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Permission notes II

Organising the application work

Our selection of projects was intended to focus on the relationship between Zen aesthetics and tea aesthetics, the theme of our graduate seminar, with the inclusion of some examples of modern developments. And after putting up a tentative programme of our list of points to visit on basis of importance and location/transportation time, next step was a list of permissions needed. This list we again divided in an "easy" group including places where arrangement of permission could be regarded more or less as a case of formality, and a "difficult" group including places where we had to be "lucky" to get permission, and where permission would be possible only on irregular or unforeseeable basis. The places in the "easy" group were put in a second round, as they would probably be possible to fit in. Had we sent out all applications in the same time, quite a few double bookings and a total confusion of the initial schedule would most likely have been the result. Now we could restructure and update the programme, as appointments and permissions were achieved.

In the "difficult" group we listed among others Ura Senke and Omote Senke, as they have irregular visiting possibilities and had a central position in our theme. After some time though, we had to realise that Ura Senke was fully booked for the nine-day period we would be in Kyoto, and at that time the travel dates were finally determined. Also it showed up that Omote Senke only had one monthly day reserved for visitors. But even then, they found another day for us. And for an architectural study tour I can deeply recommend a visit to Omote Senke - it was among the peak experiences of our tour.

Also we listed the Imperial gardens of Katsura Rikyu, Sento Gosho and Shugaku-in in the first group, not because they are actually difficult to get permission for, but because the set of rules are somewhat complex (see specific note under Katsura Rikyu below). They never permit groups larger than 4 persons at a time, so with these three places we had to divide our group in two.

In the "difficult" group we also included a selection of sukiya buildings, like Tawaraya, Kitamura-tei, Kano Shoju-en and Kasui-en of Miyako Hotel, and we included the early mid Edo period entertainment building Sumiya. And this category proved to be the most difficult. Kitamura-tei replied that their next tour would only be in a half year from now, and it typically took reservation at least half year ahead. Tawaraya and Sumiya are functioning as ryokans, traditional Japanese style inns, and they refused due to fear that we would be disturbing to their customers. The reply from Kasui-en, the sukiya style annex of Miyako Hotel, was more positive - maybe because Miyako Hotel was contacted by a teacher of our university who just stayed there, maybe because Kasui-en has a scale and layout that makes possible a visit without too much disturbance to the customers. But only on the day we visited the place we knew that we would also be able to see one of the living rooms of the annex. So in general it can be a little difficult to put up a good selection of modern sukiya architecture in Kyoto. Most is on private hands, treasured and used as islands of tranquillity, and therefore well guarded against intruders.

Several of places listed in the "easy" group were subtemples of Daitoku-ji. Out of our nine days, one and a half day were spent in Daitoku-ji. When it comes to Zen culture, kare sansui gardens, tea rooms, shoin architecture and early sukiya architecture, Daitoku-ji is an unprecedented treasure house, and we could easily have included more visits to Daitoku-ji subtemples. Among the applications for Daitoku-ji we waited sending for Zuiho-in, Shinju-an and Daitoku-ji Hojo, as the possibilities for permission timing for these places could be expected to be rather flexible. And the other way round, the applications for Ryoko-in and Koho-an we sent first. From both of these places though, the answers were refusals.

I do not know how to arrange for places like Koho-an and Ryoko-in from a distance. But I happened to be in Kyoto the month before our study tour and made arrangement with Koho-an through a gardener friend of a friend - so suddenly Koho-an was not too busy. I also went to Ryoko-in in order ask the abbot directly what was necessary to get permission to visit Mittan, a tea room in Ryoko-in made by Kobori Enshu. And in the end he offered me to see it, but as I said that I would rather share the experience with my students coming next week (I saw Mittan several times when the former abbot, Kobori-san, was still alive) it was blankly refused. The present abbot (the son) insisted that Ryoko-in was a temple and a group of students could no way visit Mittan.

We can disagree with this ultra-defensive understanding of the cultural position of the Zen temple in present day Japan. But we can do nothing but playing the game as it is set up by now. That means that for a certain category of places, you will have to rely on connections of some kind - somebody who knows somebody who knows somebody who can ask from a position where the doors will be open. Getting such permissions in Kyoto is a time consuming and exhausting sport - and you put the people you involve into the position of the debitor. So even though I might have been able to "force" the doors of Ryoko-in open through connections inside Daitoku-ji, I decided after the initial refusals and the visit to Ryoko-in to focus energies on providing a possibility of visiting Koho-an. There we would be able to experience a more fully ripe Kobori Enshu sukiya architecture, and being able to go there, a visit to Mittan was less indispensable. So maybe we should also keep in mind the question: how many doors do I really want to have opened?

How to make a reservation

For most reservations the way to apply is to send a reply-paid postcard (in Japanese called ofuku hagaki) with the names of the group of visitors, the number of visitors, and the name of the representative of the group of visitors. Especially for applications to the Imperial Gardens, as a foreign visitor, you must include your passport number, alien registration number and home country address. See further details below under Katsura Rikyu.

For Ura Senke and Omote Senke, and for cases like the textile company Hinaya (Shin Takamatsu's Origin I, II and III), it will be natural to make a short introductory letter explaining your case and your special interest and reason for application. But for those of the places that have established a routine of receiving visitors behind the "not open to the public" facade, such introductory letters most likely will make no difference.

Participants and group size

In our study tour we were 8 participants, 6 students: Koji Kawamoto, Makiko Yamamoto, Emiko Kida, Takanori Kaneko, Toshirou Omi, Wataru Sakanishi, and 2 teachers, Shunsuke Itoh and myself, Jens Hvass. Being only eight persons was a very comfortable group size, flexible and without waiting time from latecomers and temporarily disappeared people. And I know from several study tours arranged by the Royal Academy, that in case group size is considerably larger, it can have advantages to make a travel structure, where at least parts of the programme are done individually or in smaller groups according to special interest. Such subdivision of a larger group also makes it easier to handle the problems around the Imperial gardens where only group sizes of four at a time are accepted.


For some time we discussed whether we should choose temple lodging or youth hostel. But we ended up choosing Higashiyama Youth Hostel. Especially after the opening of the Tozai (east-west) subway line, the Higashiyama Youth Hostel has a central placement, just on top of a subway station. And the location is within walking distance to downtown, Gion and Ponto-cho.

Higashiyama Youth Hostel accepted a stay for nine days, but check out - it might not be the case during high season. Price including breakfast and dinner was 3.900 yen for members and 4.300 yen for not members. Not the best food, but a cheap basis. Dinner can be chosen off, but it doesn't bring down the price considerably.

Higashiyama Youth Hostel, 112 Goken-cho, Shirakawabashi-higashi-iru, Sanjo-dori, Higashiyama-ku, 605 Kyoto

Tel.: (075) 761 8135
Fax: (075) 761 8138


Budget and duration

In our initial planning phase the number of days was not finally settled, and we were considering a duration of up to two weeks. In the end it was economy limits that defined the duration. Our budget for travel to and from Hokkaido, stay at youth hostel including breakfast and dinner, entrance fees and transportation inside Kyoto (the latter two sums up to considerable amounts) was set to 100.000 yen. I never calculated it, but I feel convinced that we kept comfortably within this limit.

I can highly recommend to have far more than nine days in Kyoto - in fact everything less than four weeks will be very short, in case you want to get in touch with the real Kyoto. Ample of time will give you the opportunity to visit the places of interest in a more relaxed tempo, to improvise along the way, and to join some of the countless special arrangements that fill the cultural calendar of Kyoto - and you will be able to do some of the reservations upon your arrival.

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Continue to Kyoto, places to visit, A-F (3 of 11).


Address information

Below I have collected some postal and web addresses that one way or another might prove important to the arrangement of a study tour to Kyoto.

The Tourist Information Center is generally most helpful, whether you call by phone or go there directly.

In 2000, when planning our study travel, the web database Kyoto City Tourism & Culture Information System proved to be most valuable. For most of the places listed here, it has individual pages with address and telephone, short description, opening hours, entrance fees, and illustration material. But when searching on names in the database, be aware that there are a certain confusion as to spelling, for instance Konchiin or Konchi-in.

Postal addresses and phone numbers

Cultural Planning Section of Kyoto City, 488 Kamihonnojimae-cho, Oike agaru, Teramachi-dori, Nakagyo-ku, 604 Kyoto
Tel.: (075) 222 4102

Department of Industry and Tourism, Kyoto City Government
Tel.: (075) 752 0215

Tourist Information Center, Kyoto Japan National Tourist Organization, just north of JR Kyoto Station
Tel.: (075) 371 5649

Kyoto City Information Office
Tel.: (075) 343 6655

Imperial Household Agency, Kyoto Office
Tel.: (075) 211 1211

Tourist Section of Kyoto City Government, Kyoto Kaikan, Okazaki, 606 Sakyo-ku, Kyoto
Tel.: (075) 752 0215

Some relevant web addresses

Kyoto Monthly Guide - monthly issues with an indispensable calendar of openings & events
Kyoto City Web
Japanese Garden Database
Kyoto official travel guide
Japan Ryokan association, Kyoto
Kyoto National Museum