Kaki-Shibu – 柿渋

I love Kyoto because it is the center for traditional craftsmanship in Japan. Over centuries, emperors, shoguns, religious and political leaders and tradesmen have lived here in beautiful houses and gardens, have held sophisticated parties and indulged in lavish banquets. They have invested in the beauty of Japan – sophisticated craftsmanship, a sense for balance and details, refined cuisine. And this tradition continues until today.

We stopped on our way to the temple at Kakishibu, a shop in Kyoto which sells mainly one thing: The liquid essence of dried and fermented unripe kaki fruits. It is used to dye clothes, wood and protect them against insects and water damage (to some degree). This essence is sold throughout the country, specialist garden shops as well as DIY and hardware stores. It is quite pricey. This small and unsuspicious shop is where they make the essence and run their business:

We bought about 1.5 liters which we filled in a used pet bottle. As soon as the pet bottle was in the car, it started smelling really foul – like rancid butter. You can find more information about Kakishibu in English from this seller’s site in the US.

Kaki (柿) means persimmon, an orange fruit that is harvested from autumn to early winter. The kaki used for kakishibu is Shibu-Kaki. Shibu (渋) refers to the astringent and bitter taste of the fruit. It is furthermore used to describe a visually austere, somber, subdued, subtle, quiet or unobstrusive elegance, an understated beauty.

When oyakata asked me what gardens I like I replied with Obai-in (Daitoku-ji) and Funda-in (Tofuku-ji). To both he replied: Shibui! I have never really thought about it, but in the following days out in Kyoto I realized that I do like shibui things way more than hanayaka (華やか – showy, flowery, bright) things. For example, this small hut in Kozan-ji near Kyoto:


Jizo-in in the Arashiyama mountains in Kyoto:

Jizou-in - Sub3 - Logo


And this wooden cedar veneer in Shake-machi near the Kamigamo shrine:

Kyoto Tag 1 - 1 Shake-machi Streets 3 (1)

Book review – A Guide to The Gardens of Kyoto

Guide to the gardens of Kyoto

A Japanese garden guide by Marc Treib and Ron Herman
Must-Have-Level: 6/7, I wouldn’t want to miss it on my desk or when out exploring.

Audience: First-time visitors to Kyoto (if they love gardens and explore on their own), students of Japanese garden culture and seasoned Japanese garden veterans.

Character: “Serious Japanese garden book” – no dreamy photographs or romantic descriptions to be found here. It’s a reference book, a guide book and great introduction to the history of the garden culture in Kyoto.

What I like about it: Its small size allows me to take it along, so I am able to read ABOUT the garden when I am IN the garden. The thing is: If I read about the garden before my visit I forget 90% of the information, because I have a hard time visualizing the gardens; if I read about it afterwards, I realized I missed half of the details and context.

Links: http://bit.ly/1iYRJoI (free browsing on Google books), http://amzn.to/1cIpd5Q (Amazon affiliate), http://amzn.to/1g6QIZk (Amazon non-affiliate)

Description: A Guide to the Gardens of Kyoto introduces 50-something gardens in Japan’s ancient capital Kyoto. The text for each garden is short and very precise, conveying the feeling of the garden as well as the facts and some background knowledge. The average garden gets a description of one or two pages, and a black-and-white photograph. Some more important gardens like Saiho-ji and Katsura-Rikyu get four to five pages. In addition to the description of the garden, each chapter features the time period it was built in, with remarks to major restorations, and in the case of a temple, the branch of Buddhism to which it belongs. The address, opening times are featured as well, and whether a permission is needed to visit the garden or take pictures in the garden.

I tremendously enjoyed reading the 50-page long introduction to the cultural context of Japanese gardens, out of which 20 pages are devoted to the history of the Kyoto area. I also like the suggested reading list – a fountain of books to add to my to-read list.

The book was written by Marc Treib, a (now retired) professor of Architecture of UC Berkeley and Ron Herman, a landscape architect in the San Francisco bay area, who has spent many years researching Japanese gardens. This is the second edition from 2003, the first edition was published in 1979.

Links: http://bit.ly/1iYRJoI (free browsing on Google books), http://amzn.to/1cIpd5Q (Amazon affiliate), http://amzn.to/1g6QIZk (Amazon non-affiliate)