January sees several fascinating events happening in Kyoto. From celebrations of the New Year to spectacular art shows to raucous shrine prayers to get rich, there’s plenty of quintessentially Kyoto events to enjoy
Yasaka-jinja Entrance – image © dirigibleduck
1 January 2017
Location: Yasaka-jinja Shrine
This is an interesting twist on the usual hatsumode (first shrine visit of New Year’s). Here, people visit Yasaka-jinja Shrine and purchase sacred ropes, which they then set alight from piles of burning prayer sticks. They then try to transport the rope home without it going out. To do so, they keep the ember burning by swinging the rope around in circles. Needless to say, you can’t take the burning ropes on buses, trains or taxis, so it helps to live within walking distance of the shrine! Once home, the fire is used to light a cooking fire and a sacred candle. Sacred rice cakes are then cooked over the cooking fire.
1-4 January 2017
Event: Nijo-jo Castle Garden Special Opening
Location: Nijo-jo Castle
Time: 10:00am-4:00pm (enter by 3:00pm)
If you’re looking for something special to do on New Year’s Day or the following three days, head over to Nijo-jo Castle, where the beautiful garden will be open to the public from 10am until 3.30pm. The admission fee is Y400.
1-15 January 2017
Event: The 3rd Reorganized New Nitten Kyoto Exhibition
Location: Kyoto Municipal Museum of Art
Closed: Mondays (except national holidays)
Held at the Kyoto Municipal Museum of Art in the Okazaki Museum District in Northern Higashiyama (a short walk from Higashiyama Station on the Tozai Subway Line), this is one of the best art shows of the year in Kyoto. “Nitten” means “Japan Show” and as the name suggests, this show highlights some of the greatest living artists working in Japan. You’ll see all the main categories of Japanese art on display: lacquerware, shodo (Japanese calligraphy), oil painting, silkscreen painting, sculpture, watercolor, and textile work. You’ll be utterly amazed at the level artistry and creativity on display here! Don’t miss it!
2-15 January 2017
Event: 300th Anniversary, Itō Jakuchū (特集陳列 生誕300年 伊藤若冲)
Location: Kyoto National Museum
Time: 9:30am-4:30pm (Tues-Thu and Sun), 9:30am-7:30pm (Fri and Sat)
Closed: Mondays and December 26th – January 1st
The 18th century painter Ito Jakuchu was one of Japan’s most interesting artists and his work was centuries ahead of its time. This show, held in the Chishinkan wing of the superb Kyoto National Museum during the second half of December, should be on your list if you’re a fan of Japanese painting. Don’t miss it!
3-31 January 2017
Event: Suzuki Kiitsu: Standard-bearer of the Edo Rimpa School (鈴木其一 ―江戸琳派の旗手―)
Location: Kyoto Hosomi Museum
Time: 10:00am-6:00pm (enter by 5:30pm, Closed on Mondays)
Held at the Kyoto Hosumi Bijutsukan Museum, which is in the Okazaki Museum District, this show is the latest in a string of shows commemorating the Rimpa School (also written as Rinpa), an extremely influential group of artists whose flamboyant and colorful works dominated much of the Edo Period. This show focuses on the works of Suzuki Kiitsu, who was a late artist in the movement but who is now being reevaluated as a major figure in its development and preservation. There are likely to be lines for this show, so go during off-peak hours.
5-8 January 2017
Event: Shohin Bonsai Exhibition
Location: Miyako Messe 1F
Time: 9:30am-4:30pm (ends at 3:00pm on the last day)
Held at the Miyako Messe event hall, which is in Kyoto’s Okazaki Museum District, this is the best opportunity of the year to see bonsai (the Japanese art of growing miniature trees in flower pots). The Miyako Messe is in the same building as the Fureaikan Museum of Traditional Crafts.
Ebisu-jinja Shrine – image © Inside Kyoto
8-12 January 2017
Event: Toka Ebisu
Time: 9:00am-11:00pm (open throughout the night on the 9th and the 10th)
This is one of my favorite yearly festivals in Kyoto. It’s held at Ebisu-jinja Shrine, which is a short walk from either Gion-Shijo or Kiyomizu-Gojo Stations on the Keihan Line (just follow the crowds). It happens all day from the 8th to the 12th, but it’s best to go in the evenings, when the place gets packed and raucous. Ebisu-san (Ebessu-san in Kyoto dialect) is one of the Shichifukujin, the Seven Lucky Gods of Japanese mythology (many originally from Chinese mythology). Ebisu-san is believed to be the god for prosperity and so anyone looking to get rich shows up to ask for Ebisu-san’s blessings in the New Year. People buy all kinds of lucky charms at the shrine, which are hung on young bamboo, which is also sold at the shrine (these are taken home and displayed in a prominent place). But, the main part of the ritual is waiting to throw some cash into the donation box in front of the main hall, then ringing the bell and saying a prayer to Ebisu-san. After praying to Ebisu, people make their way around to the right side of the main hall and bang their fists on a board there and repeat their prayers. Believe it or not, Ebisu-san is said to be hard of hearing – hence the need to make a racket. Well, maybe it’s not so hard to believe: If Ebisu-san was able to hear everyone’s prayers for wealth, the whole world would be filthy rich!
See our comprehensive photo report about attending Toka Ebisu.
9-10 January 2017
Event: Gion Ebisu
Like the more famous Toka Ebisu (above), this festival, held at Yasaka-jinja Shrine is a chance for Kyotoites to pray for a prosperous New Year. In the afternoon on the 9th, a parade leaves from the shrine and heads west down Shijo-dori (the best place to watch). First come the shrine maidens and shrine priests, followed by an image of Ebisu and then a “boat” carrying Shichifukujin, the Seven Lucky Gods of Japanese mythology.
21 January 2017
Event: Kobo-san Market (Hatsu Kobo)
Location: To-ji Temple
Named for Japan’s most revered Buddhist Saint, Kobo Daishi, this market is one of the two best markets in town (the other being the Tenjin-san Market, held on the 25th). You’ll find all manner of goods on sale here including used kimono, antiques, ceramics, food, bric-a-brac, old postcards and books, and assorted Japanalia. In addition to being a great market, this is also a chance to see Kyoto’s foreign community, which turns out in full, along with hoards of locals.
Kitano Tenman-gu Shrine – image © Jeffrey Friedl
25 January 2017
Event: Tenjin-san Market (Hatsu Tenjin)
Location: Kitano Tenmangu
Like the Kobo-san market (see previous), this is one of the two best markets in town. It’s named for Sugawara no Michizane, a 9th century poet and scholar who is the patron saint of academic pursuits in Japan. Known colloquially as Tenjin-san, the market is a great excuse to visit this shrine and see people, especially school children, rubbing the two stone bulls in front of the main hall of the shrine (doing so is said to make one more intelligent). Like the Kobo-san market, this is a great chance to buy used kimono, ceramics, antiques and bric-a-brac, along with food and drink. You’ll also rub shoulders with an interesting assortment of expats and locals.
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