burn for 30 minutes, then extinguish the fires with water.

Several Days Later:
Clean up the mountain.

My photo Diary of Festival Preparations

The following pictures were taken at the Torii-Gate Fire on the 16th of August 2007, so let’s follow this group and see what they do.

Visitors usually cannot enter the mountain, but I was fortunate enough to be allowed to attend the 2007 festival as a seminar researcher.

It is Sunday, 9:00am, and the Torii-Gate Fire members have gathered at an assembly hall at the foot of the mountain. Many of them have jobs, so some of them took a day off to work on this event.

Priests from Adashino Nembutsu-ji Temple read a sutra for the gomaki.

Members climb the mountain, carrying the gomaki, firewood, and cold drinks. August is the hottest month! They really have to take care of themselves!



Gomaki are piled up in stacks like a campfire. Seven stacks are made altogether.
They tie the firewood into 108 bundles, one for each fireplace.

Stored Water

At 6:00pm workers eat obento or lunch box.
After finishing their lunch, they light the seven stacks of gomaki.
These seven fires are later used to light the firewood.
The gomaki are not enough to keep the fire burning for two hours, so they throw on extra firewood.




The dots in this picture represent the seven stacks of gomaki. The bigger fires are lit from these.




Firemen pour water on wood to prevent the nearby forest from catching on fire

The city lights are gradually extinguished as the time of the fire approaches.
Crowds are slowly gathering at the foot of Mandala Mountain.
Noise increases: the voices of people, and policemen shouting at visitors to keep their cars moving.

At 8:00pm Dai is lit and can be seen from the Torii-Gate site.
The other fire mountains cannot be seen from here.
8:20pm, time for the Torii-Gate Fire!
The men grab the bundles of wood, already lit by the burning gomaki, run with them and place them on round, elevated fire-plates.
This is called “running fire” and is a unique tradition of the Torii-Gate Fire.

Other mountains are now just adding wood to their fires, which have already been prepared in a fireplace and are now lit at almost the same time.

From the foot of the mountains, we continually see the flashes of cameras.

8:50pm, finishing time. Firemen put out all the remaining fires. We climb down from the mountain.
Because we are on the mountain, there is no electricity and it is very dark. We follow the beams of the flashlights, descending carefully.

The following Sunday morning, we climb up the mountain again to clean up the mess left by the fires.
We pick up pieces of charcoal and rope which once bound the firewood, sweep the fire-plates, and paint the equipment with rust-proof paint for next year’s fire.

All Citizens Unite for Gozan-no-Okuribi

This city accepts both modernization and traditional culture,
so it is not surprising that in Kyoto traffic is tightly controlled for big festivals like Gion or Jidai Matsuri.
Some special regulations are enacted on the day of Gozan-no-Okuribi.

One regulation is to turn off noticeable building lights.
Some Kyoto city officials accompany workers to turn off the lights.
Before the fires are lit, some officials climb up the mountain to check for bright lights in the city.
If they find any that are too bright, they contact the city office by radio transceiver.
Then the city office then calls upon the building and asks them to turn off their light.
Another regulation is to have the presence of firemen at the fires. As soon as any stray sparks fall on the ground,
the firemen extinguish them immediately.

Tips on How to Enjoy Gozan-no-Okuribi

Members of the Five-Mountain Daimonji Preservation Committee make a great effort each year, but visitors also need to make some effort too if they want to get a nice view of the fires.

Where to best watch the fires:
Daimonji: from the banks of the Kamo River.
Myo-Ho: from Kitayama Street or the banks of the Takano River
Ship: from Kitayama Street
Left Daimonji: from Nishioji Street (from Sain to Kinkakuji)
Torii: Gate from Matsuo Bridge or Hirosawa Pond

About 100,000 people come to see Okuribi, so it is often difficult to find a good spot from which to view the festival.
The closer to the mountains, the more crowded it gets, so I recommend avoiding places that are too close.
On the day of the festival most hotel rooms are full, having already been reserved from a month before. Kyoto Tower and Kyoto Station choose a limited number of visitors by lottery.
If you have a friend who lives in Kyoto city, you may want to beg them to let you stay overnight!

Visitor Needs:
Visitors may want to write their wishes on gomaki.
By writing on a plaque, it is believed that one can recover from disease when the plaque is burned in Okuribi.
Some people write wishes like “Let me pass the examination” or “I want a girlfriend.”

They sell gomaki at the following times and places (as of 2007):
Daimonji — 15th, 12:00-20:00, 16th, 6:00-15:00, in front of Ginkaku-ji Temple
Ship — 4th~15th 8:00-16:00, 16th 9:00-15:00, in front of Seihou-ji Temple Left Daimonji — 15th 9:00-15:00, 16th 7:00-12:00, in front of Kinkaku-ji Temple
Torii-gate — 13th~15th 9:30-16:00, 16th 9:00-15:00, in front of Adashino Nembutsu-ji Temple.
Myo and Ho have no gomaki, but they hold a bon dance from 8:00-10:00 on the 15th, and 9:00-10:00 on the 16th in front of Yusen-ji Temple.
That dance called “sashi-odori.”
Mt. Daimonji can be climbed any day except for August 16th.
It takes about one hour to get to the fireplaces.

This is the view from Mt. Daimonji. The Torii Gate cannot be seen in this photo

Some Interesting Stories

Folk beliefs
1 Drink a cup of sake or water with the reflection Daimonji in it, and you won’t get any disease.
2 A piece of charcoal from Okuribi hung on your front door keeps evil away from your family and house.
3 Drinking the charcoal powder of Okuribi mixed in water brings you good health.
4 It is said that ancestoral spirits come back to this world guided by “Daimonji,” then read a sutra at “Myo-Ho,”and finally ride the “Ship” to go through the “Torii-Gate.”

Not Okuribi, but. . .
Okuribi was a fire for sending off our ancestors, but in the old days fires were lit for other reasons:
Five mountains were lit when the Russian emperor visited Kyoto in 1891.
Also when Japan won wars in 1895 and 1903, delighted Kyoto citizens lit fires on Mt. Daimonji that meant “Celebrate Peace.”
On the other hand, they could not light the fire for three years because of the Pacific War. Instead, elementary-school students dressed in white clothes climbed the mountain and made a white “Dai” on the morning of August 16th.
On December 31st of 2000, the last day of the 20th century, five mountains were lit to welcome in the new century.
Learning these past stories led me to believe that Gozan Okuribi is in fact a symbol of Kyoto people’s pleasure!

Gozan-no-Okuribi (Part 1)

by Ayako Senju

What is Gozan-no-Okuribi ?
The Meaning of Lighting Fires on a Summer Night
The Origin of Gozan-no-Okuribi is Unknown

What is Gozan-no-Okuribi ?

On the evening of every August 16th, giant bonfires are lit on five mountains that surround Kyoto.
This is a very famous and eye-catching event, so you may often see pictures of these fires
in some books or tourist pamphlets. They are common symbols of Kyoto and the Kansai region.
This festival is called“Gozan-no-Okuribi (五山の送り火),” or in English,
“Sending Fire to Five Mountains” or sometimes the “Daimonji Bonfires.”
There are five fires: three in the shape of Chinese characters,
one in the shape of a boat, and the last in the shape of a torii gate.

Of these fires, the one in the shape of the Chinese character “dai” (“big”) is the largest and most famous.
The people who lived at the foot of the mountains over many generations once lit
these fires every August. However, this festival is now organized by
the Five-Mountain Daimonji Preservation Committee with some assistance from the Kyoto municipal government.

Location of the fires:

At present, the bonfires on Kyoto mountains are:

Dai (big 大) is on Mt. Daimonji (大文字), which rises behind Ginkakuji Temple (The Silver Pavilion)
in the eastern mountains of Kyoto. (lit at 8:00pm)

Myo (妙) and Ho (法) are in Matsugasaki in northern Kyoto,
on Mt. Mantoro and Mt. Daikokuten respectively.
They are counted as one mountain. Myoho means “the supreme law” in Buddhism. (lit at 8:10pm)

Funagata, (shape of a ship 船形) is on Mt. Myoken in Nishigamo
in the northwest part of Kyoto. (lit at 8:15pm)

Left-side Dai (左大文字) is on Mt. Ookita,
which rises behind Kinkakuji Temple (The Golden Pavilion). (lit at 8:15pm)

Toriigata (shape of a torii gate 鳥居形)” is on Mt. Mandara in Saga
on the west side of Kyoto. (lit at 8:20pm)
The Meaning of Lighting Fires on a Summer Night

At first, let’s look at the meaning of lighting fires on August 16th.
We need to know about Japanese bon or obon. Bon is an old Japanese custom to
welcome back the spirits of our ancestors. The bon period is from August 13th to the 16th,
and many bon festivals and events are held around this time. Okuribi, bonfires lit on summer nights,
are one of the old practices of bon.Such bonfires are now regarded as Buddhist events, but it is said that they originated in
folk customs that later became mixed with Buddhism.

The Origin of Gozan-no-Okuribi is Unknown

There are countless fire festivals held in August, and Gozan-no-Okuribi is among the most famous of them.

Why did the Gozan event become so huge?
In spite of the fact that Gozan-no-Okuribi is widely known,
this event still holds a lot of mystery. I have to say that we need to make a lot of guesswork
when it comes to its history. Actually, there are no historical records that show its origin.

Kyoto was the capital of Japan in the Heian era (794-1185),
but there are no records about fires being lit on the mountains from that time.
Gozan-no-Okuribi may not have existed yet.
The fire festival events seemed to have become popular from the Sengoku era (around 1500).
Kyoto people put out many lanterns, lit big touches, and walked around the city to enjoy festivals.
The origin of Gozan-no-Okuribi may be one of these festivals.
I heard one theory from a member of Torii Torches Preservation Committee:

“I suppose the origin of Gozan-no-Okuribi was merely one of these small fire festivals.
Each village competed to hold bolder fire festivals.
Some people put fires on long wooden poles, some placed small fires
in paper boats and set them afloat on streams.
Finally, somebody came up with lighting fires on a mountain
so that the public could have a better look at their fantastic idea.”

As I searched for the festival’s origin, I found out that there used to be more bonfire mountains
in Kyoto than there are today.
For example, “I (い)” in Ichihara city was lit until the beginning of the Meiji period (about 1868.)
Some elders who were living in Kyoto 50 years ago were able to see this bonfire.
Additional fires also used to be seen on other mountains in Kyoto:
“pole and bell,” “long-handled sword,” “ichi (一),”and “snake.”
But they seemed to have passed away into history and we cannot see them now.
Mountains that now have fires have been settled to just five.

Ancient Music

by Konishi Yuji

Breathing life back into


Japan’s traditional ensemble music

Gagaku in Goh shrine in Kyoto

Gagaku is a form of Japanese ensemble music derived from the Arabic peninsula. As the music migrated toward and through the Asian continent, absorbing each region’s styles along the Silk Road, the influences and figures of this ensemble music mixed in China and Korea, eventually coming together in the 6th and 7th centuries with native Japanese music. And then, for more than one thousand years, right up to today, gagaku has largely maintained its styles, becoming the oldest form of orchestral ensemble in the world. It is certainly a rich cultural heritage and can be seen to represent Japanese music, reflecting in its long, slow patterns — as in its players’ elaborate silk costumes — the grace and elegance of distant times.

In the ancient era, Japan was a small, developing, subordinate kingdom following the Chinese system and culture. Japanese noblemen, for example, could read and write the actual Chinese language and modeled their own way of life on Chinese New Year culture, architecture and music. However, the size of a gagaku orchestra was then much bigger than it is today, and while the small Japanese government needed to form an official court orchestra for political reasons, the original formation was not suited to the Japanese lifestyle, with its space restrictions for ceremonies and its limited ability to meet the cost of organizing, training and supporting a large company of musicians. Consequently, the ancient Japanese reformed and Japanized various types of other ethnic music. This is what we now call gagaku, and it has a lot of world music aspects.

What lived and breathed as modern music back in those ancient days, however, is almost petrified today. Nevertheless, gagaku shares the same musical scale common to other Asian genres of music, and is historically very valuable. Even so, it stands in an awkward position. Nowadays, gagaku is only played on special occasions and is actually a very unfamiliar ritual element for modern Japanese, in part because traditional Japanese music in general (such as music for Noh and Kabuki, and old local folksongs) have been neglected and ignored in the big wave of westernization. Yet Japanese do not have an identity in today’s pop music. Compare, for instance, Japan’s modern music scene with India’s, where musicians still often play the traditional sitar and tabla, which are characteristic of India. Not only are the more obscure gagaku instruments (mouth organs, transverse flutes) and their music abandoned; even instruments such as the shakuhachi and shamisen, until recently much more familiar to ordinary people, are seldom used in today’s contemporary music.

Gagaku instruments

Shoh: mouth organs

To begin modernizing gagaku, it is necessary to increase the number of players and listeners, and hence the occasions for gagaku music. By contrast, the Imperial Gagaku Orchestra, today’s only professional ensemble, has appeared in public only very occasionally, almost never. There was a time when this popularization of gagaku almost happened. From the Meiji era (1868-1912), beginning in the mid-19th century, ordinary Japanese people finally started to get in touch with gagaku via non-professional orchestras. But as the era of modernization proceeded, this proved to be a false start. Gagaku certainly continued to represent Japanese music, but it was never truly handed down from nobles to civilian culture. Blocking gagaku’s path to becoming modern Japanese music were the western songs that came to Japan in the Meiji era and laid the foundation for what became Japanese popular music. After World War Two, Japanese music education, in classes from kindergarten through university, has been taught mostly as western music, with western methods, score, scales and instruments. Japanese traditional music is therefore hardly able to be modernized into the actual Japanese lifestyle, nor can it develop within, or outside of, the music market.

Precisely speaking, Japanese arts have basically been taught by tradition (formerly through guilds), so it is much more difficult to teach them to beginners than with the western methods. In gagaku, there are scores used as a teaching aid, but the difference between these and the western scores is that gagaku scores are for practicing singing the lines of the songs.


Download sample: gagaku.mp3


The singer pats the table to count the verses of the song for hichiriki, an oboe-like wind instrument. This tapping expresses quite well how Japanese feel as they punctuate sentences and traditional music. Thus traditional Japanese literature and music are mutual and strongly bonded. In fact, the Chinese characters and dots on the score you see in the picture above are guides to pronouncing the lines, and it is quite natural to put actual poems to music. However, the scales, hertz of notes, instruments and every component of traditional Japanese music are completely different from western music and cannot be accurately re-created in western teaching methods, and it is this adopted learning system which makes us stay away from gagaku.

Today, there is no Iemoto system* in the gagaku scene, but it has nonetheless been a very closed society. Basically, gagaku was played by noblewomen with poets reading just for fun, and gradually it became an element of aristocratic culture. The Imperial court and nobles in the ancient era organized professional orchestras, and usually devoted their playing to formal ceremonies. On one occasion, gagaku ceased, owing to the Onin War in Kyoto (1467-77). Nobles and officials, including musicians, desperately escaped from Kyoto as the war intensified. Gagaku players scattered, though they probably kept playing privately, and the official orchestra was lost until the Edo Period (1603-1867). In the long blank period, musicians split into different groups, and the close-knitted bonds within families grew tighter. Even today, many private associations are teaching gagaku to students, but they tend to hate each other and scramble to take away one another’s students. In addition, they do not let students leave without permission. These circumstances are also holding gagaku back from being modernized.

The traditional gagaku art structure doesn’t match today’s lifestyle and it is isolated from developing in the Japanese music scene and westernized Japan. While it is very important to protect the old style of gagaku, it’s also true that traditions have always been preserved and improved by innovation. Gagaku, sado (tea ceremony), kimono, etc… these must not be mere cultural artifacts, just as Kyoto must not become a mere museum. Historically, Kyoto has provided many cutting-edge technologies and cultural forms, but now it needs to step forward to create modern Japanese culture again.

*In the rigid Iemoto system, masters of an art or craft pass down their specialty to disciples, following the teachings of the masters who preceded them.


Hanatoro Arashiyama

by Fumiaki Kai; Kagawa Akiko

2003UA0090 Fumiaki Kai
2003UA0090 Akiko Kagawa

Welcome to “Amazing new festival in Kyoto”

What is the newest festival in Kyoto do you think? What kind of festival do you want to go in Kyoto? Here is amazing festival for you! This festival is new type one.

The way is full of mysterious lights and plants. You will feel amazing when you look at around here.
The begging of this festival called Hanatoro was three years ago from now at Higashiyama . Have you ever heard the name of Kiyomizu temple or koudai temple? These are famous temple in Kyoto and around there we have seen festival like this for three years in winter season. It is held after the season of colored leaves in autumn and before cherry blossom in spring for avoids congestion. This is the first time to hold it in Arashiyama. The organizer is Kyoto Chamber of Commerce and Industry a board of trade. Their dream is to make Kyoto fantastic city which full of light and tradition. Actually Kyoto has three big festival already. Jidai festival Aoi festival and Gion festival. They want to make the fourth big festival in Kyoto and I am sure it will be one of the biggest festival in Kyoto.

You do not have to worry about language problem because there are many language volunteers around there. To tell the truth used to be one of them last year. We usually put on staff jacket and the board which is written that builinga guide. So if you lost the way you can ask them anything. Then they will tell you the answer and give the catalog.

Arashiyama is one of the most famous place in Kyoto and especially cherry blossom in spring and autumnal colors of the leaves or Togetsu Bridge. And also there are mountains, river, bamboo, and temple and so on. Anytime you go there, you can notice so many tourists there from all over the world. The place of Arashiyama itself is so beautiful, but when it light up, it going to be very special scenery. We can find different side of Arashiyama Hanatoro.

Illuminate bamboo at night (Chikurin no syoukei)

Both side way of ramble is illuminated and it gives us fantastic scenery. It is feeling like you come another world. We think it’s the main of this festival. The contrast of blue lights and the green color of bamboo make fantastic mood in this street. This street is Nomiya Shrine to Okouchi villa which is so famous actor’s villa in Kyoto. Some place is illuminated colorful bamboo. Japanese like color of nature but this illumination is very new to us, too. We found another way to look at it.

Illumination around Togetsu Bridge

Have you ever seen this bridge? It is sometimes used in Japanese movie or drama. It is very cool in summer and always gives us nice feeling. It illuminates all over this area including Togetsu Bridge, river and the foot of a mountain. Some times, by the cooperation of Sagano Industry University, show us some beautiful pictures to the river. In the middle of river, you will find a lot of candles making circle. It is called Zenshin and represent the light of Requiem. Can you guess what that is? It means preying for soul of death by light the fire of candle. The diameter of big circle is 54m and there is a small circle in it.

Traffic information

City Bus

Arashiyamatenryujimae(It’s in front of Tenryu-Templ) Week day Saturday Sunday
28 Bound for Kyoto Station 20 32 52 52
21 7 52 52 52
11 Way of kawaramachi, bound for Sanjou keihan 20 30 20 52 15
21 0 32 32 0 40
93 Marutamachi Street, Kinrinsyakomae 20 18 53 19 53 13 52
21 29 29 28

Kyoto Bus

Keifukuarashiyamaekimae(Keifukuarashiyama Station) Week day / Saturday / Sunday
Bound for Kyoto Sation 20 17 37
21 18
Way of Shijoukawaramachi, bound for Sanjoukeihan 20 47
21 27


JR Sagaarashiyama Week day / Saturday / Sunday
Bound for Kyoto Sation 20 7 22 39 49
21 7 24 54
Bound for Sonobe 20 6 21 23 39 54
21 13 29 51


by Akiko Kagawa; Fumiaki Kai

What image do you have when you think of Kyoto? Is it the three big festivals such as the Aoi Festival, Jidai Festival, and Gion Festival or famous temples like Kiyomizu Temple or Kinkakuji Temple? All of them are part of the tradition of Kyoto. Now, a new history is being born. Why don’t you be a part of that history?

We would like to tell you about Hanatouro. This event started only three years ago in 2003. If you come to Kyoto during the middle of March, you can see beautiful lighting and flower lanes and other amazing sights. Because of these fantastic lights, you may never want to go home. (Actually, we helped with this event as volunteer staff.)

The Hanatouro is 4.6 kilometers long, and there are six kinds of lamps. At the entrance, we can see kinzoku-kougei., which are bigger than others. And we can see kyogoku-kougei-roji at only ishibori-koji (It’s a very short street near Nene’s Street). These two lamps are rare, so if you want to find them, please ask the staff where they are. Hanatouro stretches from Shoren-in Temple to Kiyomizu Temple, and it takes more than 30 minutes to walk it. If you want to see all of the lamps, maybe it will take more than one hour. However, I suggest you start around Gion and Maruyama Park, because those places are the main spots, and they also have very good access to public transport. When you feel tired or cold, you can relax at a rest stop, which provides seats and hot Japanese tea You can have a conversation with other people there, too.

This chart shows the famous temples and shrines around the area where Hanatouro is held.

Temple Picture Admission Fee Time Others
Chion-in Adult \500 Child \300 5:30 p.m~9:00 p.m It was built in 1954. One of the National Treasures.
Entoku-in Adult \500 Child \200 5:00 p.m~9:30 p.m Hideyoshi Toyotomi’s wife lived here.
Houkan \400 10:00 a.m~4:00 p.m It is a symbol of Higashiyama. It was constructed by Ashikaga Yoshimasa who was the sixth shougun in the Muromachi..
Shoren-in Adult \500 Child \300 6:30 p.m~9:30 p.m It is connected with the Imperial Family.
Adult \500 Child \300 10:00 a.m~4:00 p.m This is one of the National Treasures. This is the center of Hnatouro
Koudai Adult \600 Child \250 5:00 p.m~9:30 p.m You can see bamboo being lit up. It is really fantastic. In this temple there are many historical sites like jizou (a stone statue).
Kiyomizu Adult \400 Child \200 6:30 p.m~9:30 p.m One of the most famous temples in Kyoto. You can enjoy beautiful scenery in each season. In spring cherry blossoms, in fall red leaves, and in winter a beautiful snowscape.

In addition, there are many events each day connected to Hanatouro. Usually, we can enjoy the dance of maiko, apprentice geisha who are trained to entertain men with their conversation, dancing and singing. (Actually, I worked at Marudaiji Park near Yasaka Shrine as a guide for both Japanese and foreigners.) There we can also enjoy many events such as:


During this event, we can enjoy lamps lit inside bamboo at Maruyama Park. There are about one thousand lit bamboo. Even on a rainy day, we can experience a beautiful scene.
Higashi-Daikokusochou, Washi (Kouka)
We can view marvelous washi named kouka. Washi is traditonal Japanese paper, made by combining man-made skill and nature.

Ikebana Promenade

This is an exhibition of ikebana, or flower arrangement. This ikebana is bigger than usual, and it is held in cooperation with the Kyoto Ikebana Association. Everyday, the ikebana is changed, so you can see new flower arrangements every time you go there.


Street performances like juggling and singing are held in front of the shidare cherry tree, which is very famous in Japan, and Kiyomizu Temple twice a day.
Daigakunomachi Kyoto, Dentounoakariten
There are many universities and students in Kyoto. In this event, four universities cooperate with one another: Kyoto City Art University, Ikenobou Junior College, Kyoto Saga Art University, and Kyoto Saga Art Junior College. Jinnrikisha, which can be seen at tourist sites in Kyoto, is a carriage pulled by a man. In this event, maiko ride in the jinrikisha which are pulled from Gion to Koudaiji Park and Jingu Street.

Hinayoujin Ohayashi-gumi

During this period, children walk from Shoren-in Temple to Kiyomizu Temple singing Warabeuta, which urge people to be careful with fire.
Hanatouro has many interesting events, not only to see it but also to feel it. There are no other events like this is Japan. Why don’t you come and be a part of hanatouro in Kyoto?