A taste of Kyoto culture

The snow was already starting to fall on our arrival at the Chinzanso Hotel, and we were happy to get in from the cold. We weren’t, however, expecting to walk in on Japan’s former capital.

But that was what was waiting for us at a reception hosted by the city of Kyoto last week. The “Kyo no Omotenashi” event was part of the “City of Kyoto: Kyoaruki in Tokyo 2014: Love Kyoto Weeks,” which are organized to introduce the city’s cultural heritage to Tokyo’s foreign community, including students and dozens of diplomats. The aesthetic and cultural traditions of Kyoto have captivated the attention of foreign visitors over the centuries, and the offerings on hand at the reception were enough to have us eyeing Shinkansen timetables and looking forward to the next long weekend.

The performances began with a courtly dance from two maiko (assistant geisha), who then spent the rest of the afternoon walking among the crowd and gamely posing for pictures. We tried to grab them during a more candid moment, as they were talking to a group of guests.

talking to a group of students
One of the maiko visiting with a group of students

Drawn by an alluring scent, we found ourselves moving over to a section of the hall that was dedicated to incense. Identifying the various aromas of お香 (okoh) was once a parlor game for the high-born during the Heian Period, but with each disc of the sweet-smelling stuff labeled, having to identify the individual scents—lavender, cinnamon, clove, and the like—wasn’t necessary. Instead, guests at the long-established Shoyeido Incense Company demonstration were invited to create their own blends from the different discs, which they could then take home.

pick and mix

At a booth nearby, a shamisen performer was giving demonstrations and explaining the musical traditions of Kyoto, as well as the work that goes into crafting each instrument.

shamisen

Of course, no celebration of Japanese culture would be complete without nihonshu, or sake. Various sake breweries supplied a wide variety of nihonshu, from familiar varieties to cloudy, unfiltered nigori and a sweet, sparkling sake called Mio, produced by the Takara Shuzo brewery, would make an excellent dessert drink. 14th-generation President of the Tsukino Katsura Sake brewery, Tokubee Masuda, was on hand to explain the processes that go into crafting the drink, and poured for guests as the afternoon got busier.

Finishing off the afternoon was a performance by the musicians who would play for the Ohfune-Hoko float at the famed Gion festival, which takes place in July every year.

gion-musicians

“Kyoaruki in Tokyo 2014: Love Kyoto Weeks” will be hosting exhibits and demonstrations of Kyoto culture around Tokyo until February 19. For more information, visit their site. And if you get inspired to head down to Kyoto, we’ve got some suggestions for places to visit and things to do while you’re there.

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