In a final interview at the Japan Football Association in Tokyo several days prior to this morning's departure for Brazil, Coach Zico claimed with a straight face that he had no regrets and would not have changed a thing about Japan’s World Cup campaign. Longtime Zico watchers will not be surprised, but those vaguely in touch with the tenuous concept known as reality were stunned.
Having just been humiliated—Japan managed but one legitimate goal and just one point from three matches—Zico placed blame for the quick exit on the players’ physiques. Asian players are too small and cannot compete with larger players from other parts of the world, according to the once great Brazilian.
Hello? A very cursory look at some of the big names of this year’s (and a few from the past) World Cup reveals the following heights:
Javier Saviola: 168 cm
Lionel Messi: 169 cm
Pavel Nedved: 170 cm
Pablo Aimar: 170 cm
Robinho: 172 cm
Pele: 172 cm
Zico: 172 cm
Carlos Tevez: 173 cm
Landon Donovan: 173 cm
Michael Owen: 173 cm
Silvain Wiltord: 174 cm
David Villa: 175 cm
Deco: 175 cm
Wayne Rooney: 177 cm
Henrik Larsson: 178 cm
Ronaldinho: 178 cm
Alex Frei: 180 cm
Fernando Torres: 180 cm
Francesco Totti: 180 cm
Arjen Robben: 180 cm
Lukas Podolski: 180 cm
Naohiro Takahara: 180 cm
There are of course many exceptions; and players are indeed bigger and better conditioned than in the past. However, Latin players tend to be the same size or not much larger than their Asian rivals, particularly those from Iran. Moreover, many of the northern European strikers are small—but quick and tough. On the backline, true, the Japanese are relatively small. Still, not all great defenders are massive: Spain’s Carlos Puyol and Holland’s Giovanni van Bronkhorst are both 1.78 cm. What they have in abundance, though, is skill—and grit.
However, to assign blame for the Asian Cup champions’ failure to progress to the second round to body type is not merely absurd but a convenient way of diverting attention from the true source of the problem: Zico himself and, sad to say, the lack of mental toughness of the Japanese players themselves. With few exceptions, Japanese players have no balls.
Match 1: Australia (1-3)
Australia displayed everything Japan does not have: aggression, passion, grit. The boys from Oz were not going to lose, the one “goal” Japan scored notwithstanding. In the second half, Coach Guus Hiddink subbed in Tim Cahill. From that point on, Australia poured forward. In contrast, Zico put on Shinji Ono to shore up the middle. Instead, confusion ensued. Goalkeeper Kawaguchi made save after save and kept the score lower than it might have been.
Match 2: Croatia (0-0)
Again, Zico waited until too late to sub in. In the sweltering heat, Japan’s players were running on empty. Fortunately, so too was Croatia. With just 10 minutes to go, Zico finally sends on a replacement forward. And, once again, goalkeeper Kawaguchi was very sharp. He stopped a penalty, saving Japan from another loss.
Match 3: Brazil (1-4)
Ironically, Japan played its best soccer of the tournament in the loss to Brazil. Thanks to Reiji Tamada’s sudden strike, Japan went up 1-0. They relaxed and played the back and forth, up and down the field kind of soccer they are capable of. However, against Brazil, you need at least two or three goals at the start. Finishing killed Japan. World class finishing, which Japan has yet to discover.
New Coach: Ivica Osim
The best news out of Japan—after Zico’s departure—is the signing of Ivica Osim, the current JEF United and former Serbia coach. He looks set to stay on through the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. Unlike Zico, Osim is a true coach. He has taken lowly JEF and turned them into a respectable side. He is known as a taskmaster.
His biggest problem will be the mess Zico has left him. In addition to the poor results in the Cup, nearly every player on the Japanese side in Germany was in his mid- or late twenties. Zico stuck with Japan’s best, rarely if ever calling up younger players for friendlies. This will evince itself as Japan attempts to qualify for the next World Cup. With Nakata and Shunsuke and Ono aging and no younger players with experience, Japan will struggle.
Thursday, June 29, 2006
Tuesday, June 27, 2006
I was cycling home from work in Yotsuya, passing through Shinjuku just near the west exit of Shinjuku station, when the distinctive wail, thump and bop of a chindonya troupe caught my ear.
I've only ever seen two or three other chindonya troupes in Tokyo, and the others I'd seen had been all-female. However, today's group was made up of two guys and a woman, all of them in their twenties - again, unlike the others I've seen which were made up of decidedly older performers.
This troupe was advertising a retro Japanese-style pub in Shinjuku's entertainment district of Kabukicho.
Listen to the chindonya troupe here.
Also, I had a brief chat and exchanged cards.
Check out another sound from JapanVisitor's podcast: an all-female chindonya group.
Monday, June 26, 2006
It was a rainy day, so unable to work in the garden or go hiking, I took the opportunity to visit the Omoto Kagura Museum in the little village of Oda across the river from my village. Like many sites out here in the boonies, entrance was free, but it was a very professional display nonetheless.
Omoto Kagura is a form of shamanic kagura whereby the priests dance with a long rope snake representing Omotojin, the local land God. If succesful, a chosen member of the community is "possessed" by the God and oracles for the coming year are spoken.
Once common throughout Japan, and spread from Kumano by shugenja (priests of the Shugendo cult), the practise has died out everywhere except here in Sakurae Town, Shimane. Consequently it has been designated an Important Cultural Property.
The museum itself occupies 2 rooms in the local community centre and features a half-size tableau of the kagura "stage", as well as costumes, masks, and other paraphenalia used in the ceremony. A large-screen TV shows videos of the dances, and the local priest has also donated his extensive library of books on kagura and other forms of folklore.
The kagura itself is performed in November at 6 shrines around the Iwami area. Each shrine performs it every seven years, so some years it does not take place, but this year it will happen twice.
June Festivals in Japan
Cell Phones in Japan
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Sunday, June 25, 2006
I said goodbye to friends who had been staying with me for a week and a half, seeing them off at Shinjuku station then making a long amble back home to Nakano.
Towards the end of the walk I walked past a massively high – probably over six meter - bamboo fence, facing the main road, and hung with a billboard-size traditional ink-drawing. On closer inspection I saw that it was a temple with the name of Joganji. The gate was unusually picturesque, and through it you could see a number of statues of Buddhist priests and of the Buddha himself imaginatively depicted in a variety of poses and expressions.
I walked in and around the temple grounds taking pictures of the statues that particularly caught my eye. I heard sounds coming from the main hall of the temple, approached it, and discovered that a Buddhist memorial service for the dead, known as a hohji, was in process.
I recorded a portion of it: a very solemn service with rhythmic chanting that borders on the eerie, the occasional lone deep toll of a great profound bell, and a constant bass thumping of a drum – in perfect heartbeat rhythm, but so subdued that it goes straight into the senses almost without being consciously heard. Listen to part of the Buddhist memorial service for the dead.
According to the pamphlet I picked up, Joganji temple’s history goes back 600 years when present day Nakano ward was nothing but endless plains of tall grass. A man named Suzuki Kuro began breeding horses there. He became rich by what he believed was the mercy of the Buddha. However, the sudden death of his only daughter made him actively seek out consolation in Buddhism and he founded Joganji in 1438 at the urging of the Zen master of a temple in Odawara.
Joganji Temple is less than five minutes walk from exit number 1 of Nakano-sakaue station on the Marunouchi and Oedo lines. Walk out the exit and down the road away from the main intersection and you’ll soon see the huge bamboo fence on your right.
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Thursday, June 22, 2006
By Soji Shimada
This mystery is both gory and intelligent, and it perfectly exemplifies a charge many make of Japanese culture: that its quiet veneer of kindness, patience, and civility covers nothing less than a roiling, profound violence. Shimada structures the book like a play, and he frequently dips into the narrative to invite the reader to follow clues and put forth hypotheses, along with his two protagonists, amateur detectives who take up Japan’s “greatest unsolved mystery".
What we know is that the mystery encompasses a series of grisly murders committed 40 years ago, that they are at least tangentially related to the bizarre astrological beliefs of an artist who may or may not have been the first victim, and that these killings were executed, at least in part, because of this artists’ fascination with building “Azoth,” a perfect female constructed from the bodies of many other women. What we don’t know is how these murders are connected, who committed them, why the bodies were found hacked to pieces along certain longitudinal or latitudinal axes, where – if anywhere – Azoth has been hidden, and whether our amateur detectives can answer these questions in the five days they’ve been allotted before fresh scandals emerge.
Tracy Slater, PhD
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Tuesday, June 20, 2006
It's official. The weather man on NHK announced two weeks ago that the rainy season has arrived in Honshu. And only four more weeks to go till the "relief" of Japan's high summer. People in Kyoto say that "tsuyu," or rainy season, starts in early June, and ends just before the onset of Gion Festivalon July 17. Japanese are also proud of pointing out they are blessed with four seasons--as if this were a uniquely Japanese phenomenon--but in reality, there are five: spring, rainy season, high summer, fall, and winter. (One wag has argued that Japan has yet another "season": night.)
Prior to coming to Japan, my image of a rainy season was more akin to what probably happens in the tropics: heavy, daily downpours that punctuate searing heat. In Northeast Asia, it isn’t like that at all. Nights and mornings can be cool and refreshing; afternoons are usually stifling. Rain comes and goes, but with little regularity. For days on end, there might be no rain at all—just sweltering humidity. Some days are even perfect for an outing: blue skies with low humidity and temperatures that are not too uncomfortable. Of course, however, the rains will and do come. And with them unpleasantness.
Laundry does not dry (laundry is hung outside on balconies), futons get moldy, the house fills with insects, bodies reek. We fill our closets and drawers with little sacks purchased at a drug store that act as mini-dehumidifiers; otherwise, things start growing in your shirts and underwear.
It isn’t all horror and heat, though. On train platforms, men still pull out elegant fans to cool themselves. Women use sun parasols to keep their skin beautiful and sweat-free. Young girls and women wear yukata at festivals. Another feast for the eyes are the hydrangea, which come out in all their glory in June. Fed by the rains, blue and purple and pink “ajisai” dot Kyoto.
Last Sunday, I was near Higashiyama Station on the east side of Kyoto and took a few pictures of the two types of hydrangea and of the lovely Shirakawa River. Children were in the water up to their ankles, looking for crayfish and beetles. Nearby, in front of an old storehouse, a large hydrangea bush stuck out over the wall (above right). The white behind it is the whitewashing of the old wall.
I'm counting the days until the start of Gion.
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Sunday, June 18, 2006
新しい 日本語就学 英和辞典
Until last year I worked at Tokyo's Takushoku University. During my time there I had the pleasure of becoming friends with one of the full-time English professors, Prof. Peter Sharpe. Just this year Professor Sharpe's work of the past 16 years came to fruition in the form of an English-Japanese learner's dictionary that he has had published by Kodansha International.
Having been a diligent student of the Japanese language myself for the past eighteen years I have a keen appreciation of and for anything to do with the English-Japanese divide, and welcome this new and excellent bridge across it.
Read JapanVisitor's review of Professor Sharpe's brand new dictionary here.
More books on Japan here.
at 6:43 PM
Saturday, June 17, 2006
A couple of friends came over from New Zealand to stay with me in Tokyo at the end of last week – the first time in Japan for both of them.
Being a Saturday, and the rainy weather of the past couple of days finally having relented, we went for a bit of a tour.
Began in Roppongi Hills just before midday, and wandered around a few shops before checking out what was behind the two main towers. A caricature artist was at work on a longsuffering subject from Kuwait.
We watched while eating crepes, overlooking the green peaceful vista afforded by Mohri Gardens and their pond. During this time what had been a very overcast morning gradually cleared into an almost sunny afternoon. We then headed for our next stop, the New Zealand Embassy in Kamiyama, near Shibuya.
The New Zealand Embassy was hosting the New Zealand author Whiti Ihimaera, best known for his novel ‘Whale Rider’, which was made into the equally famous film.
Unfortunately his talk was limited to the politics and sociology of his works, whereas for those not as familiar with his work as we should have been, it would have been more enlightening to have learnt about his life and what motivated him to become a writer.
The most interesting part was seeing clips from a few New Zealand movies based on famous novels, including Jane Campion’s The Piano, Maurice Gee's In My Father’s Den, and, of course, Ihimaera’s Whale Rider.
We didn’t stay for the panel discussion, but headed for nearby Shibuya to check out what the youth of Tokyo were up to.
Street dancing, mini-mini-mini skirts, hanging out in game centers and trying to stay out of trouble with the cops.
The game center was a monster of an institution with four floors of jingling, whooping, shrilling, gurgling blinkery and quick eye movement, operated by curiously sedate, almost resigned, thrill seekers, seeking it much, it seemed, like they do their homework.
While lining up for tickets at Japan Rail’s Shibuya station, I bumped into a Samoan acquaintance from New Zealand who plays rugby for a team here in Japan.
A huge coincidence to begin with somewhere that madly crowded, and doubly a coincidence considering that I’d first met him at a New Zealand Embassy do a couple of months ago.
We’re back at home chilling now, getting ready for round two: a night of pubbing in Shinjuku and then clubbing back in Roppongi (The Warehouse). Party!
Japanese Manhole covers
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Friday, June 16, 2006
While exploring Dogo, the largest of the Oki Islands, I noticed that just about every village had their own unique designs for drain covers. In general it seems that the residents and local governments of the rural areas spend more time and energy on the beautification of their area. Big cities tend to have just one or two designs for their drain covers, and most are simple patterns. The photo above shows seals and fish.
Without any industry, the rivers of Dogo are very clean and therefore support a wide range of wildlife. This one shows Giant Salamanders.
In Tsuma, the drains depict bullfighting, a local tradition.
Flying Fish and squid. The Flying Fish is the "Prefectural Fish"
More fish on the drains in the port town of Saigo.
Japan manhole cover Oki Islands
Japanese Manhole covers
Wednesday, June 14, 2006
Just got back from 3 great days exploring Dogo, the largest of the Oki Islands.
The Okis lie off the Shimane coast, just north of the westernmost part of Honshu. From the ferry terminal in Matsue City's Shichirui-wan Bay it takes about two and a half hours by ferry (2,530 yen one-way) , or one hour by hydrofoil - which are getting a rep as whale-killers (4,990 yen one-way).
From Osaka it would take the best part of six hours on a combination of shinkansen bullet train to Okayama (60 min), the Hakubi Line (West Tottori-Okayama Railway) to Maigo (2 hr 10 min), the Sakai Line to Sakai-Minato (45 min), the bus to Shichirui (17 min), then the ferry to Dogo (2 hr 20 min).
Clean air, crystal clear azure waters, wonderful sunsets, steep mountains NOT covered in tree farms, great food, and friendly locals.
The Okis are famous as a place of exile, the most notable being Emperor Gotoba and Emperor Godaigo. The presence of the emperors and their considerable entourages meant that until recently the locals spoke Kyoto dialect, in spite of the islands being about 260km from the old capital as the crow flies.
One of the amusements arranged for the Emperors was bull-fighting. No tight satin pants, capes and swords though. It's actually more like bull
sumo. The bulls lock horns and push until one turns tail and runs away.
There were no matches going on while we were there, but I did manage to catch a glimpse of some bulls relaxing between matches. Oki is famous for its beef, though I don't think the flavor is related to the fighting.
The Okis are reputedly home to particularly beautiful women, so in the interests of research I kept my eyes open and, sure enough, I would have to agree.
Another thing that Oki is known for - though they still don't like to talk about it - is that during the forced separation of Buddhism and Shinto at the start of the Meiji Era, every single temple in the Okis was destroyed, making it the most extreme example of the separation anywhere in Japan. There still are very few Buddhist temples on the islands, but there are masses of Shinto shrines, many of them in the distinctive Oki-zukuri (literally 'Oki-built') style.
The trip was largely to conduct research on these shrines, so we took a little 90cc motorbike with us so we could easily get around the main island of Dogo and get to the out-of-the-way places that couldn't be reached by bus.
The Okis play a part in one of Japan's current disputes with Korea. The Dokdos are uninhabited rocks lying in the sea between Japan and Korea. In 1905 an Oki man filed papers in Japan to claim them for Japan where they are now known as Takeshima. All over the Okis are maps which show Takeshima and which explain Japan's "rightful" claim to them. Historical evidence suggest they do in fact belong to Korea, but the main economy of the Oki's is fishing, and the Dokdos are surrounded by fishing grounds.
We stayed 2 nights at a minshuku in the port town of Saigo. Minshuku are plentiful all over the islands, and I dont know if we were lucky, but the food was excellent. I'm no great fan of Japanese food - I can take it or leave it- but all the meals we had were especially tasty with lots of fresh seafood and beef. More surprising is that for the very first time ever I left the table after a Japanese meal feeling quite full!
As well as the peace and tranquility of the islands, the coastline is spectacular with many colored cliffs and strange rock formations. My wife was particularly impressed with the public toilets - they were everywhere, and in spotless condition, some even sporting lace curtains.
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Tuesday, June 13, 2006
91 pp (paperback)
Stone Bridge Press’s Rock Spring collection brings together modern translations of both the luminaries and lesser-known writers of Japanese literature. Hojoki is unfamiliar to the vast majority of non-Japanese, but it has a significant place in Japanese cultural history as at once a vivid depiction of 12th-century Japan and a personal journal of a man all too aware of his mortality. The author Kamo-no-Chomei was a monk who renounced life in the then-capital Kyoto and lived his last years in simple huts in the countryside. The first half of Hojoki chronicles the many disasters—among them fire, earthquake and famine—that ravaged the city, as well as its ill-fated and abandoned relocation. The second half recounts Kamo-no-Chomei’s hermitic existence. Yasuhiko Moriguchi and David Jenkins convincingly capture the terseness and poignancy of the original Japanese verses in this very readable English version, which is further enhanced by Michael Hofmann’s evocative ink-brush illustrations and an enlightening introduction and notes section. Hojoki is an accessible and surprisingly intimate window on ancient Japanese society and one extraordinary individual’s rich inner life.
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Sunday, June 11, 2006
I found this beautiful flower growing by the roadside outside Tokyo University’s Institute of Solid State Physics in Kashiwa City in Chiba prefecture, north-east of Tokyo.
It is the diaphanous yellow biyoyanagi, scientific name Hypericum chinense (but also known as Hypericum monogynum and Hypericum salicifolium). It is closely related to Hypericum perforatum, or St John’s Wort.
It is an evergreen shrub growing to about 70cm (c. 28 in) tall, is in leaf all year, and blooms during June in Japan. The flowers are hermaphrodite (i.e., with both male and female organs)
The name biyoyanagi, roughly translated, means ‘beautiful willow’, and is a phrase found in a poem of the classic Chinese poet Po-Chu-i (772-846), who is known in Japan as Hakurakuten or Hakuyoi. Po-Chu-i had a huge influence on literature in Japan, and his poem ‘Chokonka’ (‘The Song of Everlasting Sorrow’) tells the story of Yang Kwei-fei (Yokihi in Japanese) the beautiful concubine of the last T’ang emperor Hsuan Tsung (713-756) whose beauty was such that he contrived to free her from her marriage to his son and take her as his concubine, from then on letting things of state fall to rack and ruin in his blind devotion to her. The word ‘willow’ appears often in the poem to describe Yang Kwei-fei’s beauty, such as ‘A flower petal was her face, a willow leaf her eyebrow’.
The emperor’s negligence led to a rebellion, whereby he was forced to have Yang Kwei-fei strangled as part of his punishment. He later rued having done so, and sought to contact her via a Taoist priest in the underworld. According to legend, the priest brought back half of a golden comb that she had used while alive, which I can imagine also being related to the flower.
After Yang Kwei-fei death’s the distraught emperor is said to have had her immortalized in a statue of the Kannon Buddha. It was brought to Japan by the priest Tankai in 1255 to Sennyuji Temple in Kyoto. It is now known as the Yokihi Kannon and can be seen in the temple’s Kannon-Do (Buddha Hall).
Incidentally, being related to St. John’s Wort, well known for its medicinal qualities vis-à-vis nervous disorders, apparently the biyouyanagi also has some medicinal value. It was the subject of a study in 1995 by Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences at the University of Tokushima in Japan, which found that the extract from the plant showed significant activity against HIV and inhibited cytokine production.
Japan flora St. John's Wort Tokyo
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Thursday, June 08, 2006
According to a recent poll by Reve 21, a hair transplant business in Osaka [the name is a play on words: “Dream of being 21”], the largest source of stress for men is their boss or other superiors at work. This accounted for 37% of the replies. For women, on the other hand, the answer was “my husband,” which was answered by one in five.
For men, the answers were all work-related:
1. Boss: 37%
2. Future prospects of my company: 16%
3. Subordinates at work: 9%
For women, there was a mix of home and work:
1. Husband: 20%
2. Subordinates at work: 18%
3. Children: 18%
The next question in the poll—“What person relieves your stress the most?”—also underlined the male/female divide.
For women, “friends” topped the list at 25%. Men, on the other hand, put “my wife” (!) as their top choice, which accounted for one quarter of the replies.
The last question—“What is the number one way you relieve stress?”–once again failed to bridge the gap. Women answered shopping, followed by sleeping and travel. For men, the top answer was “spending time with my family.” Next was sleeping, and finally “drinking alcohol.”
If only the men knew.
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at 1:43 PM
Wednesday, June 07, 2006
One of the delights of living in the Japanese countryside is free food. I'm not talking about the masses of surplus vegetables that neighbors are constantly giving us, that's good, but its the wild food that is free for the picking at almost all times of the year. Collecting wild food is a tradition that remains strong in Japan. Until last week it was the raspberries (kiichigo) that were ripe. Everyday a good handful could be picked around my property, and a walk along almost any road yielded lots more. There is something about free food that makes it particularly tasty.
Right now its the mulberries (kuwa) that are getting ripe. Technically they are not really wild. The mulberry trees were planted for their leaves, which are what silkworms (kaiko) feed on, but since the collapse of the domestic silk production industry, only a few oldtimers still raise silkworms. Down by the river are lines of overgrown mullberry trees, and at this time of the year its not unusal to see kids, and some adults, with purple-stained hands and mouths.
In fifteen minutes we picked about half a kilo of the luscious berries, enough for a couple of jars of jam. The fresh berries are great as is, straight off the tree, and blended with yoghurt make a delicious smoothie.
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Sunday, June 04, 2006
Kibune is a mountain village nestled in a steep valley north of Kyoto that has long been used as a summer retreat for the residents of Kyoto as it is usually a full 5 degrees cooler than down below. Getting there is half the pleasure. You take the Eizan Railways train from Demachiyanagi station (the end station of the Keihan line) and take the train heading for Kurama. The trains have panoramic windows and seats that face out so you can easily enjoy the view as the trains snakes its way slowly up into the mountains. Get off at Kibuneguchi, the last stop before Kurama, and from there it is a pleasant 2 kilometre walk up the valley, or you can take the frequent shuttle bus.
The main attraction in Kibune is Kibune Shrine, an ancient shrine that was established long before the city of Kyoto. The long stone stairs flanked by vermillion lanterns are impossible to miss. The ancient Japanese religion was heavily concerned with water, many of the oldest shrines were placed at important water sources, and this is the case with Kibune. Enshrined here are the God Kuraokami no kami and his wife the Goddess Mizuhonone no kami, both considered water gods. Once the capital was moved to Kyoto the Emperor would visit here for ceremonies connected with rain. If rainfall was needed, a black horse would be offered to the shrine, if dry weather was needed, a white horse.
The main shrine, which is as far as most visitors go, is actually the lower of three shrines, and its well worth the walk up the valley a little way to visit the others. The middle shrine is small but set in a grove of huge, majestic, ancient cedars. The Upper shrines is larger and is actually the original Kibune shrine.
Legend has it that buried under the shrine, covered in rocks, is an ancient boat that a goddess used to sail up the river from Kyoto. The original meaning of Kibune is "yellow boat", and many scholars connect it with the Chinese story of a yellow boat that was used to visit the the land of the dead, a connection perhaps to the shamanic origins of Japanese religion.
The other attraction in Kibune is a unique dining experience, Kawadoko, where you eat seated on platforms suspended just above the fast flowing waters of the river. One establishment serves nagashi somen, a type of thin noodle served cold. The interesting part is that the noodles are delivered to you via a bamboo chute... you grab at the noodles with your chopsticks as they zip by.
From Kibune you can take the trail up the sacred mountain of Kurama, home to a very famous temple, and where as a young student the future Shogun Yoshitsune was trained in the art of the sword by a mythical creature known as a Tengu. Heading down the mountain on the other side you arrive in the village of Kurama, home to a famous onsen, and where you can take the train back into Kyoto.
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