The History of Movies in Kyoto

August 6, 2018

Yu Sakamoto & Daiki Tabuchi

The Beginning of the Movie Industry in Kyoto

At the beginning of the 20th century, after the Meiji Restoration was over, people worked hard to make a new Japan. It was around this time that Kyoto became the first place in Japan to enjoy the surprising and exciting technology that created the modern entertainment medium of cinema.

On a snowy day in 1895, cinematography invented by the Lumière brothers was used for the first time by Kyoto Dento. It was shown on a screen in the courtyard on the company’s building. This was the first time these people had seen a movie. Today, in this spot, there is a signboard that marks this event and the beginning of the movie industry.

Uzumasa is a district in western Kyoto that was once called the “Hollywood of Japan.” During the height of Japanese filmmaking in the 50s, Kyoto was a bustling film center. This movie industry created a lot of economic vitality and developed into one of Kyoto’s major cultural sectors.

In the golden years of Japanese film from the late 1950s to the early 1960s, the Kiyamachi area was dotted with inns where screenwriters stayed and worked. The hotel where one of Japan’s top film directors, Masahiro Makino (1908-1993), regularly stayed was also here. The area was also known for the many bars where movie people hung out.

The Famous and Historical Movie Studios in Kyoto

Toei Studios, Kyoto

With an area of more than 66,000 square meters, Toei Studios is the biggest movie studio in Japan. In the 1950s to the early 1960s, Toei Studio film companies in Kyoto had to produce more than 60 films every year. The staff used Sundays and holidays, often working throughout the night on weekdays as well. The Kyoto studios were filled with energy. Everyone said that the workers of the Toei Studios were so busy that “no one was walking, they were always running.”

Shochiku Studio

Uzumasa, the capital of the movie industry, started producing new types of movie studios. Shochiku Studio is one of these famous movie studios in Kyoto and has a long history. It was created by Makino Takei in 1935. It has experienced a lot of ups and downs, even today. Most of the works shot here are very familiar, including TV dramas.

Famous Movie Shooting Methods of Akira Kurosawa in Kyoto

Today, many people all over the world watch movies for entertainment. People who watch movies are fascinated by many factors. In particular, the methods used for shooting movies is one of the most critical factors for making enjoyable experiences for moviegoers. It is no exaggeration to say that the evaluation of a film depends on the shooting methods.

Therefore, most film directors are particular about shooting methods and have their own specializations. Akira Kurosawa is the most famous director who shot movies in Kyoto using innovative and bold shooting methods, attracting a lot of attention from overseas. He has two renowned shooting methods.

First, his movies are famous for their bright backgrounds. It is said that his backgrounds sometimes stand out more than the actual people in the picture. This is because he used pan-focus shooting. Pan-focus shooting focuses on everything in the picture. When the camera focuses on the subject in front, the background becomes blurred. Today, this work is easy because all the work is done automatically by the camera. However, at that time, it was necessary to adjust all the lighting and focus. Therefore, pan-focus shooting required a lot of money, time and labor. But thanks to pan-focus shooting, he could shoot some great movies. Even now, many film directors and researchers praise his vivid backgrounds.

Multi-cam shooting method used by Kurosawa

Kurosawa was the first person to use this technique that has multiple telephoto lenses. Multi-cam shooting has the advantage of taking various angled cuts with one shot. However, it is a problematic shooting method when at the actual location of the filming. This is because the condition of lighting and background must be considered depending on the position of the camera. However, the scene shot in this method is very powerful. Today, many film directors use this method.

There are other famous shooting methods besides these. For example, Rashomon was filmed using mirrors instead of reflectors to take advantage of the natural light while directing the camera to the sun, which was considered taboo at that time. In the first scene, Kurosawa used hoses and water mixed with black ink to shoot a powerful image of rain in monochrome. This method was also used in the battle scene of The Seven Samurai.

As you can see, movies and Kyoto have had a deep connection from when the movie industry started in Kyoto. The beauty of Kyoto fascinated many film directors and people involved in movies. There are more than a few masterpieces that were born in Kyoto. If you visit Kyoto, visit not only major tourist attractions but also these fascinating movie spots too.

The Demon of Oeyama

by Yu Sakamoto, Kazu Shibao, and Taishi Nishikawa

When people visit foreign countries, they can hear many different kinds of stories, legends, and myths. Japan also has its own myths, and one of those typical myths would be that of the yokai, which is similar to a demon in western countries. It is not sure whether yokai exist or not, but there are several theories on how yokai were created, and some of them are widely accepted to this day.

One theory is the leftover theory. According to this theory, yokai are ancient gods that never got incorporated into the Shindo (Shinto) pantheon. So now they wander the earth causing all kinds of unusual happenings.

Another theory is the theory of magical thinking. According to this theory, yokai are simply used to explain unusual phenomenon that cannot by explained by science. Yokai are seen as folk beliefs that are handed down in Japan from generation to generation to explain weird and unusual phenomenon beyond human understanding.

Yokai have different names. For example, some are called Ayakashi (something strange or suspicious), Mononoke (an evil spirit) and Mamono (a demon and a demon). Hyakki Yako (Night Parade of 100 Demons) is a well-known concept related to yakai. Hyakki Yako is like a parade of many kinds of yokai who wander in the middle of the night. There are several stories of Hyakki Yako in folk tales like the Uji Shui Monogatari and Konjaku Monogatari.

Kyoto has been called Kyoto Makai (Kyoto Hell) and has been connected with yokai and Chimimouryo (evil spirits of mountains and rivers) since ancient times. Ichijo street, which is the boundary line between the outside world and the north end of the Heian-kyo has been said to be the place where Chimimouryo (evil spirits of mountains and rivers) meet up with human beings, and it is the way of Hyakki Yako.

Shutendoji: The Oeyama Demon

ShutendojiThe Oeyama Devil is a legend of Kyoto. Oeyama is a mountain, located in Kyoto prefecture to the north of Kyoto city, and is said to be the home of one of the strongest demons in the history of Japan: Shutendoji.

Shutendoji, which means ‘sake drinking boy’, is about 6 meters tall and has five horns and fifteen eyes. The color of its head and torso is red, its left leg is black, its right hand is yellow, its right foot is white, and its left hand is blue. Shutendoji lived in Oeyama, and sometimes he appeared in Kyoto city to kidnap the noble princess, and sometimes he ate other people alive.

Shutendoji caused great suffering and fear amongst the people of Kyoto, so the king organized a demon-killing group led by Demon-killer Minamotono Yorimitsu and the Four Heavenly Kings (Watanabe Tsuna, Sakatano Kintoki, Usai Sadamitsu, and Uedano Suetake). In 995, they went on a mission to kill Shutendoji. On the way, they met three old men. Minamotono Yorimitsu got a kabuto (helmet) and some jinbekidokushu (a poison liquid that only affects demons) from three old men. At that time one of the old men said, “When you cut off the neck of Shutendoji, do not forget to wear this helmet.”

Then the three old men disappeared. After that Minamotono Yorimitsu and the Four Heavenly Kings were caught by demons and taken up to Shutendoji. However, Minamotono Yorimitsu was good at talking, so Shutendoji suggested to Minamotono Yorimitsu and the Four Heavenly Kings to drink alcohol, but instead it was human blood. Minamotono Yorimitsu and the Four Heavenly Kings drank it and were not fazed at all. Next, Shutendoji gave them human arms and legs. Minamotono Yorimitsu and the Four Heavenly Kings ate all of these things. Shutendoji had to trust them, and Minamotono Yorimitsu gave him the jinbekidokushu. Shutendoji drank it and he became drunk, so he began to sleep in his room. Minamotono Yorimitsu put on the kabuto and cut off Shutendoji’s neck while he was sleeping. As soon as Shutendoji’s detached head looked at Minamotono Yorimitsu with an angry face, it tried to bite him in the head. However, since he was wearing the kabuto, his life was saved.

Minamotono Yorimitsu and the Four Heavenly Kings killing ShutendojiThis is the story of the famous journey of the demon-killing group to defeat Shutendoji at Mt. Oeyama. The old men who appeared in this story is actually the god of three shrines. He divided himself into three old men in order to meet the demon-killing group.

Shutendoji Culture and Tradition

These days, there are many cultural traditions associated with Shutendoji.

Shutendoji’s head and kabukiShutendoji Shrine

There is a shrine on Oeyama mountain called Onidake Inari, which means ‘demon mountain’ shrine. According to one legend, because Shutendoji’s head was buried in this mountain, people want to keep this evil spirit away. Also the people who live around this mountain have a festival for calming Shutendoji’s spirits down once a year even to this day. That festival is called the Shutendoji Festival. In this festival parade around the town with a huge Shutendoji float.


There is also a kabuki performance related to the demon of Oeyama. Kabuki is a traditional Japanese dance drama. The title of the kabuki about Shutendoji is Oeyama Shutendoji. It was the long epic song that written for the 17th Kanzaburo Nakamura in 1963. The 17th Kanzaburo Nakamura was one of the most famous kabuki actors at that time, who won a lot of awards.


Takarazuka, which is Japanese newest traditional theatre, also has a drama about Shutendoji. The title is Ooeyamakaden. This drama was performed by Michi Taira who is famous takarazuka star in 1986, but in 2009 it was played by Yuhi Ozora who is another famous takarazuka star again.


Also there are a few movies about Shutendoji. One of them is a famous movie that called Ooeyama Shutendoji. This movie was filmed by Tokuzou Tanaka who is famous movie director in 1960 and there are a lot of famous stars in this movie.


Manga is a kind of Japanese comic book. There are a few manga about Shutendoji as well. The title of one manga series is Shutendoji. It was written by a man named Gou Nagai from 1976 to 1978. Furthermore there is a quite famous manga called ShutenDouji. It was witten by Hayato Umezawa in 1990. This manga was published by Shonen JUMP, which is one of the most famous comic magazines in Japan.


Also, amongst the many types of sake in Japan, one of the most famous ones is called Onigoroshi, which means that ‘killing the demon’. This sake is so spicy as to kill a demon. Actually this sake is also related to Shutendoji, as its origin is from the legend of the Oeyama demon.

As you can see, the yokai Shutendoji is related with so many traditional Japanese things. This is also true of other yokai not mentioned in this article. Especially, Kyoto is one of the places in Japan from which yokai originate, so if you are lucky (or unlucky), maybe you will encounter a yokai during your stay in Kyoto.

Spooky Places in Kyoto

by Hayato Tochimori and Yuta Sakurai

Summer in Kyoto is very hot. The average of maximum temperature is somewhere between 30 and 35 degrees. Ways of keeping cool are using air conditioners, eating ice cream, swimming in a pool, watering down a path, and so on. However, there is another way of keeping you cool in Japan. It is called kimodameshi, which means a test of your courage. Some people (especially young people) go to psychic spots at night because they can feel cool naturally with fear. Below are three recommended spooky places in Kyoto that are sure to send chills down your spine.

The Kiyotaki Tunnel

The Kiyotaki Tunnel

The Kiyotaki Tunnel is located in the Ukyo Ward of Kyoto city.  This spot is very scary, so already some TVs and magazines have introduced it to the public.  It became psychic spot because it was once an execution site, and a number of people have since committed suicide inside the tunnel.  In the distant past, the tunnel used to be for trains of Atagosan Railway line only.  Eventually, the railway closed for business just before the Second World War.  After that, the tunnel was designated for use with cars.

There are some rumours about this Kiyotaki tunnel.  First, do not enter the tunnel when the traffic signal is green.  When it is green, it means that spirits welcome you.  If you enter it when the traffic signal is green, female spirits will appear in front of you.  So, if you see a green light when you arrive at the entrance to the tunnel, you should wait for the traffic signal change to green again after red.  Second, there is a facing down mirror after you go through the tunnel, but do not look at it recklessly at night.  If you look at the mirror, you see yourself as a dead person.  If you look at the mirror and you do not see your own figure, you die in a few days.  Third, you might hear shrieks of women.  Fourth, if you go through the tunnel by car, you might see handprints on the hood of your car.


The map shows where the Kiyotaki Tunnel is.  You can go to this spot by Kyoto bus.  From Kyoto station, please use No.72 or 84 bus.  From Hankyu Arashiyama station, please use No.62, 64 or 94 bus.  Then, please get off at Otagidera-mae.

Map of the Kiyotaki Tunnel

Midorogaike Pond

Midorogaike Pond

Midorogaike Pond is located in the Kita Ward in Kyoto city.  This spot is the scariest in Kyoto, so a lot of Kyoto citizens already know about this pond.  Midorogaike pond is designated by the government as a natural monument to conserve the plants and animals of the pond.  It became a spooky place due to several widespread rumours. First, there is one story of a taxi.  The taxi driver picked up a woman at one night, and she asked him to take her to the Midorogaike pond.  The driver wondered why she wanted to go there at such a late hour, but he went ahead and proceeded to take her to the pond anyway.  When the taxi driver arrived at the pond and looked back, the woman had disappeared and the back seat was wet.  After this incident, some taxi drivers in Kyoto have agreed not to take passengers to the pond at night.  Second, it is said that spirits wander around the pond.  There used to be a mental hospital near the pond and some of the patients had drowned themselves there.  There is belief that a lot of drowned corpses are sunk deep within in the pond because condition of the pond is bottomless.  If you fall into the pond, it is difficult for you to get out because of the vast amounts of mud.  Some eyewitnesses have said that they have seen spirits and human souls around the pond.


The map shows where Midorogaike Pond is.  You can go to this spot by underground or Kyoto city bus.  If you go by underground, please get off at Kitayama station and walk 15 minutes.  If you go by city bus, please get on No.4 bus at Kyoto station and then get off at Midorogaike.

Map of Midorogaike Pond

Map of Midorogaike Pond

Ushinokoku Mairi

Ushinokoku Mairi

Finally, I am going to write about ushinokoku mairi. It is the ritual of laying a curse on to another person. The term ‘ushinokoku’ refers to the time between 1:00 a.m. and 3:00 a.m. in Japan. Mairi means going to worship. It is said that this ritual was completed in Edo period (1603~1867). In this ritual, a person who wants to put a curse on someone else nails a straw doll (similar to a voodoo doll) on a tree. It is common to perform the ritual wearing white clothing and wooden clogs, with disheveled hair and a whitened face. The person who is cursed gets sick from the same organ into which the nail was put into the doll. This is a very scary cultural practice. However, nobody must see a person performing this ritual because it is believed that the performer will get the curse back on him or her, and the performer should kill the witness if the performer is seen to perform the ritual. Therefore, please be careful not to observe this ritual. It is a dangerous ritual, but it is a really interesting part of Japanese culture.

In the very north part of Kyoto city, there is a shrine related to ushinokoku mairi. It is called the Kibune shrine. It is famous for the God of marriage, but is also known for the birthplace of ushinokoku mairi. This shrine has a set of stairs made of rock, and there are many red lanterns hanging on both sides, so the scenery is very beautiful. Therefore, you can enjoy these spots in Kibune shrine, while thinking about the scary culture of ushinokoku mairi. However, just be careful not to go to Kibune shrine between the hours of 1:00 a.m. and 3:00 a.m.


The map shows where Kifune shrine is. The way to go to Kifune shrine is to walk from Kifuneguchi station. It is the nearest station from Kifune shrine. From Kyoto station, you can go to the station by bus and train. First, please use a train bound for Kokusaikaikan, and then, please use a bus bound for Kifuneguchi station.

Map of Kifune shrine

Map of Kifune shrine


So those are three scary places in Kyoto. Is it spooky enough for you? Such a strange way to make us cooler in the heat of the summer is such an interesting part of Japanese culture, isn’t it? If you want to overcome the really hot temperatures of the Kyoto summer, then visiting these places is indispensable. Moreover, it is better for the environment than just using an electric air conditioner. Let’s enjoy our summer in Kyoto with these three not only interesting, but also scary places.


by Manami Otahara & Miki Sawai

Our travel dairy: Fukakusa’s loves story


We visited Fukakusa to see Fushimi-inari shrine. It is very famous shrine, so people visited to there from around the world. People visit to see many Torii. Torii separates gods and humans. Torii looks like shrine gate made of wood, the color is bright red. Fushimi-inari shrine is the main shrine of all the inari shrines in Japan. Other Famous place is Fuji-no-mori shrine, it has to with Japanese emperor Tenno.   This shrine is famous Ajisai festival and the god is known for having luck in games, so people visit this shrine. When we visited this shrine, we saw may beautiful Ajisai. Ajisai is one of the flower in summer. Next place was main the temple for this trip. This temple is Gonjo-ji temple. Gonjo-ji temple is has to with our report.

Fukakusa’s love story


The place we visited is called Fukakusa. It is called Fukakusa because a long time ago, a person named Shosho-Fukakusa lived there. He loved Onono Komachi. She was most beautiful woman in Japan in Heian period. He loved her, but she didn’t love him, so she got an idea. The idea was very simple, he met her every night for 100 days. Her house and his house were far away. The distance was about 7 km, but he would like her to be his wife, so he met her every night. First day, second day, 97th day 98th day 99th day, he met her with peanuts. On the 100th night, she waited for him. However, didn’t come. That day he died because of heavy snow. The next day she found out that he died. She was very sad, so she was planted his nuts in her village. Later the nut grew and the tree is believed to be 1,000 years old.

Gonjo-ji temple


Gonjo-ji temple is a very important place. This is where Fukakusa lived.   There is a pond and this pond is where he looked at himself. There is a big Buddha in this temple, and Fukakusa and Komachi are buried here. Her house was in Yamashina. Yamashina is a town on the border of Kyoto and Shiga, so her house and his house were far away. However when she heard that he died, she was very sad. Therefore when she died, she was buried in this temple.


Fushimi-inari shrine

68 Fukakusa Yabunouchi-cho, Fushimi-ku Kyoto

Fuji-no-mori shrine

609 Fukakusatoriizakicho, Fushimi-ku Kyoto


1038 nishimasuyacho, Fushimi-ku Kyoto


by Kasumi Sakamoto, Yuki Nakajima and Momoko Fukui

Tanabata, The Star Festival, is celebrated on July 7th each year. It is one of the traditional annual events in Japan. It is said to have originated from Chinese legend of the two stars. One star is Altair, which is said to be a cowherd boy, named Hikoboshi. The other star is Vega, which is said to be a weaver girl, named Orihime. They loved each other and got married. Since then they stopped working hard to meet each other. The king got angry and sent them separately to the big river called the Milky Way. They cried a lot every day since then, and the king was moved by their sadness and allowed them to meet each other once a year only on July 7th, as long as they worked hard. On that special night of July 7th, people in Japan decorate branches of cut bamboo with strips of colored paper and decorations made of origami to celebrate their meeting again.  Bamboo is believed to have talismanic power from ancient times. Japanese people also believe that if they write their wishes on the strips of paper and hang them on the bamboo, their wishes will come true. Many tanabata events are held in July 7th all over the Japan.




Tanabata vs. Kyo-tanabata

It is generally said that tanabata is on July 7th in many parts of Japan. However, some regions, like Kyoto, hold tanabata festivals on August 7th or at the beginning of August. What is the difference? Actually, present day tanabata on July 7th is based on the modern solar calendar, while tanabata on August 7th is based on the ancient Japanese calendar.  In the old days, Japanese tanabata used to be held on August 7th. Interestingly, another Japanese traditional event, Obon, is held from the beginning of August to the middle of the month. Obon is the period of time when the souls of dead people come back to earth from the heaven and gather together.

Did you know there is a close relationship between obon and tanabata? In fact, tanabata used to be a part of obon in the past, and people considered tanabata as the day to welcome their ancestors. However, obon and tanabata have come to be separated in most parts of Japan. This is because of the Meiji Restoration during the Meiji Era.  This restoration revised the Japanese calendar and changed it from the old calendar to the Western calendar. Therefore, most tanabata events are held on July 7th, but in traditional places like Kyoto, they are also held on August 7th.

Kyo-Tanabata Events

Kyoto has many tanabata events from the beginning of July to the middle of August.  Among of all, Kyo-no-Tanabata is one of the most famous. It is a collection of events held every August, usually sometime in the first two weeks of the month. Every year, it brings Kyoto residents and visitors the real feeling of summer.

Visitors can enjoy Kyoto-style tanabata as they walk along Kyoto’s two main rivers, Horikawa and Kamogawa. The Horikawa section of the festival spans from Oshioike to Shimochoujamachibashi. It is separated into four sections, First Meeting, Romance, Wish, and Meeting Again. In this way, visitors can enjoy the romantic story of tanabata as they stroll through the area.  Next to the entrance, the main gate is made up of lanterns that invite festival viewers into a dreamy world. Various decorations and artistic lights beautifully express the romance of Hikoboshi and Orihime.

One of the most beautiful sections is the Milky Way of Light. It is in the area of Meeting Again because the Milky Way is the place where Hikoboshi and Orihime were allowed to meet again. This section spans from Shimotachiuridori to Shimochojamachidori, in the middle part of Horikawa site. The arch is made of bamboo, while LED lights represent the Milky Way. Upon seeing it for the first time, it is said to take visitors’ breath away.

At the Kamogawa site, visitors can feel the atmosphere of kyo-tanabata beside the Kamogawa. This area of the festival ranges from Oikedori to Shijodori. The wind chime lanterns, called furinto, is the main attraction of this area of the festival, and has become symbolic of the Kamogawa site. Many lanterns are lined along the right side of Kamogawa. Each lantern consists of a bamboo basket and a wind-bell, which is made with a traditional technique. Seeing and hearing the lanterns, visitors can feel coolness in the heat of the Kyoto summer. The best time to enjoy this section of the festival is during the evening because it is easy to see the lanterns are lighting up the dark sky.

Furthermore, visitors can get some perks if they wear a kimono or a yukata during Kyo-no-tanabata.  Some restaurants or cafes near the festival sites will treat visitors with a warm reception.  For instance, the Chourakukan Cafe in Higashiyama offer customers a 5% discount on their bill. Another advantage is that visitors are offered a special dressing service. For example, a yukata shop called Yumeyakata in Shomogyoku has a special dressing campaign for women. They dress female visitors in beautiful summer kimono, all for only 3,500 yen plus tax. And the visitors get to keep the kimono! Therefore, it is truly a good opportunity to wear a yukata or kimono during Kyo-no-Tanabata.

Access to Kamogawa

From Kyoto station, take bus No.4, 17, or 205 and get off at Shijo-kawaramachi. From there it is a 5-minute walk.

Access to Horikawa

From Kyoto station, take bus No.9 or 50 and get off at Nijojo mae. From there, just walk for about 2 minutes.


Locations of Kyo-Tanabata


Kyo-Tanabata at Jishu Temple

Jishu temple is one of the sub-temples in Kyoto’s famous Kiyomizu Temple. It is well-known throughout Japan for its power to make people’s prayers and wishes come true. Every day Jishu temple is bustling with not only Japanese people, but also foreign visitors. Most of them pray for love.


Make a Wish Come True at Jishu Temple


In the season of Tanabata, Jishu temple holds a Tanabata a special event using something made of paper, called tanabata kokeshi. ‘Kokeshi’ means Japanese limbless wooden dolls. Visitors write their name and their partner’s name on the back of the paper. And if they don’t have a partner at the time, they can write down the name of their desired partner. If visitors do this, it is said that they and their partner will be able to live with together happily, or they will able to encounter their partner in the near future.


Tanabata Kokeshi


On July 7th, we went to Jishu temple and wrote our wish on tanabata kokehi. In the shrine, there were many tourists, especially from places like China. The Chinese also have a culture of Tanabata. However, the Chinese people consider the solar calendar to be more important than the old calendar. Therefore, tanabata for Chinese people is always on July 7th, which is why Chinese people visit Jishu temple at that time.

Access to Jishu Temple
From Kyoto station, you take the buses No. 206 or 100 and get off at Gojo-zaka. It takes about 12 minutes. Opening hours is from 9:00 to 17:00.


Access to Jishu Temple


In conclusion, kyo-tanabata has a concept that respects both modern tanabata and traditional tanabata. So, it is accepted by various people, from children to elderly people, and also foreign people.  Especially, tanabata events held at Horikawa and Kamogawa are flexible for tourists because the events last for 10 days. So you can visit on the day you prefer. If you are in Kyoto during the month of August, don’t miss it!

Yōkai Street

by Kanako Murakami and Ayane Yoshikura

Kyoto and Ghosts

The old capital, Kyoto has been connecting with a lot of ghosts since ancient days. On Ichijyo-street at Jyokyo-ku in the north part of Heian-kyo and it is said there is a border line between the daily life and not so. Ichijyo-street is the place where people meet ghosts. Now, this street is famous as Yōkai Street.

Yōkai Street

Yōkai Street

Yōkai Street is located in Jyokyo-ku, Kyoto and its official name is “Taishōgun shopping street”. These are many ways to set here. The nearest stations are Kitanohakubai-cho on the Keihuku Electric Railway and Kitanotenmangu by Kyoto city bus. You can go by the easily walk from either station. It is easy to find this street because there are some flags at the beginning. This project started in 2005 by Mr. Jyunichi Kono, a ghost’s culture researcher. The first function was a costume parade of ghosts in 15 October 2005. They reenacted HyakkiYagyō by marching down the Ichijyo-street dresse as ghosts. HyakkiYagyō is a parade with lots ghosts in midnight. It is said these are found mainly age of Heian in Kyoto. Ghost events are not only at Yōkai Street. Randen- Yōkai Train held at Arashiyama Electric Railway is another event. Usually the rate for adults is 200 yen and child is 100yen but if you dress as a ghosts, your rate will only be 50yen. Anyone adults and children participate in this event. There is also a costume contest.

Ghosts in Yōkai Street

Ghosts in Yōkai Street have great originality and they are very mysterious. There are some ghosts who are designed in the motif of goods are sold at stores in Taishōgun shopping street and some ghosts who are famous in Japan. For example, a ghost which is designed like a loaf of bread in a bakery, at a fish shop, it is designed like a fish, in a drugstore, it is designed like a bandage. There are also Nurarihyon (the ghost who looks like an old man with big head and he is sometimes said to be leader of ghosts), Rokuro-kubi (the ghost who wears a kimono and most people think that this ghost has the ability to stretch its neck to great length) and neko-mata (a monster cat) which is famous in Japan. The most popular ghost is white bread-ojisan who lives in a bakery.

white bread-ojisan

white bread-ojisan

Taishōgun shopping street has a mascot character, Yagyōdōji. It is not designed like a product though. Yagyōdōji is a child who has three eyes. He is considered to be a messenger of the god, Henge Daimyojin. This god can change old tool to ghosts. Yagyōdōji is active in some events, not only in Yōkai Street, but also in Kyoto. For example, in Yōkai Street, Yōkai art flea market, an event where the general public sells their original goods of the ghosts and Ichijo Street HyakkiYagyō, an event where the people disguised as a ghost parades around the Ichijo street take place several times a year. The ghost of old tools is called Tsukumogami. It’s said that the idea appeared from the ancient people’s mind to save old tools. In Taishōgun shopping street, they hand down the importance of recycling through Tsukumogami.

Revitalization of a town by ghosts

In 2005, Ichijo Street was renamed Yōkai Street. The street started revitalization of a town by ghosts. Some goods of ghosts are sold in the shopping street. For example, Yōkai korokke which is a green croquette, Yōkai ramen which is a black ramen and so on. These entertained the people who visit the street. And Yōkai camera which is application for smart phone has been provided. You can take a picture which includes a ghost when people take a picture in Yōkai Street with this application. Things like these have been an opportunity to visit increase to Yōkai Street.

A big influence of Yōkai Street

Yōkai Street is a landmark event that connected old tradition and shopping street having necessaries of life. But now many shopping streets are out of vogue in Japan. The biggest reason is the appearance of large commercial complexes. Many shopping streets are decreasingly. But if you come here, you may feel something warm all its own. There are many not chain stores, only family run shops. The shop assistants and customer are very close. Yōkai Street is a big chance to take back former Taishōgun shopping street. I hope that everyone will visit here not only on event days but every day to buy something and enjoy talking to the local people.

Following in the Footsteps of a Peerless Hero

The Legend of Yoshitune and Kyoto

By Airi Kinoshita

…On the Gojo bridge in the city of Koto

Is a huge man Bennkei, with a sword in hand

Throwing the weapon up high over his head

He darts for Ushiwaka who stands on the parapet…


These words are from a famous song that appears in a song book that was used by elementary school students from 1911~1941. The song represents the popular scene of the first meeting of Ushiwakamaru and Benkei on the Gojo Bridge in Kyoto. Ushiwakamaru is a childhood name of Minamoto-no-Yoshitsune, one of the greatest and best-known samurai in Japanese history. In addition to his achievements based on historical facts, there are many stories that hae been handed down from generation to generation.  

Yoshitsune was born in 1159, the late Heian period when samurai gradually rose to power and were soon to overthrow the aristocratic class. Blood relationships were important to Samurai and they and teamed together for each clan. Among these clans, there were two most powerful families: Minamoto and Taira families. Both of these families believed they were entitled to power since they both had ties to the imperial family and had strong armies. Consequently, the two families clashed and fought one another. This world of conflict cast a shadow over Yoshitsune’s early life. In the year Yoshitsune was born, the Taira clan killed Yoshitune’s father during the Heiji Rebellion. Soon after his mother, Tokiwa, was forced to marry Taira-no-Kiyomori, the top general of Taira family. Yoshitsune’s brother, Yoritomo, was exiled to the Izu Peninsula.



Yoshitsune himself was sent to Kurama temple, which is located in the mountains north of Kyoto city.Legend says that he was raised and trained by Tengu, the red-faced, long-nosed goblins that inhabit the deep forest of Japan.Even today, huge trees surround Kurama temple, so it would not seem not surprising to encounter a Tengu goblin there. The legend also says that one day Yoshitsune heard that a warrior monk named Benkei was robbing people on the Gojo Bridge every night. He went to see for himself and soon found himself in a duel with the monk. He defeated Benkei, so Benkei became his right-hand man and served him well. On the Gojo Bridge there are statues of Ushiwaka (Yoshitsune) and Benkei to commemorate this legend.

Yoshitsune grew up to be a brave and great strategist. In 1180, his brother Yoritomo raised an army to fight against the Taira family and Yoshitsune joined him. He became well-known for many clever tactics he deployed in battles. These operations helped lead his clan to victory. One of the most remarkable operations he pulled off was Hiyodorigoe-no- sakaotoshi (running down the Hiyodori Slope). In the Battle of Ichi-no-tani in1184, the Taira family had set up their camp at the base of Hiyodori Slope, which was a very, very steep hill. The Tairas had expected the Minamoto Clan to attack them from the front, head-on, but Yoshitsune surprised them and attacked from the rear, rushing down the steep slope on horseback followed by his army. The Taira Clan was stunned. They fled in a panic, so the Minamoto clan could win an easy victory with few dead.

Although the Minamoto Clan was victorious, Yoshitsune soon fell into conflict with his brother, Yoritomo, because they both desired to become the new clan leader. Eventually Yoritomo decided to kill his his brother, so Yoshitsune fled Kyoto for Iwate, in the far north of Japan. He was going to ask for help from another prominent clan leader, Hidehira Fujiwara. Unfortunately, Hidehira’s successor, Yasuhira, betrayed Yoshitsune and attacked him. He lost most of his soldiers in the ensuing fight including loyal Benkei, who died by throwing himself in front of his master during a volley of arrows. Yoshitsune was forced to commit hara-kiri and died in his estate which had been set ablaze.

History sympathizes with this tragic hero by remembering his exploits as legends and kin Kabuki plays. If you are interested in Minanoto-no-Yositsune, Kyoto has many places connected with him, for example, where Ushiwaka and Bennkei dueled. Actually there are three candidates for the place: Gojo Bridge, Kiyomizu temple, and Gojoten temple. These all are in Kyoto city, so how about visiting these sites and let yourself imagine this brilliant historical figure?

Sanjo Street

by Mirai Ikei

An Introduction to Sanjo Street

Sanjo Street is located in the centre of Kyoto City and stretches from Shinomiya in Yamashina-ku to Togetsukyo Bridge in the Arashiyama area. (Some people say that it runs from Shinomiya to Saga-Tenryuji.) The distance is about 20 km. There are lively roads and an arcade with lots of people as well as historic buildings and important cultural properties. All of these sites in Sanjo Street are very attractive and people have long been fascinated by them. We will introduce our special selection from the great spots.

The History

Sanjo Street is a very historic and interesting area of Kyoto.Let’s see what happened along this street.

Honnoji (relocated)

Honnoji Temple was the place where the famous general Nobunaga Oda [1534-82] was forced to take his own life. Do you know about the major historical event which is known as the ‘Honno-ji Incident’? Honnno-ji was known as the place where one of Nobunaga’s followers, Mitsuhide Akechi, betrayed his master. Originally, the temple was at a different place from today but Hideyoshi Toyotomi [1537-98] relocated it during the rebuilding of war-devastated Kyoto.

The Ikedaya Affair (Edo to Meiji period)

The Ikedaya Affair is one of the most famous incidents that occurred at the end of the Edo period. It was a stormy epoch. On 5th June 1864 (in the old calendar), ten members of a special group, called Shinsengumi (whose leader, Isamu Kondo, worked for the Tokugawa Shogunate), battled with twenty four warriors who were against the Shogunate. It resulted in the deaths of fifteen warriors.

The site of the Ikedaya Affair is located on the west side of Sanjo Kobashi Bridge, about 30 meters west from Sanjo Ohashi. The Ikedaya has been turned into a restaurant now but still we can clearly see the sword cut on one of the handrail’s decoration of Sanjo Ohashi Bridge.

Introducing popular spots along Sanjo Street.

It is not only an historically important place but also a very lively area today. We have some recommendations.

Benkei-ishi Stone

This is a hidden popular spot. There are a few famous episodes related to this stone. One is that it was thrown from Gojo Ohashi Bridge by a monk and warrior called Benkei. Another episode is that the stone was relocated to Oshu (today’s Iwate prefecture) after Benkei’s death. However, the stone had a voice and said that it wanted to return to Sanjo in Kyoto. At the same time, there was an epidemic of fever and a number of people died in the Sanjo area. At that time, the stone was returned to its original place, Sanjo-Teramachi, and the area was named ‘Benkei-Ishimachi’ town.

Benkei-ishi Stone


The Museum of Kyoto  (Kyoto Bunka Hakubutsukan)

The Museum of Kyoto

These are typical western-style buildings which were built in the Meiji period in Kyoto. In particular, Sanjo Street has many of these important buildings. The Museum of Kyoto is comprised of two buildings: one is a modern style building and the other was built with red brick. The red bricks were once used in the Bank of Japan’s Kyoto Branch. Popular and unique exhibitions take place every year on various themes. People enjoy the high quality of art in this traditional retro-looking building.


Nice arcade for bicycle riders

‘Sanjo Meiten Shotengai’ Arcade is an approximately 800-meter long arcade. It stretches from Horikawa-dori Street to Senbon-dori Street. There are a variety of shops such as sweet shops, fruit and vegetable shops, bars, restaurants and so on. There are seasonal events in the arcades; for example, a concert of Japanese traditional music in which people perform with shamisen, kokyu, and shakuhachi. It is a great experience to join one of these events.



Will you visit Sanjo Street?

We have introduced the faces of Sanjo Street, both fascinating and mysterious. All generations and all kinds of people can enjoy the street. And Sanjo Street has been an important street for people in Kyoto from past times. This is because the street has a special charm for us.




The Legend of Yoshitsune Minamoto

by Kana Matsumoto and Satoko Nasu

Yoshitsune Minamoto

Yoshitsune Minamoto was a tragic and mysterious hero in Japan. He is still popular today, even though he has been dead for over 800 years. He was a general of the imperial Taira clan and was very talented and charismatic. However, certain people tried to get rid of Yoshitsune during his life, so in the end, he could not help but commit suicide. His dramatic, yet tragic life makes many people sympathetic and imaginative. His biography, the Gikeiki, said he would create lots of legends throughout Kyoto. Indeed, the Kyoto region provides many historic sites of Yoshitsune, where you can learn more about his life and legend.

Yoshitsune Minamoto’s Life History

Yoshitsune Minamoto was born the ninth child of Yoshiyomo Minamoto, the head of the Minamoto clan, in 1159. His childhood name was Ushiwaka, which he was called until he become an adult at the age of 16. In those days, the imperial Taira and Minamoto clans battled one another. Yoshitsune’s father, however, was killed by the Taira clan the same year Yoshitsune was born. Therefore, Yoshitsune ran away with his mother, Tokiwa, and his two older brothers. From that point, Yoshitsune lived in Kurama temple, just north of Kyoto city, and raised as a priest. However, he eventually refused to become a priest and left the temple in 1174. He then joined forces with Yoritomo, who was his older brother, and decided to defeat the Taira clan with him. Yoshitsune won lot of battles and became a hero. However, he gradually started to act with greater authority. For that reason, his brother, Yoritomo, got angry and regarded his younger brother as an enemy. Yoshitsune escaped from his brother Yoritomo and went to Osyu, which is now the Tohoku area of northeastern Honshu, to ask for help. However, the feudal lord of Osyu, Yasuhira Fujiwara, betrayed him. In the end, Yoshitsune killed himself at the young age of 31.Places

Yoshitsune’s Childhood at Kurama Temple

The most famous place in Kyoto related with Yoshitsune’s childhood is Kurama Temple  on  Mt. Kurama, in the area just north of Kyoto city. Yoshitsune lived in Kurama temple and developed his academic and martial skills there for ten years. Within the temple grounds, there are six areas of interest related to Yoshitsune

    1. The first is a hall called Kawakami Jizo-do. Inside lies the guardian deity of Ushiwaka.
    2. The second is YoshitsuneKokuyo-to (Yoshitsune’s memorial service tower), which is a tower erected for the repose of the dead Yoshitsune’s spirit. This was the place where Yoshitsune lived and studied as a child.
    3. The third is Ikitsugi no mizu (Water for Rest). It is believed that Ushiwaka drank the water there on the way to his training places.

Ki-no Nemiti (Trail of Wood Roots)

  1. The fourth is Sekurabe-ishi (a Comparison of the stone and Yoshitsune’s height), with which he measured his height when he left the temple for the final time.
  2. The fifth is the path of Ki-no Nemiti (Trail of Wood Roots). Along the mountain path, many Japanese cedar roots appear on the surface of theearth, forming an arabesque pattern. Yoshitsune used them for training himself, especially his legs.
  3. The sixth and final place is Yoshitsne-do (Yoshitsune’s hall). It is said that his spirit is enshrined there in a statue called Syanaou.

Places Related to Yoshitsune’s Adulthood

Gojotenjin Shrine

One cannot talk about Yoshitsune’s adulthood without mentioning one important person: Benkei. Benkei was a monk with Herculean strength. Yoshitsune and Benkei met each other for the first time at Gojotenjin shrine, which is located in southern part of Kyoto city. Around that time, Benkei was wandering around Kyoto each night in an effort to gather 1,000 swords. On the night when there was only one sword left to gather, Benkei encountered a boy passing by while playing a flute at the shrine. That boy’s name was Yoshitsune. Yoshitsune also happened to be carrying a golden sword at his waist. That sword caught Benkei’s fancy, and so Benkei challenged Yoshitsune to a duel for that sword.


Benkei and Yoshitsune

Instead of dueling at the shrine, they moved to Gojo-ohashi bridge which is located in southern part of Kyoto city. Benkei was very strong and he had robbed many people of their swords; on the other hand, Yoshitsune was much smaller than Benkei. It seemed that Benkei had an advantage. However, the result was completely different. Yoshitsune moved quickly with such light steps that Benkei was no match for Yoshitsune at all. Benkei was defeated! At Gojo-ohashi bridge, there are statues describing the scene of their duel. The statue on the left side is Benkei, while right one is Yoshitsune. It is said that Gojo-ohashi bridge was the place where they had a duel, but actually it was located in the place of Matsubara-bridge today.

Kiyomizu Temple

Kiyomizu Temple

After the duel at Gojo-ohashi bridge, Benkei was really frustrated and was thinking about revenge. Not long after, he waited for Yoshitsune at Kiyomizu temple for revenge because there was a community event at the temple on that day. As expected, Yoshitsune appeared. Benkei challenged him duel one more time. However, the winner was Yoshitsune again! Since then Benkei started to become loyal to Yoshitsune and he actually became a lifetime servant. So their final duel was conducted at one of Kyoto’s best spots today: Kiyomizu temple. Within the temple grounds there are two iron sticks and Japanese iron clogs, which Benkei was said to use and wear in those days. The long stick measures approximately 120 kilograms, while the short one is about 24 kilograms. Also, one of clogs weighs about 12 kilograms! Those items tell us of Benkei’s greatness and remind us that Yoshitsune and Benkei fought a historical duel at this temple.

The Minamoto clan, including Yoshitsune, had had countless battles to hunt down and kill the Heike clan for several years. Yoshitsune was so strong that he contributed to the victories at many battles. At last, he succeeded in leading the Heike clan to the end. Thanks to his many great deeds, Yoshitsune was very popular among the people of that era. However, his older brother, Yoritomo, didn’t like that. He was probably jealous of Yoshitsune and at the same time, felt a great menace to him. There had been a discord among them for a long time.



Meanwhile, Yoshitsune had a first encounter with his future wife at Shinsen-en, which is a shrine located in middle part of Kyoto city. In 1182, the holy ritual for rain was conducted at Shinsen-en. Although 99 women danced in dedication, no rain fell. However, after the 100th woman, named Shizuka-gozen danced, it suddenly got cloudy and started raining heavily! Shizuka became one of Yoshitsune’s wives later on, so their meeting here was a fateful one.

The Death of Yoshitsune

Unfortunately, Yoritomo’s distrust of Yoshitsune was steadily rising. And finally, Yoritomo started a move to kill his younger brother. Therefore Yoshitsune ran away with his wife and some companions. Escape, however, was becoming impossible. At one point he had to part with his wife. Also, he lost several his companions while he ran away from enemies. And although he managed to keep up his escape for a while, he was eventually overpowered by his enemies. Finally, he ended up killing himself by putting a sword into his body in the hall in Iwate Prefecture, which Buddhist statues were enshrined. He died at the young age of 31 years old.

You can visit all places mentioned above in Kyoto. See the map below:

View Yoshitsune’s Related Places in a larger map

Ghosts, Gods, and Spirits of Kyoto

by Tomoya Kida, Yusuke Shimizu, and Takashi Muraj

As befits a city with more than 1,200 years of history, Kyoto is known as a haven for many ghosts, gods and spirits. Here is your chance to get briefly acquainted with some of the better-known entities said to haunt the cultural heart of Japan.

The Oni of Rashomon

Rashomon DVD CoverA long time ago, the gate known as Rashomon was the main entrance and triumphal arch of Kyoto, the capital of Japan at that time. The eminent writer Akutagawa Ryunosuke (1892-1927) has written about Rashomon in a famous short story of that title. The renowned filmmaker Kurosawa Akira (1920-1998) featured this southern gateway in his classic film of the same name. Nowadays in Kyoto, one can only find a stone monument, erected in 1895, that tells us there was once such a building in this place: a lofty, tile-topped gate. But back in the old days, a tale was often told which claimed that an oni (a fiend or ogre) lived in this place.

The legend says…

In the Heian period (794-1185), while the samurai soldier Watanabe no Tsuna held a party with his colleagues, some of them challenged themselves to test their courage. To do so, they walked to Rashomon one by one. At last, it was Tsuna’s turn. He went alone and arrived at Rashomon without incident. He placed a card at the gateway that certified his arrival. Then, on his way back, when he was passing the Ichijo-Modoribashi bridge, an ogre grasped his kabuto (samurai’s helmet) from behind. Tsuna attacked this monster with his sword, and the fiend ran away. At Tsuna’s feet, he found a big severed arm, still grasping Tsuna’s helmet. The owner of this arm is an oni named Ibaraki-Doji, who is still said to haunt the site today: a follower of Shuten-Doji, another ogre said to live on Mt. Oe. According to some accounts, this oni went to take his arm back, over and over.

Another legend says…

Once a biwa (a traditional Japanese lute) named Genjo, an instrument greatly treasured by the emperor of the time, was stolen. People said that the theft was intended to drive the emperor mad. Then late one night, when the nobleman and great musician Minamoto no Hiromasa happened to be thinking about that missing lute, he heard the sound of someone playing it. He took his servant boy with him and followed the sound, which was certainly Genjo’s, and it led him to Rashomon, where he found that the tune he was hearing came from the top of the double-roofed gate. Hiromasa and his servant both listened, but only he could hear the brilliant playing. He whispered to his servant, “I don’t think this is a person who is playing Genjo, but an ogre!” And suddenly the music stopped. Then Hiromasa shouted, “Who is it playing Genjo up there?! That lute is a treasure of the emperor, stolen some days ago. Now I’m here; I followed your beautiful music right up to this gate!” Then something suddenly dropped down, hanging from the gate. Hiromasa quickly backed away, thinking it could be a hanged man, or the ogre. But soon he saw the precious biwa tied with a rope to its neck. He cut it free and brought it back to the emperor. Genjo can still be found in the Imperial Palace today. Courtiers insist it is a living thing with a spirit of its own, and that if a poor musician tries to play it, Genjo will grow sullen and not produce any sound. Once, when a fire burned down part of the palace, everyone ran for their lives, forgetting to save Genjo. But the lute was later found safe outside, where it seemed to have taken itself!

Ideogram for Oni

Japanese Ideogram for 'Oni'

At first, Kyoto was structured very neatly with an exact matrix of streets. But as dozens of years went by, the southern area didn’t drain well and was gradually getting wilder. Perhaps for that reason, some tales arose that say an oni is living around Rashomon. Actually, there are many types of folklore and traditions hidden in various places within the urbanized city of Kyoto, for this is a very old city. Moreover, Japan’s capital was moved from Nara to Kyoto by the Emperor Kammu in part to run away from many deep-seated grudges. So this ancient city is a fertile ground for the activities of ghosts and demons.

In addition to the ogres haunting Rashomon, many types of ghosts and gods live in Kyoto. Here is a partial list of sites and their inhabitants:

  • Mt. Oe: An ogre named Shuten-Doji had his head cut off by a samurai commander and buried on a mountain pass named Oinosaka. This beheaded demon repented of his crimes and is said to help people with ailments above the neck…
  • Ichijo-Modoribashi: Here at this haunted bridge a group of late 16th century Christian martyrs had their ears cut off. Nearby is Seimei-Jinja, a Shinto shrine devoted to warding off evil spirits…
  • Kibune-Jinja: at this Shinto shrine it is said the ghost of the Genji general Minamoto no Yoshitsune resides…
  • Kurama-dera: Atop a mountain in northern Kyoto stands this Buddhist temple. Within its grounds is a sanctum where the temple’s followers claim a “demon king” is enshrined. The spirit is said to have come to Earth from Venus 6 million years ago to control the destiny of the human race…
  • Kitano-Tenmangu: This Shinto shrine was built for the spirit of Sugawara no Michizane, a 9th & 10th century scholar, writer and court minister of astonishing brilliance who died shortly after a plot against him had led to his exile in Daizafu (present-day Kyushu). After his death, Michizane’s angry spirit is said to have caused misfortunes at court. He was posthumously pardoned and promoted to the highest rank. This shrine was built for him and his ancestor Tenpo Nichimei, where he resides deified today as Tenman Tenjin, the patron saint of scholarship…

Not only in Kyoto city itself, but in the surrounding regions you can find many ghost spots and sites which are like the theatrical stages of legends and folklore. Follow your curiosity, to where Japan’s history and mythology converge!