Sutematsu on Tofugu: Taiko Center in Kyoto

Photo Credit: “Taiko drumming!” by Vicki Moore, CC BY 2.0

Ever see one of those insane taiko performances at your local Asian cultural fair, where ten or fifteen people are all beating massive drums in complicated, choreographed rhythms while sweating and smiling and being impressive as hell? You might think you’d like to try something like that if you ever travel to Japan, but you’d almost certainly be disappointed. Oh, there are taiko lessons alright! For people who can dedicate months and years to practicing with the troupe.

What if you’re just on vacation and want to dabble a little? That’s where the Taiko Center in Kyoto comes in.

Keep reading on Tofugu.


Kyoto: Fushimi Inari Taisha (photo essay)

Kyoto: Calligraphy and Ikebana at WAK Japan

Feature image is edited from ‘Moon’ by Tokugawa Nariaki” by Howard Cheng, under the license CC BY-SA 2.0. After three solid days of shrines and temples, we were itching to do something else—something less physical than climbing stairs, and less poetic than gazing across vistas. Although much of traditional Japanese culture is tied to religion in some way, there’s more to it than shrines and temples. We wanted to get our hands on something, to probe with our fingers and explore and play. I had just the thing for it: calligraphy and flower arranging at WAK Japan, a company dedicated to providing jobs to local women by matching local experts with tourists who want to learn from their experience. Continue reading

Kyoto: Kiyomizu Temple

When last I wrote, I told the spooky tale of Jason’s camera getting grabbed by an overzealous shutterbug so taken with ecstasy at our wearing kimono he braved petty larceny charges to capture a photo we’d never forget. We were assailed for photos several times throughout our visit to 1200-year-old Kiyomizu Temple (albeit in much less scary ways), but as frustrating and exhausting as it was, the temple deserves its own place in the spotlight.

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Kyoto: White Guys in Kimono

The kimono is a lovely and well-known symbol of Japanese culture, a garment of such simplicity and beauty that it’s allure doesn’t fade even after you’ve lost interest in ninjas and anime. The appeal is obvious: soft silk, shining embroidery, colorful dyes and fine accessories are delightful in themselves, but when they come together to form such an elegant garment, they’re irresistible. Although the process for putting one on is so byzantine that even Japanese require someone to do it for them, travelers who want to partake in this singularly elegant feast of fabric will find there are a huge number of shops that rent kimono. One of the oldest of these is Okamoto Kimono in Kyoto, in business since 1830.

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Kyoto: Secret Night View at Fushimi Inari Taisha

It was already quite dark by the time we stepped foot into the shrine. The lights of Fushimi Inari Taisha floated like ghosts ahead of us. The Romon Gate, which had appeared so welcoming and cheery that morning, took on a decidedly more ominous look in the darkness. Behind the Romon Gate, Mt. Inari rose up like a hulking shadow, a black line that sharply cut off the sprinkling of stars mid-sky. Despite its ominous appearance, we dashed out of Inari Station and up into the shrine, hoping to catch the Bonfire Festival (Hitaki Sai) that I’d seen advertised on the Fushimi Inari website. It seemed that these bonfire festivals occurred throughout the month at the various subshrines and I was excited to see the only one that was going to happen during our time in Kyoto. (Little did I know that I’d somehow misread the site and there was, in fact, no Bonfire Festival that day. But more on that* later.)

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Kyoto: Epic Stairventure at Fushimi Inari Taisha

Kyoto is so full of religious attractions, the place is essentially what would happen if Japan created a Buddhism/Shinto Disneyland. Want to see Japan’s most important rock garden? I guess we could (yawn!) but wouldn’t you rather see a torii so big four busses stacked on top of one another could drive under it? How about a temple literally not figuratively covered in gold? Because of the huge competition for tourist money, it’s hard to find places that are beautiful without feeling gimmicky. Although Fushimi Inari Taisha certainly has its own gimmick, it’s hard to criticize one of the few important religious sites in the city that doesn’t charge admission. Besides, there’s something compelling about it’s gimmick, the corridors of bright orange torii curving into the distance, and the literally breathtaking hike it takes to walk beneath them all.

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