From Wind Chimes to Temple Bells: My Favorite Seasonal Traditions in Kyoto


“What are your favorite Kyoto traditions?”

I grew up in the neighborhood of Tofukuji Temple. By tradition, on New Year’s Eve, the big temple bell is rung 108 times and can be heard throughout the area — bong bong bong. That makes me feel like I’m living in Kyoto. Also, in the summer, around August 15th, the character “大” is lit on fire on Mount Daimonji.  It’s also broadcasted live throughout the country. We all drink beer together, eat snacks, go to the roof terraces… Each family chooses their favorite place to view it from. It might be at the home of an acquaintance. It’s not only the “大” character. There are many such characters lit one after the other around the same time, so you’ll be staring at one and then suddenly someone will catch a glimpse of another. That’s a nice memory.

“When you heard the ringing of the bell at Tofukuji, did you head out to the temple with your family?”

Did we go—-? Actually, we lived so close by, we could actually hear the ringing of the bell from the bathtub. People who do go have the option to line up and take turns ringing the bell by themselves, even in the very cold weather. They take turns striking the bell once and then allowing the next person in line to step forward and do so. In the summer, it is also possible to experience Zazen mediation practice at Tofukuji. The monk will even rap you on the shoulders. They serve rice gruel to the participants, and I went there as an elementary student with my father for an optional experience. We had to finish everything in the bowl, not even leaving a little bit of soup at the bottom. It was really interesting for me. We had to sit quietly and listen to a Buddhist sermon, and then sit straight. Like I said, those who were unable to follow properly were rapped on the shoulders. I was probably about ten or eleven at that time… it was when I was in fifth or sixth grade. I don’t really remember so much about it, but our sitting posture had to be perfect. I knew that if I didn’t, I’d be hit. I wasn’t, but another participant was. They warned us about this ahead of time, so I was prepared. It’s not only due to posture, but amazingly, they seem to know when one is getting distracted and thinking about something else. You really have to empty your mind and focus. The problem is when one loses this pointed focus.

“Now you’re a music teacher. You’ve said before that children have changed a lot. Can you talk more about that?”

When I was little, we believed that one could not question the teacher. If our piano teacher gave us a piece to play at the upcoming recital, even if we did not like the piece, we felt that we had been assigned it for a reason and that we should do so. Now, kids will clearly speak out if something is not to their liking. “I don’t want that one.” So we ask what they would like to do and adhere to their wishes. When kids have a choice, they make more of an effort. I make an effort to listen to my students’ opinions. “Do you like this?” Before teachers made more demands on their students to practice, but it doesn’t seem to happen so much anymore. The long distance between teacher and student has disappeared. Some might think that’s a bad thing, but now students can speak more freely with their teachers, and even the speaking style is different. Before the student would just listen to the teacher and say “Hai…Hai… Wakarimashita. (Yes… Yes… I understand.)”  Teachers were strongly revered. This has its importance too, but the school atmosphere is much different now than it was before. I think this is a good thing. This is one of the major differences from the past.

“What is your Kyoto #1”?

That’s a difficult question! I guess I would have to say the red Japanese maple leaves in the autumn season. There are always many beautiful red Japanese maple leaves at Tofukuji, in my old neighborhood. Lots of Kyoto residents live in Japanese-style homes and put some of these leaves in their home as a seasonal decoration. That’s very pretty. Lots of temples put up signs to advertise their pretty autumn leaves, but even places that don’t have such a sign, or even the pretty leaves you can see while walking around the town, are very beautiful. Many such trees are planted outside of Japanese-style homes. There are just spots you’ll find here and there, at which you’ll always find beautiful leaves in autumn, or pretty pink cherry blossoms in the spring. It doesn’t have to be a famous place or a park. When I see such beauty here and there, it makes be happy to live in Kyoto. To live in Kyoto is to enjoy such red Japanese maple leaves. To enjoy these cherry blossoms. It may not be only in Kyoto, of course, but it makes me very happy to live here. My husband is from Nagasaki, which on the other had has a very western feeling. There are many churches, for example. It has a completely different kind of atmosphere. When I return to this area and see such images, I sigh and feel that I have some back to Kyoto. Also, in the summertime, one hears the sound “chirin chirin (ding ding)” coming from wind chimes hanging at houses here and there. This is what I love most of all. There are many types of chime sounds. The sound “karan karan” is beautiful, and also “chirin chirin“. The sounds come out of people’s gardens, and also out of shops. I love it. The sound “chirin chirin” usually comes from a wind chime made of glass and can be heard widely, while “karan karan” is the sound made from thicker ceramic material when it is moved by a breeze. When I find a particular sound that I love, I always make a point to often pass by that house or shop, and I feel that summer has come. I was born in the summer, so maybe that’s why I like it. I also like the sound of cicadas. It’s too intense for my husband. He hates it, and also the heat, but I love it. When I hear the sound of the wind chimes and the cicadas, I immediately imagine mosquito coils, shaved ice, paper fans. That makes me think of Kyoto.


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