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Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Kyoto to Introduce Accommodation Tax

京都市、宿泊税導入へ

The city of Kyoto announced on May 10 that it will introduce an accommodation tax beginning in 2018. All hotels and Japanese inns in Kyoto will charge guests a per night fee that will go into the city's coffers.

Kyoto to Introduce Accommodation Tax.


The only exemption is for hotels and inns that cater to junior high school and high school tour groups. One rite of passage in Japan is the school trip - a military-style operation in which a handful of teachers escort and supervise hundreds of students on a several day trip to some far-flung location, often Kyoto - and the hotels these groups use are bare bones and used only by the above groups. 

The Mayor, Daisuke Kadokawa, and City Council will begin discussions in August to decide on the amount visitors will pay.

Like most tourist and business destinations worldwide, Tokyo introduced an accommodation tax in 2002. Osaka followed suit this January.

In those cities, for rooms that are 10,000 yen (roughly $100) a night or more, the tax ranges from 100-300 yen ($1-3) per night.

For those of us who live - and pay city taxes - in Kyoto, this is long overdue and highly welcome.  The city swarms with visitors who use the city's subways, buses, water, medical services, etc. Those of us who live in the city are paying to maintain those services for short-term visitors.

With the exception of a small number of people and groups - temples and shrines (which are exempt from property taxes), restaurateurs, the tourist industry, and hoteliers - most Kyotoites are not merely inconvenienced by the traffic and crowds and difficulty of getting into restaurants but are also paying to maintain the city services tourists are using.

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Sunday, May 21, 2017

Japan News This Week 21 May 2017

今週の日本

Japan News.
Japanese Princess’s Engagement Revives Debate on Women in Royal Family
New York Times

Do not run: Fleeing from scene when suspected of groping on train not a good idea
The Mainichi

Japan's economy grows faster than expected
BBC

Forced into pornography: Japan moves to stop women being coerced into sex films
Guardian

The Threat to Japanese Democracy: The LDP Plan for Constitutional Revision to Introduce Emergency Powers
Japan Focus

Last Week's Japan News on the JapanVisitor blog

Statistics

Pay of elected representatives by country, in UK Pounds.

Britain: £66,396 in 2013
Italy: £120,546
Australia: £117,805
USA: £114,660
Spain: £28,969
Japan: 21,000,000 yen (£145,656) in 2011

Sources: Daily Telegraph, for Japan

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Friday, May 19, 2017

Kyoto City Bus 50

京都市バス#50

The Kyoto city bus #50 runs from Kyoto Station to the Kinugasa campus of Ritsumeikan University in the north west of the city near Kinkakuji and Ryoanji temples.

The #50 bus chugs up the western side of Kyoto.

Kyoto City Bus 50, Kyoto Station.


From Kyoto Station the #50 bus stops at Nanajo Nishinotoin, Nishinotoin Shomen, Nishinotoin Rokujo, Gojo Nishinotoin, Nishinotoin Matsubara, Nishinotoin Bukkoji, Shijo Nishinotoin, Shijo Horikawa, Horikawa Takoyakushi, Horikawa Sanjo, Horikawa Oike, Nijojo-mae for Nijo Station and Nijo Castle, Horikawa Marutamachi, Horikawa Shimodachiuri, Horikawa Shimochojamachi, Horikawa Nakadachiuri, Omiya Nakadachiuri, Chiekoin Nakadachiuri, Senbon Nakadachiuri, Senbon Imadegawa, Kamishichiken, Kitano Tenmangu, Kitano Hakubaicho (for the Keifuku Randen Line), Kinugasako-mae, Waratenjin-mae, Sakuragicho and Ritsumeikan Daigaku-mae.

Kyoto City Bus 50, Kyoto Station.


The first #50 bus service for Kyoto Station leaves Ritsumeikan at 6.16am Monday-Sunday and the last bus is 10.20pm daily.

From Kyoto Station the first Kyoto #50 bus is at 6.10am daily and the last bus to Rits is at 10.45pm daily.

The number #50 bus is usually full of university students in the morning but is not so crowded the rest of the day.

Find out more about buses in Kyoto.



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Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Honen-in Temple Where Japanese Buddhism comes into its own

法然院

In the cool hours of early summer take the narrow road south from the gate of Ginkaku-ji Temple to the elevated world of Honen-in Temple. Here you will find the sun shining on a large bamboo grove. Here you will find birds singing sweetly high above. Hear you will experience long, silent moments.

Honen-in Temple Where Japanese Buddhism comes into its own.


If one walks this same path every day, one will discover the fresh new breath of the changing seasons. New flowers will open your heart and mind. In early spring, plum and peach flowers bloom here, followed by cherry blossoms in mid spring. In the first days of May: the wonder of the fresh green of a new generation of young leaves.

The monks at Honen-in Temple teach about nature and living in harmony with the natural world. The temple also opens its doors to art exhibitions and music concerts by artists from around the world. Nearby, you will find Anraku-ji Temple and Ryokan-ji Temple. Like Honen Temple, both of these temples are quiet and peaceful too.

Honen-in Temple, Kyoto, Japan.


On the north side of Ryokan-ji, stands the private residence of Mr. Shio-mi, who has been displaying his special family of bonsai, on tiered shelves, to the public for many years. It is the custom for people to show some of their favorite flowering plants to the passing public. Kyoto people love flowers.

Also in this area you will often see colorful, shiny new rickshaws passing by, pulled by strong, tanned young men. And people walking their dog in the evening light. Walking along the paths of Kyoto quietens the heart and brings simple joys to the soul. And every day at four in the afternoon the bell at Honen-in rings out over the neighborhood. And this sound too, should you hear it, has a soothing effect on the soul.

Honen-in Temple Where Japanese Buddhism comes into its own.


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Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Cairns Inn Hiwasa Tokushima

ビジネスホテル ケアンズ

Cairns Inn is a small, modern hotel in the seaside town of Hiwasa on the coast of Shikoku in Tokushima.

Cairns Inn Hiwasa Tokushima.


They have ten rooms, nine of which are "western style". The most noticeable thing about the rooms is their size - they are much bigger than regular budget business hotel rooms, and the feeling of space is enhanced by the minimal decorations and furnishing made out of plain wood.

Cairns Inn Hiwasa Tokushima.


All rooms are en-suite with the usual facilities of TV, fridge, Wifi, etc.

Extra beds can be added to some rooms for families. There are no meals offered, but the hotel is located right next to JR Hiwasa Station and so restaurants and shops are close by. Popular with pilgrims visiting nearby Yakuoji Temple, a single room costs 4,800 yen.

Cairns Inn
75-16 Benzaiten
Okugawauchi, Minami-cho, Kaifu-gun
Yokushima 779-2305
Tel: 0884 77 1211
www.hotel-cairns.net

Cairns Inn Hiwasa Tokushima.


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Sunday, May 14, 2017

Japan News This Week 14 May 2017

今週の日本

Japan News.
Heng on Revising Japan’s Pacifist Constitution
New York Times

Is Abe using 2020 Tokyo Olympics to promote constitutional revisions?
The Mainichi

X Japan's Yoshiki needs urgent surgery after decades of intense drumming
BBC

Japan’s 2019 World Cup organisers have chance to lift rugby from sport shadows
Guardian

The Global Rightist Turn, Nationalism and Japan
Japan Focus

Last Week's Japan News on the JapanVisitor blog

Statistics

List of countries by homeless population

Australia 105,237 (0.43% = homeless ratio)
Denmark 6,138 (0.11%)
Japan 25,000 (0.02%)
United States 564,708 (0.18%)

Source: Wikipedia

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Friday, May 12, 2017

Spring Words in Japanese

春の表現

Blossom on the apple tree on our verandah.
Blossom - on our balcony 
Halfway through May, with the plum and cherry blossoms having finished, we are well and truly into spring.

Japanese culture and, by association, the Japanese language, is very season-focused, and there are numerous phrases and vocubulary items special to spring.

rishhun 立春 is the beginning of spring. In the West, this is determined according to the spring equinox, but in Japan, it is calculated according to the pre-modern calendar, so always falls on about February 3 (February 4, this year, not March 20, which was the spring equinox.)

shungyo 春暁 means a spring dawn. And dawn in springtime is characterized by harugasumi 春霞, which is the mistiness that comes with the season.

The Tokyo Skytree enveloped in morning spring haze.
The Tokyo Skytree with harugasumi on a shungyo

Such mistiness at nighttime makes for an oborozuki 朧月, or "hazy moon," with all the wistfulness and romance the image invokes.

This "haziness" extends to one's state of mind, and shunmin-akatsuki-o-oboezu 春眠暁を覚えず refers to something that happened to me this week: sleeping so well thanks to the nice not-too-cool but not-too-hot weather that you don't wake up in time. Literally translated: "spring sleep dawn unremembered." I didn't make it to the office until midday!

However, those pleasant temperatures can readily give way to a brief reversion to winter, with the sudden cold spring day being called shunkan or harusamu 春寒.

But we seem to be past that stage now, and things are haruranman 春爛漫, i.e., spring is well and truly here and filling everything with the pulse and glow of new life.

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Thursday, May 11, 2017

The Tale of Genji: the World’s First Full-length Novel

The Tale of Genji: the World’s First Full-length Novel.
源氏物語

The Tale of Genji (Genji Monogatari) is considered to be the world's first full-length novel.

It was written in the early 11th century by a female imperial court servant called Murasaki Shikibu. This is over a thousand years ago and long before narrative works by European writers such as Miguel Cervantes (1547-1616) and Daniel Defoe (1659–1731).

The Tale of Genji consists of 54 chapters and covers a period of 70 years during which four different emperors reigned. In all, the work has about 400 characters, including 50 main characters. The length of the work is equivalent to over 2,500 pages (with 400 Japanese letters per page; i.e. about 1 million letters).

The story is divided into three parts. The first part spans Chapter 1 (Kiritsubo) to Chapter 33 (Fuji no Uraba). This part mainly describes the lavish early life of Hikaru Genji, the hero of the story.

The second part covers eight chapters: Chapter 34 (Wakanajo) to Chapter 41 (Maboroshi). This part focuses on the lonesome feelings and solitary later life of Hikaru Genji.

The third part covers the last 13 chapters: Chapter 35 (Niou no Miya) to Chapter 54 (Yume no Ukihashi). These chapters tell the part of the story after Hikaru Genji death. The last ten chapters are known as Uji Jujo as they are set in the town of Uji, located a little southeast of Kyoto.

Murasaki Shikibu statue in Uji.
Murasaki Shikibu statue in Uji
Who was Murasaki Shikibu?

Murasaki Shikibu (紫 式部) was the daughter of the middle class court noble, Tametoki Fujiwara. The exact year of her birth is unknown but it is assumed to be some time between 970 and 973. Her mother died when she was a child.

Murasaki Shikibu married Nobutaka Fujiwara in 999, when she was about 27 years old. They had a daughter, Takako, in the following year. However, only three years after their marriage, in 1001, her husband passed away. It is believed that the first chapters of the Tale of Genji were completed around this time.

In 1005, Murasaki Shikibu started to serve the Empress Shoshi who was a daughter of Michinaga Fujiwara, the most powerful court officer of that time. Though the year of her death is not known, historical records indicate that she lived until around 1019.

Murasaki Shikibu was the first Japanese person to be selected by UNESCO as one of the world's great cultural individuals. In addition, Murasaki Shikibu's writing of the Tale of Genji was ranked as 83rd of the "100 Events that Changed the World in Last 1,000 Years", featured in a special October issue of Time magazine in 1997.

The Tale of Genji has been translated into many other languages, including: English, French, German, Italian, Dutch, Russian, Spanish, Portuguese, Swedish, Finnish, Czech, Croatian, Turkish, Arabic, Chinese, Korean, Tamil, Telugu and Hindi among others.

In addition to the countless people who have read the book, there are many researchers all over the world who have and continue to pursue research related to the book.

In the Murasaki Shikibu Nikki (Murasaki Shikibu's Diary), Murasaki Shikibu wrote on November 1st, 1008, that she was praised for the excellence of her writing by Kinto Fujiwara, one of the leading literary connoisseurs of that era.

This entry proves that the Wakamurasaki (early Murasaki) chapters had been completed at this time (November 1st, 1008) and that many people were reading them even then.

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Tuesday, May 09, 2017

Japanese Kitchen Clues Culinary Tools to Take Home

Every country has its own assortment of fascinating kitchen gizmos waiting to be discovered. Here in Japan I tried to resist, thinking simplicity was best, but as soon as I clutched my first kitchen toy, I was lost - and that was over 25 years ago!

Now what could that small, shiny, copper basket with the screen lid be? Judging by its long, brass handle, it's obviously meant to be used over fire, but you could only pop 10 grains of popcorn in it. What's often in sauces or sprinkled on top of a number of dishes? Of course, a sesame seed roaster! Naturally, I had to have one. It works, but remember: if the seeds turn color, they are too well done, so be careful and keep shaking.

Japanese Kitchen Clues Culinary Tools to Take Home。


Tea is universal, but the staple tea of Japan is green tea (sencha) or roasted tea (bancha) brewed in pots without built-in strainers. Just look around--hand-made strainers of bamboo or wire mesh with or without stands abound. They are practical and beautiful.

Most countries have sieves; Japan's are handsome and easy-to-use wooden hoop ones. What I prefer for making soft and creamy puree is one that looks like it's made of black plastic mesh but is, in fact, made of horsetail hair. This traditional sieve provides the give needed to insure proper mushing and yet is strong enough to hold together. To use, rinse and lower over a bowl. With someone steadying it, put some well-cooked peas or other vegetables on top. Using a flat paddle, push down and pull to puree. Keeping the paddle flat to utilize maximum surface area is the secret. Wash carefully and dry well.

The 'cookie' cutter, although not used for cutting cookies, has reached an evolutionary peak in Japan where there exists a veritable garden of designs and sizes. Although meant for shaping vegetables, they can be used for cookies, pate, etc. Hint: cut hard things into slices before shaping, and use a pot holder to pad your hand if necessary.

Though larger, rice molds are available in nearly all the same shapes as the cutters. Each comes with a matching pusher. Put the rinsed mold on a wet cutting board, and stuff with rice. Press gently enough with the pusher so the rice just holds its shape (packed too hard, it tastes bad). Pick up the whole set and put it on a serving plate or tray. Holding the pusher steady, slip the sleeve up and out. Gently remove the pusher. Rinse and repeat. After a few tries, you'll get the hang of it.

Japanese kitchen knives - hocho.


The favored shop for passionate chefs looking for the best in kitchen toys is on Kyoto's Nishiki food market street. Aritsugu always has something amazing sitting in their window. Their specialty is knives, which is why I first went there. Lacking knowlege and cash, I was none too confident, even before entering. A talk with the master somewhat reassured me. Basically what he said was, 'Since you don't know how to use or sharpen the expensive knives properly, I won't sell you one. Buy a cheap one, practice, and when you're good enough I'll sell you a better one'! I found a shop I could trust, and ever since then I've been buying most of my tools there. Please note: they accept only cash.

Four more handy items you won't want to be without:

Here's something that looks like a twisted metal skewer. Welded on it are two loops tilted at opposite angles with the downside edge sharpened. Since you'll never guess, I'll tell you what it does: it makes spirals. 'So what' you say? Make one from a carrot and another from a daikon. Work them together, steam so they're still crunchy, put two or three on top of a steamed fish, and voila!-- instant dinner conversation topic.

Want to make lemon spaghetti? Use this handy tool with five tiny rings at one end, pull it around the lemon and presto!--little squiggles of lemon peel for garnishing chicken, fish, salads, pies, etc. Ask for a 'remon guretaa' (lemon grater).

If you want just zest (don't we all?), Japan has wonderful tin-plated copper graters that are completely handmade and incredibly easy to use. (Don't grate into the white part of the lemon--it's bitter!) The larger graters are more convenient and can be used for vegetables like potato, daikon, and carrots. Now that you've zested your lemon, you need this little bamboo gizmo to brush it off onto whatever you're garnishing. No fuss, no mess, no nicked fingers. No kitchen should be without one!

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Sunday, May 07, 2017

Japan News This Week 7 May 2017

今週の日本

Japan News.
Shinzo Abe Announces Plan to Revise Japan’s Pacifist Constitution
New York Times

48% in favor of constitutional amendment: Mainichi survey
The Mainichi

Japan Yakuza: 'Split' in powerful Kobe Yamaguchi-gumi gang
BBC

Japan's luxurious Shiki-shima sleeper train – in pictures
Guardian

Reassessing Juvenile Justice in Japan: Net widening or diversion?
Japan Focus

Last Week's Japan News on the JapanVisitor blog

Statistics

"In a Kyodo News poll taken late last month, nearly half of the respondents who said an amendment is necessary cited “Article 9 and the Self-Defense Forces” in a multiple-choice format on what should be the priority issue in revising the Constitution. Roughly half of the pollees who denied the need for an amendment said they support the Constitution as it is because its war-renouncing text has maintained the peace in postwar Japan.

"The Kyodo survey paints a mixed picture of public opinion over the Constitution, particularly Article 9. A total of 60 percent of the pollees called an amendment of the Constitution “necessary” or “rather necessary,” as opposed to 37 percent who replied that an amendment is either “not necessary” or “rather not necessary.”

"The pollees are more split on revising Article 9 — 49 percent in favor and 47 percent not in favor. A majority of those in favor of revising Article 9 cite “changes in the security environment surrounding Japan,” such as North Korea’s nuclear weapons and missile development as well as China’s military buildup. On the other hand, three-quarters of all respondents said Japan never engaged in the use of force overseas in its postwar years

Source: Japan Times

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Thursday, May 04, 2017

Japanese Crafts for the Kitchen

Japanese crafts are often regarded as formal and for special occasions only. But this is not true. Just as many handicrafts are simple, inexpensive and created for everyday life. And even simple, daily-life things are skillfully and patiently created by Kyoto craftsmen, who pride themselves on making beautiful things that last for a long, long time. Here are three accessories that you are sure to find useful.

Japanese Crafts for the Kitchen.


Lacquerware soup bowls - New black or dark red lacquer tableware is expensive. But Kyoto's Uruwashi-ya offers you a great solution: used lacquerware. Used or antique lacquerware is very reasonable. However, you should inquire about how it will hold up in dry climates, because lacquer is ideally suited to high humidity environments. On the south side of Marutamachi, east of Fuyacho. Open 11:00-18:00, closed on Tues. Tel: 075 212 0043.

Brushes & brooms - Need a handmade brush or broom to clean the house or your garden? Then you've come to the right place. Naito Shoten, an early 19th-century handmade brush and broom shop, has everything you could possible hope for. Everything from large to small, including brushes for long glasses, pot cleaners, and mats (from ¥400). On the north side of Sanjo, just west of the Kamogawa River. Open daily 9:30-19:00. Tel: 075 221 3018.

Japanese Crafts for the Kitchen.


Japanese Washi paper table decorations - Warm to the touch and naturally colored, Japanese handmade paper or washi can easily be adapted to serve as a table cloth, coasters, and for all kinds of other table decorations. And best of all: washi is so strong that it can be used over and over. For a great selection of washi, go to Kamijikakimoto, on the east side of Teramachi, about 100 meters north of Nijo. Tel: 075 211 3481. (www.kyoto-kakimoto.jp)

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Wednesday, May 03, 2017

Stalking the Wild Herbs of Japan

When mountains slopes become salad ingredient paradises. There are good things growing at your feet in Japan and some of them are edible!

Sansho (Japanese Pepper).


Sansho (Japanese Pepper)

These low (1 to 5 meter) shrubs grow in mountain meadows and around the base of hills. Young leaves appear in March and continue growing till May. The fruit comes out in June and July. The young leaves (called kinome) are good in miso soup (especially in akadashi) and on maze-gohan pilaff, too. They are often used to garnish boiled bamboo shoots. The pepper pods are boiled with soy sauce to make a delicacy called tsukudani.

Yomogi (mugwort).


Yomogi (Mugwort)

This plant grows around houses or along the Kamo River banks in Kyoto from March to June. It's 50-100 cm high and easy to find. The young leaves are boiled, ground, and mixed with mochi dough to make Yomogi mochi. When sweet beans are put inside, it becomes a popular home-made cake. Or dry the leaves, put a handful in a cotton cloth, and add it to your bath. Like soaking in an onsen!

Seri (Japanese watercress).


Seri (Japanese watercress)

You can find this on the banks of rice fields and in wet places from around March to May. It's about 20 - 40 cm in height. It can be cut finely and sprinkled on miso soup, or added to maze-gohan.

Tampopo (Dandelion)

This well-known flower appears from March to April. It can be made into tempura, or mixed with walnuts, peanuts, or sesame and flavored with a bit of soy sauce and sugar. Mustard can be added to spice it up.

Mitsuba (trefoil)

Grows in wet places from March to May. It's usually 30 - 60 cm in height and is good in miso soup, and in maze-gohan.

Nanohana, rape blossom.


Nanohana (rape blossom)

This green vegetable with the thick stalk and yellow flowers looks, and is, good enough to eat. It's delicious made into tempura, or blanched and then flavored with sesame and soy sauce. If you can manage to gather all the above plants, why not have a tempura extravaganza? On your way down from the mountains, just be sure to stop by a liquor store for some sake. Have a healthy Spring!

Written by Ian Ropke, founder and owner of Your Japan Private Tours (YJPT, since 1992), a Japan destination expert for travel and tourism. He specializes in private travel (customized day trips with guides / private guided tours) and digital guidance solutions (about 25% of our business and growing!). Ian and his team offer personalized quality private travel services all over Japan. To learn more, visit www.kyoto-tokyo-private-tours.com or call us on +1-415-230-0579.

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Tuesday, May 02, 2017

Minshuku Koyo-so Hiwasa Tokushima

民宿 弘陽荘

Located in the small coastal town of Hiwasa on the coast of Tokushima, Koyo-so is a fairly standard budget minshuku.

Minshuku Koyo-so Hiwasa Tokushima.


Like many of these older minshuku, a small frontage hides a veritable warren of narrow corridors and staircases that lead to the rooms, bathrooms, and dining rooms.

Hiwasa is home to Yakuo-ji Temple, a famous temple in its own right, but also temple 23 on the famous 88 temple Shikoku Pilgrimage, so many of the guests at Koyo-so will be pilgrims.

Minshuku Koyo-so Hiwasa Tokushima.


The staff speak little English, but are not averse to non-Japanese guests, due no doubt to the increasing number of foreign pilgrims walking the Shikoku pilgrimage.

The facilities are standard for a budget minshuku, no wifi, and I can't speak for the food as I stayed sudomari, for 3,900yen. It's located in the old town, 1 kilometer from Yakuoji Temple, 1 kilometer from Hiwasa Station on the JR Mugi Line, and about 400 meters from the beach.

The beach is famous as a site where turtles come to lay eggs, and right next to the beach is a pretty informative Turtle Museum.

Minshuku Koyo-so
70-Honson, Okugawauchi
Minami-cho, Kaifu-gun
Tokushima 779-2305
Tel 0884 77 1006

Minshuku Koyo-so Hiwasa Tokushima.


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Monday, May 01, 2017

Kyoto May Seasonal Themes and Highlights

京都の五月

SEASON

May, a month of great change, is traditionally regarded as the beginning of summer in Japan, particularly in the central coastal regions of Honshu. It is a month of much activity in every sense of the word, beginning with a riot of new green leaves as Golden Week sends much of the nation into travel mode. In Kyoto, citizens become noticeably more energetic, and on weekends the streets seem to fairly overflow with out-of-town tourists. On the social scene, May is especially cherished by poets and tea ceremony aficionados.

Activity, however, is most apparent as you become aware of the sudden surge of energy in the natural world. The forests become livelier by the day with bird song as countless summer residents return from their southern winter homes, and everywhere there is a growing diversity of newness: new flowering bushes, new plants, new leaves, new insects, newness in all directions.

Because of Kyoto's unique climate, an exotic combination of tropical and temperate elements, and its richly endowed geographical features, the feeling of spring is strong to the point of inducing a mild form of drunkenness. And if one had to suggest a suitable alcoholic beverage for May, champagne would certainly suit the effervescence and joy of this month. As the days get warmer and the days grow longer, the spirit seems to almost lose itself in the successive waves of fine weather and sweet air.

Finally, though a part of Western tradition, May is also the month when the world, for those who remember, celebrates Mother's Day the (second Sunday of May). Not surprising, roses, being the perfect gift for mother, flower profusely this month.

Kyoto May Seasonal Themes and Highlights.


SPACE

Kyoto living in May is taken up with celebrations in an outdoor world that is pleasantly warm all day long. Average May temperatures, like those of October, seems ideally suited to human living, and one need no longer worry about a sudden chill or bring an extra layer of clothing just in case.

May is a month crowded with outdoor celebration. Aoi Matsuri, Kyoto’s oldest most famous festival, and the exotic river rituals of the Mifune Matsuri both take place this month (May 21st). Another eagerly anticipated event is Takigi or Torch-lit Noh. This magical spectacle of ancient costumes, masks and ritual is usually held against a suitably gorgeous background. Nara's Kofuku-ji Temple holds its annual Takigi Noh performance on the 11th and 12th of May. At Kyoto's Heian Shrine the event is delayed until the first and second of June.

With the wonders of new growth to be seen nearly everywhere, May is the ideal month to enjoy a light meal or traditional tea and a sweet while marveling at a Japanese garden. With its lush garden surroundings, Kano Shojuan, just across the canal at the southern end of the Path of Philosophy (Tetsugaku-no-michi) is a perfect venue for enjoying a cup of tea amidst the splendor of nature in transition (daily 10:00-16:30, except Wed; ¥1,050, with sweet; Tel: 751-1077).

Another highly recommended garden viewing experience can be had at Ganko Zushi's Nijo-en, a restaurant that is sure to please, and which has an unbelievably large garden area.

For those interested in flower arrangement, one accessory prominently used to advantage in May are baskets or kabin kago woven of vines. These can be hung on the wall and filled with a segment of a flowering vine such as a clematis, or placed on an entranceway or hallway table. These baskets make an ideal souvenir to take home and use for flower arrangements.

Kyoto May Seasonal Themes and Highlights.


FOOD

The green month of May heralds the first tea harvest of the year. On or around May 2nd, 88 days after risshun (the first day of spring according to the old lunar calendar), picking of the newest tea leaves begins. Uji, in south west of Kyoto, is where you can see pickers in their traditional outfits busily harvesting tea throughout May. Uji is home to some of Japan's finest tea plantations.

The first harvested tea, ichiban-cha or shin-cha, is the most expensive because it is the sweetest and mildest in taste. With each successive harvest, the tannin level in the leaves becomes more noticeable, lending a characteristic bitterness to the tea. For tea connoisseurs, the first harvest is an eagerly-awaited event. Appropriately, some of the very first tea leaves are offered to the gods in the Kencha Sai Festival at Uji-gami Shrine on May 5th. At the same shrine, on June 1st, for ¥1,500 you can enjoy a tea ceremony, a light, beautifully arranged meal, and the satisfaction of being one of the first to savor the very finest of the year's harvest (for more information: Tel: 0774-23-2243).

Ippodo tea shop, Kyoto.


For visitors who do not have the chance to go to Uji, Kyoto's famous Ippo-do tea shop is the ideal place to buy fresh tea or sample what is available. Elsewhere, throughout the city, you will also find sweet delicacies made with tea, and in some places even soft ice cream flavored with tea.

Another food item that is particularly identified with May is katsuo or bonito, a variety of tuna, that is served raw this month. This fish is served in many restaurants in May. A visit to Kyoto's gourmet food street, Nishiki (one street north of Shijo), is also a good idea to get an idea of the abundance of foods available in the Old Capital in the fertile month of May.

NATURE

When it comes to color May is best symbolized by green and purple. The first fresh green spring leaves are called wakaba in Japanese or young leaves. These can be seen as a luminous fresh glow on the mountainsides surrounding the city, a phenomena that lasts until nearly the end of the month when they gradually turn to the final darker greens of June. Another green is that of the different kinds of irises that bloom in profusion in the city's many garden ponds. The iris, which grows so straight and seems so very full of life, is a symbol of good health and makes an ideal gift for someone who is not feeling up to form.

Another May motif, often seen in scrolls and paintings, is that of tiny Chinese dogs frolicking in a flowering background of peonies. Peonies, favored for their rich reds and subtle pinks, have flowers the size of large human hand. They are harder to find in abundance, but can often be seen as potted plants. Nara's Hase-dera Temple is particularly well-known for its slope of peonies.

Finally, the mauve purple flowers of the wisteria vine, equally beloved by flower enthusiasts over the ages, are also a treat not to be missed this month. Enjoy!

Written by Ian Ropke, founder and owner of Your Japan Private Tours (YJPT, since 1992), a Japan destination expert for travel and tourism. He specializes in private travel (customized day trips with guides / private guided tours) and digital guidance solutions (about 25% of our business and growing!). Ian and his team offer personalized quality private travel services all over Japan. To learn more, visit www.kyoto-tokyo-private-tours.com or call us on +1-415-230-0579.

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