Prizewinning Writing from KyoTours Japan

We are proud to announce that the founder of KyoTours Japan has been awarded the first place prize in the 2018 Writers in Kyoto annual competition. The short piece submitted was about a small autumn festival held at a temple high in the hills of Arashiyama. This largely  unknown yearly gathering that brings together man and monster is the sort of ancient tradition that is often overlooked by travelers and locals alike.

Read the prize-winning piece below:


 

Tengu: A Firsthand Account

Timidly, five tengu emerge from the forest surrounding a remote hillside temple in Arashiyama. Matted eyebrows, wild moustaches, grotesque noses. Skin tones of red, turquoise, and gold. Clinking trinkets dangling from their soiled yamabushi priest robes. They walk on crooked legs, uneasy on the rocky ground. Rarely do these creatures leave the safety of the treetops. Their nervous eyes scan the crowd of villagers gathered to welcome these strange annual visitors to the autumn festival.

The tengu scamper into the temple. The local priest greets them and begins his chanting. The raspy voices of the tengu soon join in and fill the cold hall with a rough music so rarely heard by human ears. The sacred connection has been renewed, man and monster in perfect accord for a single day of the year.

Wilderness and village agreeing to live in harmony for another cycle of seasons.

Uneasy silence. Breaths held. The creatures slowly rise. A blessing in the tengu language croaks out from five beaked mouths, a baffling babble evocative of creaking branches, windswept bark, and wet leaves.

Namu-shen-kwa, namu-shen-kwa, namu-shen-kwa.”

The ritual is complete. With a nod to the priest, the tengu slip back into the woods.

Several minutes pass. Five old men appear, wearing yamabushi robes and rubbing their faces. They greet their fellow villagers. The villagers respond in kind. Knowing smiles and looks of satisfaction all around.

A skeptic would say that this was simply five old guys dressed up in silly costumes, doing their best to keep the ancient traditions of their shrinking community alive. However, unless you can catch a tengu and ask him, there’s honestly no way to know for sure.

 
 

We've blogged about this temple before, both in a longer piece describing the annual tengu festival in detail and a recent analysis about the unique collision of Buddhism and music that occurs there.

Stay tuned for more stories about unique spots in Kyoto that are off the radar of most foreign visitors.