Al Fresco Kyoto Dining: Summertime Kawadoko in Kibune

August 16, 2008

by Takuro Yoshida

When the weather gets sultry in summer, Kyoto people like to dine outdoors by the cool running rivers. This style of al fresco dining is called kawadoko. The word ‘kawadoko’ means ‘riverbed’, and beautiful Kibune, located in the rural, forested northern part of Kyoto city, is a fine place to enjoy a meal kawadoko-style. In Kibune you can dine directly over a riverbed, with refreshingly clear water flowing just below, and waterfalls all around you. The dining platforms that are suspended over the river are usually called yuka, which simply means ‘floor’ in Japanese. Let me introduce you to kawadoko through some good pictures to help you understand easily.

Food that goes with the seasons

When you enjoy kawadoko in Kibune in the summertime, you can eat foods that help you feel cool. For example, there is
“nagashi somen” or “flowing somen.” Somen are very thin white wheat noodles. In nagashi somen the noodles are sent flowing down a narrow “river” that is actually a long, clean bamboo gutter. Diners catch the noodles with their chopsticks and then dip them into a cool, tasty broth before eating them. The noodles that have come through the bamboo “river” are so cool that you feel comfortably revived. By the way, whatever the time of year, you can feel the Japanese seasons through food! In wintertime in Kibune, for instance, we can eat a “hotpot” of boiled wild boar that is named botan nabe. “Botan” is the Japanese word for peony flower, and the dish is so named because the sliced wild boar meat is arranged on the plate (prior to cooking) like the petals of a peony.

Nagashi somen in summer

Botan nabe in winter

Beautiful scenery

In Kibune, there is a lot of beautiful scenery. Please look at these pictures:

There are many clear rivers and streams in Kibune, and the sounds that the riverine landscape produces are also reinvigorating: water rushing over boulders, breezes blowing through the cedar trees, and the songs of birds and whirring of cicadas. The water in Kibune is very clear, and people often drink the “goshinsui” (“sacred water”) that 1500-year-old Kibune Shrine serves. There is an amazing story about this spring water. Kibune Shrine took a test of the water ’ s quality three years ago. Surprisingly, there were no impurities, and no discoloration. Can you imagine how clear this water is?

Comfortable dining in lower temperatures

If you visit Kyoto in the summer, you will have to experience a fierce climate that seems unique to this city. Kyoto is located in a basin, and surrounded on three sides by mountains, so you may be irritated by the high humidity in summer (and feel frozen in winter, too!). To escape from the muggy heat and to have a rest, visitors go up to the mountainous village of Kibune for kawadoko . I went wearing just a T -shirt in summer and I actually felt a little cold on the river because Kibune is a far cooler place than the city center!

A bit of history

Next, I want to introduce some history. Kawadoko in Kibune was started within about the last 50 years. How, you may wonder, could restaurants that are located in deep forests keep their businesses going? The key words are “temple and shrines.” Please look at the next picture.

Many people pay homage or worship at Kurama-dera Temple. This Buddhist temple is especially famous for having sheltered an agile and legendary samurai general, Minamoto no Yoshitune (1159-89) during a time of great danger. To see the famous temple, people usually use Kuramaguchi Station (blue point on the map) and also go to many shrines or historical places (red points). Of course, it takes a lot of time and these visitors get tired. Therefore, kawadoko in nearby Kibune was started to provide them with a rest stop, delicious food and comfort. That’s why kaawdoko in Kibune (green point on the map) became famous.

Personally, when I went to enjoy kawadoko in Kibune at Hirobun restaurant (this link is to its Japanese-only website) I found many people, including Japanese and foreigners, enjoying themselves on the yuka over the riverbed. There were many elders and young people and lots of families. I realized that kawadoko is loved by all of the generations. When you come to Kyoto, I would like you to try kawadoko, which so many people enjoy!

See also “Kurama and Kibune” on our own website. Photo of Kurama-dera Temple courtesy of Japanese Wikipedia.

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!

Mysterious trip of water and fire

by Akiko Nakai; Mami Nishiyama


Water And Fire ~Take A Mysterious Kyoto Tour~

1. Kibune (Kifune) Shrine ~ The Power of Water~

Do you have someone special you want to get closer to? Do you want to keep healthy during your life? If so, how about making a start here in traditional Kyoto? Kibune Shrine, which is also called Kifune Shrine, is one of the best places to make your wishes come true.

▼ What’s Kibune Shrine?

Surrounded by a deep cedar forest and the murmur of a stream, Kibune Shrine is located in the northeast of Kyoto city. The exact year of its establishment is unknown, but it is more than 1600 years old. An ancient myth states that a goddess reached Kibune on a boat in search for a water source. Kibune Shrine was built on the very same spot as where she found an abundant spring. As a result, Okami-no-Kami, The God of Water, was deified in Kibune Shrine. Today, you still can see the stones that cover the goddess’s boat in the shrine.

 ▼ The Blessing

Ancient people believed that all wishes on earth could come true through the power of the God of Water. Izumi Shikibu, a female poet of the Heian period (794-1192 AD), knew of the beneficial effects of Kibune Shrine, so one day she visited there and prayed in order to regain her husband’s love. Knowledge of her success in romance spread dramatically around Japan, and since then the shrine has become known especially as the God of Marriage. Today, Kibune Shrine continues to attract a lot of couples; also office workers pray for good relationship between companies.

Izumi Shikibu in the Heian Period

Girls praying in the present

Water fortune telling

▼ The Sacred Water ~ Lourdes of Japan?

The water which springs up in the shrine is called Goshinsui. (Sacred Water). The soft, weak alkaline water has been loved since ancient times by poets, tea ceremony masters, or those who seek good health. Surprisingly, the water doesn’t go bad for three days after it’s collected, and germ reproduction is amazingly low. From this point, some Japanese call Goshinsui the “Lourdes of Japan.” Why not give it a try?

▼Fortune telling ~The power of water~

In this shrine, you don’t want to miss the Mizuura-Mikuji, a unique type of fortune telling that you can try only here.

The meaning of the fortune (from left to right, top to bottom) In the circle: Suekichi…The 5th rank of good luck
(Daikichi-Chukichi-Shokichi-Kichi-Suekichi-Kyou)

Lucky Direction South
Health Take care of yourself slowly
Childbirth Easy delivery
Romance People around you will bring a good chance to meet people
Wishes Will come true no matter how long it takes
Moving house Take your time to decide
Lost property Will be found somewhere in a high place
Business Increase your stock
Studies Do your best, or you may receive lower grades
Travel Don’t be in a hurry, and be careful at the edge of water

2. Fire Dancing In the Night- The Kurama Fire Festival

If you’d like to see a unique side of Kyoto, why don’t you go to the Kurama Fire Festival? You’ll definitely enjoy an adventure at this exotic festival!

This festival has a long history- in the middle of the 10th century, a commotion and a big earthquake happened in Kyoto. Therefore, the Yuki Myojin (one of the guardian demons of the Imperial Court) was enshrined at Kurama to protect the nothern area of Kyoto from these misfortunes. When the Yuki Myojin came to Kurama, the village people welcomed it by building bonfires; this developed into a festival.

The Youth with big torches

The Kurama Fire Festival is one of the three mysterious festivals in Kyoto (along with the Yasurai Festival and the Cow Festival). Every year on October 22nd this festival starts from 6 p.m. with the starting signal: “Shinji Mairasshare!” (The shrine ritual has come!)

In Kurama there are seven groups of residents, and each group joins the parade from its stronghold. Therefore, the parade becomes longer and longer with time (the longest length is one kilometer). People shoulder big torches and shout: “Sairei, sairyo!” (with hopes that this festival will be the best one). The participants include infants, boys and the youth. The size of the tourches become bigger and bigger as the participants become older and older.

How Exiciting!

This festival ends after midnight. Two miniature shrines are carried  to a rest house for a demon called Otabisho, where the Kurama residents have already made room for the Yuki Myojin. Then, the shrine ritual takes place and the festival is over.

One of the miniature shrines

There are two interesting points. One is that women also participate by pulling the ropes of the miniature shrines; by doing this it is believed that a mother will have an easy delivery. The other is a performance called Tyoppen which is a ceremony for boys who are coming of age.

This festival has been handed down in the village through the seven groups. They prepare for the festival from May, cutting the branches of azalea, and responsibilities are divided among the groups. You can say, therefore, that this festival is by the village people and for them. Therefore, we observers need to follow their instructions and not do selfish actions, even if you become very excited.

Explore Mysterious Kyoto in Kibune and Kurama!