Category Archives: Kyoto

2020 Spring Festivals in Kyoto Postponed

Aoi Matsuri, May 2018

The Aoi Matsuri, the so-called Hollyhock Festival of Kyoto, is one of Kyoto’s finest events. Around 500 people participate in the procession in Heian period dress. The photo above was taken by Okunomichi on May 15, 2018.

Green Shinto has posted a timely article on festivals in Kyoto that are postponed this year because of the pandemic. They include the Aoi Matsuri of May 15, 2020.

In Japan the emergency has coincided with the flowering of cherry blossom, symbolic of life’s brief beauty. 

Green Shinto informs us that this festival began in the 6th century to appease the kami.

The festival is claimed as one of the oldest in Japan, with its roots in the sixth century according to the Nihon shoki (720). It may have been that an epidemic had spread through the country at a time of famine and earthquake.

An earlier post on Okunomichi mentions the Aoi Matsuri along with other ancient festivals. According to the Wosite documents as reported by WoshiteWorld, there were from Wosite Jomon times these seasonal festivals:

In the annals of the Wosite documents of Jomon Japan, annual festivals of the first, third, fifth, seventh, and ninth lunar months are mentioned as follows:

1/1     Hatsuhi, New Year’s Day

3/3     Momo no Sekku Peach Festival of Girls Day (Hinamatsuri)

5/5      Aoi Matsuri, Hollyhock Festival of Kyoto

7/7     Tanahata Matsuri, Star Festival

9/9     Kiku-kuri Matsuri, Chrysanthemum-Chestnut Festival

There is a wonderful video of the Yasurai Festival at Imamiya Jinja, in the same Green Shinto post.

We look forward to the resumption of the traditional observances next year.


Kyoto: Hebizuka Kofun


Hebizuka Kofun  蛇塚古墳(へびづかこふん) is the largest kofun tumulus (burial mound) from the 6th to 7th century in the Kyoto area. It is of keyhole type, and what remains is only the central stone structure of the mound. It was surrounded by a moat. Hebizuka is located in the outskirts of Kyoto known as Uzumasa, Sagano in the Arashiyama district.

The megaliths that make up the structure are sedimentary rock from Tamba in Kyoto-Fu, a distance away. Although they are not dressed, they are carefully fitted into place. The long dimension is 75 m with a chamber of 17 to 18 m and a low linear passageway.



First view of kofun

The kofun is in a residential area and is very difficult to find, even with directions received from the nearest police station. In this first view photo, this end is the burial chamber, now open to the sky. The kofun is surrounded by a wire fence, and there’s hardly any spare land around it.

After circling the fenced site, we were fortunate to meet the woman who is the keeper of the key so that we could enter the kofun. It feels much larger on the inside, perhaps because we are surrounded by huge rocks. The burial chamber is very tall, while the passageway is low.

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Kyoto Shrines: Matsunoo, Tsukiyomi, Kaiko no Yashiro, Umenomiya

There are many notable shrines in Kyoto. Matsunoo Taisha is well known, but the Tsukiyomi Jinja next door is not. There is an interesting shrine which is popularly known as Kaiko no Yashiro, Shrine of Silkworms. And a shrine for sake brewers. Let’s visit them.

Matsunoo Taisha (Matsuo Taisha) 松尾大社


This is the entrance to Matsunoo Taisha with Mt Matsunoo behind it. There are marvelous iwakura megaliths on the mountain top, but the megaliths are hard to get to. In the center of the grounds is the kagura pavilion.

The enshrined deity is Oyamakui no Kami, kami of large mountains and kami of sake brewing. Also enshrined is Nakatsushima-hime (Ichikishima-hime), guardian of travelers. There is a sakaya on the premises.


A stream flows through the precincts, crossed by a number of bridges beneath shady trees. Matsunoo is lovely through all seasons of the year.

Tsukiyomi Jinja  月読神社

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Adjacent is the small shrine of Tsukiyomi, mythological kami of the moon月. This is a charming shrine in a small grove of trees. This shrine is associated with the Tsukiyomi main shrine on the island of Iki in Nagasaki-ken, Kyushu. Although Tsukiyomi is not a popular kami (he gets short shrift by the chronicles), it seems that his time is coming. Although a male kami, he is nonetheless the representative of the moon and feminine qualities of gentleness and calm.

Kaiko no Yashiro 蚕之社 (Konoshima Jinja)

This mysterious shrine bears the formal name Konoshima Amateru Mitama Jinja. It is a shrine to the silkworm, kaiko 蚕, thus its popular name, Kaiko no Yashiro. It is said to be a shrine of the Hata clan of 8th century Kyoto, descendants of the Qin dynasty in China, who brought sericulture to Japan. Although there is no priest on-site, many people come to see the unusual three-pillared torii, said to represent the Trinity of Christianity. The torii stands in a pond which has not been filled for a long period of time.

Making the shrine even more mysterious, a signboard states that the enshrined kami are Amenominakanushi, Ookunitama, Hohodemi, and Ugayafukiaezu. This is an unusual assortment of kami beginning with the original nonphysical ancestor-kami and ending with two probably historical figures. This shrine is more ancient than it is documented to be.

Umenomiya Taisha  梅宮大社(うめのみやたいしゃ)

This shrine of plums 梅 was first built in the 8th century by Agata-no-inukai-no-mikchiyo to enshrine her ancestors. The final move to Ukyouku in Kyoto was ordered by Tachibana-no-Kachiko, consort of Emperor Saga, 786-850.

The deities are Oyamazumi-no-mikoto, his daughter Konohana-no-sakuyahime-no-mikoto, her spouse Ninigi-no-mikoto, and their son Hikohohodemi-no-mikoto. Oyamazumi is also known as Sakatoke-no-kami, for brewing sake for Konohana when she gave birth to Hikohohodemi. Thus this shrine is popular to sake brewers. Notice all the barrels of sake? These are actually kazaridaru, empty of sake but full of spiritual significance. Read about  kazaridaru  here,


The grounds are said to be very beautiful, but we did not have time to visit the gardens. We did notice the splendid display of fragrant sweet olive known as kin-mokusei (Osmanthus fragrans) which perfumes the autumn air in Kyoto. 





At the Shrine of Plums

the fragrance of autumn is

golden sweet olive

On the way to the car, we stopped to pay our respects at the small 西梅津神明社 shrine to Amaterasu and Toyoke-kami.



Takinomiya, Shrine of the Waterfall

The famous Tetsugaku-no-michi, Philosopher’s Path, is less well-traversed at its southern end, although even further south are the well-known Eikando and Nanzenji Temples. Glimpses of these temples were seen in the previous post, Higashiyama. This time we explore two shrines, the Kumano Nyakuoji Jinja and the Takinomiya.

Southern end of Tetsugaku-no-michi

Kumano Nyakuoji Jinja

This is one of three Kumano shrines in Kyoto. This shrine, established in 1160 by Emperor Go-Shirakawa, is the guardian of the Nyakuoji mountain area. It is also the guardian shrine of Zenrin-ji in the nearby Eikando Temple. It’s woodsy here, and the grounds are known for sakura in spring and colors in autumn.

dsc02697-nyakuoji-jinjaThis is the front entrance to the Kumano Nyakuoji Jinja. The back exit opens onto a road going up the mountain, past some homes, and takes you to the beginning of a kaidan flight of stairs to the torii of Takinomiya.


At the top of the kaidan is a flat area with  hokora small shrines nestled under the trees.

There’s another kaidan, leading to a higher level. This one ends at a red torii which is in front of the Takinomiya shrine. This is a shrine to taki, waterfalls. Here, surrounded by nature, it feels pretty removed from busy Kyoto. As we pray before this shrine, we hear the sound of waterfalls. Walking to our right, we peer over the edge and glimpse a waterfall and a red shrine below.


We retrace our steps to the bottom of the two kaidans and follow the sound of water. There is still another shrine. We feel the magic of Seoritsuhime, guardian of waterfalls, and we linger for a while. Finally with a sigh, we head out to join the Tetsugaku-no-michi.



Kyoto: Higashiyama Area

dsc02679-yudofu This area is at the foothills of Higashiyama, the mountain range to the east of Kyoto. We recently had the pleasureto walk along the canal, heading east to Nanzenji and north to Eikando Temple. Here are some quintessentially Kyoto scenes along the way.









Kurama Dera Message: Gazing at the Light

現代へのメッセージ Message for the Present Generation


信楽 香仁 SHIGARAKI Konin, 貫主 Kansu, 鞍馬寺 Kurama Dera



山の心 森のことば    Heart of the Mountain, Words of the Forest

For over 1200 years, this temple has been important for protecting the palace of Heian-Kyo from the north. Located in the southern end of the mountain range of Wakasa Bay, in deep green forest, is Shizen-no-Hohko, Nature’s Treasure. These forests serve the people of Kyoto as their source of pure water. Therefore people respect the forest and appreciate the water. They feel awe of the kami and buddha spirits residing there. They pray for the sacredness of the place. The energy of life comes from this place and goes down to Miyako.

In the daily life of this mountain temple, we are surrounded by the verdant forest. We behold the appearance of the mountain, the color of the sky, the voice of the birds, and the changes of the four seasons. All these are teachings of heaven and earth without words. When with a clear mind we harmonize with heaven and earth, nature and people, and body and mind, we feel the Heart of Heaven and listen to words from earth, and we find real treasure. By being humble and respectful, being with nature, and becoming aware of the realm of Great Life energy, this is true happiness.

Modern living and the uniformity of the daily life of people are far removed from nature, and we are so busy that we forget our real heart. While chasing after material comfort, it is hard to taste the deep joy of true abundance.

When we go to Great Nature and inhale deeply the air of the forest full of energy, when we open our hearts and take off all the layers of sadness, joy, and troubles that we wear, then the light of the sun, the breeze of the forest, and the fragrance of the earth fill us with the Great Life energy of nature in both body and mind. Nature is our true home and the cradle that nurtures life.

Nature’s forest teaches us that being born, existing, changing, and dying — these are the truths of life, the Law of heaven and earth. In the places where kami-buddhas reside, let’s leave everything to heaven and earth, leave the future to Mother Earth, and receive vitality!

Prayer is the meeting of the energy of the universe (Heart of Heaven) and your own life energy. Nature’s forest is the place where all these energies come together.

Going up the mountain on the zig-zag paths is seeking Boddhisatva-wisdom; going down is helping others. Heaven, earth, and Great Nature is one great living sutra.

– From Kurama-KouKyou Kyoujo teaching book


響き会う羅網の世界 Reverberating Net of the World

A single life was born on earth a long time ago. Then it took eons to attain countless life forms. Now there are many humans like me living here. And inside me is life from ancient times continuing to now.
Connecting with many different lives and being one of them, living in the knot of a web of life, we cannot live by ourself. It is only we humans that cannot exist by ourselves. Heaven, earth, and nature — all things make it possible for me to live.

Close your eves and picture life existing in time and space. This is the invisible bond of life, the net of jewels. This is the greatness of the resonance of life. I will call this the Net of Life in the Universe.

The Net is the Buddhist term for a net of jewels displayed in a heavenly palace. This expresses the connection of everything resonating with each other in Amida Kyo Gokuraku Heaven. This explains the greatness of the Pure Land with the seven-layered net of jewels.

In Kuramayama, we revere universal Great Life as Sonten. The main statue of Sonten has a net of jewels hanging in front of it representing the power of cleansing the impure, awakening to true wisdom. The power of correcting the wrong, the light of guidance to true wisdom and compassion, and the love are represented by three symbols. They are the Earth / Power, the Sun / Light, and the Moon / Love. Around these three symbols are different jewels that represent all the different people who are the nodes of the net.

Making this place, Kurama Doujyo, solemn and majestic at the same time, this life connects with the golden thread of life that wraps around everything. You and I, the flowers, birds, insects, and even bacteria, are each one of the jewels in the net. This is the Teaching of the Net.

When one of the knots in the net moves, the vibrations go in all ten directions of life. A single node of the net continues on to the world, and it vibrates to the entire universe. Each one of us has this power, and we want to have the awareness of this power.

Our important shinmei mission is to connect with other humans and all life forms in the Net. When I ponder what energy makes me act on this mission, the answer is kokoro, the heart-mind. Kokoro is the origin of both words and action.

“Everything begins in kokoro, and kokoro makes it happen. If you talk and act with your pure heart, everything will go smoothly, just as your shadow always follows you. We are not alone. There’s a world that vibrates and moves with the movement of my heart. Conversely, other hearts move my heart also. When everyone has a pure heart the whole world becomes a place of pure heart, and the jitsu-gen actualizing the world of harmony starts from everyone’s harmony of the heart.”

– Hokkukyo 法句経


When the wisdom of the Light shines,
you can see everything that has life from Universal Life.
You and I, flowers and birds, too,
we receive life in this world.
The golden Net of Life is displayed in the universe,
linking life from ancient times.
I am one of these lives,
together holding hands reverberating with Life.
You and I, trees and water, too,
we are all living magnificent Life.


人それぞれの香ぐわしさ Each Person’s Fragrance of Character

Flowers survive the cold winter, then mountains turn a fresh green, and life shines in the early summer sun. Trees have different colors and shapes and yet they are all in harmony, making a beautiful and abundant forest which gives shade for people to feel calm and rested.

Ancient people with their delicate sensitivity called the green color in the forest by different names: bush-warbler color, willow-brown, young bamboo shoots, young green, leaf-buds, green pine, light green, deep green, and so on. When we connect with trees, open our hearts to wild flowers, and feel and contemplate on these lives, we realize that the ancient people who thought of all these names must have connected with trees and wild flowers with warm and sensitive hearts. Nature’s scene is not uniform, and it always has variations with overall harmony.

Surrounded by flowers and pointing to Heaven and Earth is the statue of the Buddha over which we pour sweet tea and celebrate the Buddha’s enlightenment. It is a heart-warming spring event and it provides an excellent opportunity for children to learn the true teaching.

The new-born Buddha is quoted as having said, “Between Heaven and Earth I am the only Great One.” This is a deep teaching about the majesty of humanity and the deep and wide Great Life. The teaching is: “Each person is given life with a different character, and we are all different. That’s why it’s good, and we should understand each other’s differences and acknowledge and respect each other, and it is most important that we can still live in harmony.”

These days, everyone wants only material things and they want to fulfill their selfish desires. However, when we think of true joy, as human beings given life in these modern days, we should deeply understand the “Heaven and Earth” teaching and reflect on it.

The wonderful power of the forest is born out of the big and the small, all the different plants living earnestly in all the different shapes and colors, mutually supporting each other. The sacred beauty of the natural forest shines out. The little flowers along this path have different colors and fragrance and characters, and so they are both interesting and precious.

Many lives have been born from Great Life. None are the same. Each and every person is different; it is out of this difference that harmony is born, and the world of shining life is created.

The world of shining life that includes every life is coming when people respect each other, recognize their differences, and live in harmony.


No One the Same

There’s no one the same as me in the whole world,
There is no one the same as you.

It is precious that you are you,
It is precious that I am me.

Flowers and trees and birds,
each one is precious just as they are;

Different personalities cooperating with each other,
the world shines with Great Life.

When people with different attributes
are in consonance with each other,
then Great Life sparkles.

Because the world is full of different things,
you see the depth and grandeur of the world.


The Light of Dawn

Life continues over long cycles, sometimes visible, sometimes invisible;

visible and invisible are aspects of Life beyond life and death.

Form is Emptiness and Emptiness is Form;

everything around us is manifestation of Great Life Body.

It is Sonten in Kuramayama;

everything is, in fact, Sonten.

Life of flowers, Life of birds, and Life of people:

the origin is the same Life.

I want to live today by feeling like this –

slowly and calmly watching the light of dawn.


This article is a rendering of a chapter in the book, 古寺巡礼 Old Temple Pilgrimage, Kyoto, by 信楽 香仁 Shigaraki Konin, 貫主 Abbess of 鞍馬寺 Kurama Dera, 2007, pp 81-94. Presented by Okunomichi with the permission of the Abbess and the anonymous translators. Photos by Okunomichi.

Searching for Rengetsu 2014

I have been searching for Rengetsu for two years. The Edo-jidai poet (1791-1875) saw the Meiji restoration usher in a new world in 1868 when she was 77 years old. She wrote this commemorative poem, translated by John Stevens. It is indeed timeless and could be speaking to us today.

hinazuru no       yuku sue tooki       koe kikeba       kimi ga chitose o       utau narikeri

Hear the timeless         cry of a young crane —         It is an ode to         the dawning of a new age       to last 1,000 generations.

Last year, I visited Chion-in Temple where she lived with her adoptive father Otagaki. As I strolled the vast grounds, I wondered which building did Rengetsu live in. Out Arashiyama way, she spent some time at the Nonomiya Shrine where princesses trained as saigu. She lived in the Okazaki district of Kyoto, known for the Okazaki Shrine. Rengetsu spent her final years making pottery at the Jinko-in Temple.

A second book on Rengetsu has been published by John Stevens. If the first one was good, this one is even better. There are more details about Rengetsu’s life and a large collection of her poems in Stevens’ inimitably sensitive translations.

I have just returned from my second Rengetsu trip and this is my report. I was in Kyoto the day before the autumn equinox and the faithful higanbana flowers were in vermillion bloom.

The earlier book mentioned that Rengetsu, who could not afford to buy good clay from Shigaraki, would dig for clay in Kaguraoka hill. As I pondered the location of Kaguraoka, (probably near Okazaki), I came across a map showing the Munetada Shrine located on Kaguraoka road. The green area is Yoshida mountain, the site of Yoshida Jinja. At the Munetada shrine, a staff member confirmed that clay was found there. Kaguraoka is within walking distance of Okazaki to the south.

My Kyoto friend learned that Kyoto University found some artifacts when ground was being dug for the new hospital. Among them were Rengetsu pots, found where the CAT-scan center is now located, and it is said that she once lived there.

This friend well knew the name of Rengetsu since her chado tea ceremony teacher has a number of Rengetsu teacups, and there had been a Rengetsu exhibition at the Nomura Museum. My friend learned that there is a Rengetsu Chaya, a tea shop, on another site where Rengetsu lived. It is on a charming street near Chion-in. In the yard of the chaya is a huge camphor tree. Perhaps Rengetsu knew this tree. The tea shop was closed at this hour of late afternoon, since they serve tofu dishes for lunch. We peeked into the yard and found it to be quite lovely. Here are some photos.
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We decided to walk over to the Chion-in temple and look for Makuzu-an where Rengetsu lived, according to Stevens. We studied the map of the temple grounds, seen here in closeup. And we saw Makuzu-an! The name appears on the roof of the large building in the center, while the twin buildings of Makuzu-an are seen below it. So we entered the grounds and inquired. As we neared it, a dozen or more people were leaving. They apologized that the building was closed to visitors that day since they were preparing for a tea ceremony the following day and invited us to return. Knowing that we would not soon return, I took some photos. I was here last year! I remembered the kagura stage and the shrine building. Rengetsu’s building is behind them, with the shiny roof. Once again, the first autumn colors on the momiji were beginning to show.


 Deep in the mountains

a single branch of maple

near the eves of my hut

marks the beginning

of the days of autumn.


Thanks to John Stevens Sensei for these translations.