February 15, 2024

“The Waters of Kyoto: The Essence of Tradition, Kogei Works, and Sacred Spaces”

Characteristics of Kyoto’s Water

Kyoto is located in a basin surrounded by beautiful mountains, and the clear water that springs from these mountains accounts for the majority of Kyoto’s water supply. Particularly famous is the Kamo River, which flows from the mountains in northern Kyoto. This river flows southward through Kyoto City and is an integral part of the city’s life and culture.

It also plays an important role in the food industry. For example, clean, high-quality water is essential in sake production in brewing delicious sake. In Kyoto, there is a region called Fushimi, where sake brewing flourishes due to the quality of the water, and many sake breweries produce high-quality sake in this area. Kyoto is also famous for its matcha (powdered green tea) and Uji tea, for which good quality water is essential.

Sake Breweries in Fushimi Kyoto
Sake Breweries in Fushimi

Relationship with Shrines and Temples

The relationship between water and Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples in Kyoto is intense. Kibune Shrine is one of the most symbolic examples, known for its worship of the god of water. The shrine is responsible for protecting the source of water and conveying gratitude for the blessings of water and its importance through water-related rituals and festivals. Worshippers can experience the purity of water firsthand by purifying their hands at the Tezumisha. There are also many shrines and temples in Kyoto, such as Kiyomizu-dera Temple, that hold sacred water that springs from a well-known spring, making these places important for those seeking spiritual purification and healing.

Kiyomizu-dera Temple Otowa no taki (Otowa Waterfall)
Kiyomizu-Dera Temple Otowa no taki (Otowa Waterfall)
Kibune Jinjya Shrine's hand-watering structure
Kibune-Jinja Shrine’s hand-watering structure

Relationship with Traditional Kogei Works

Kyoto is famous for its dye culture, including yuzen dyeing. Yuzen dyeing is a dyeing technique characterized by vivid colors and delicate dyeing, and Kyoto’s clean water was essential to the development of this technique. Kyoto water plays an important role in enhancing the quality of these crafts, as the quality of the water greatly affects the coloration of the dye and the texture of the cloth. The manufacturing process of gold leaf also requires highly pure water, making the water of Kyoto an essential element in the production of these traditional Kogei works.

Relationship between Traditional Kogei Works and Shrines and Temples

Traditional Kogei Works and Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples in Kyoto are closely related in that they both respect water and cherish its blessings. The pure water used in the manufacturing process of traditional crafts comes from the same spirit of reverence for nature that shrines and temples protect and transmit. In this way, water in Kyoto supports the region’s identity as an element that forms the basis of culture and faith.

Kuramadera Temple's hand-watering structure
Kurama-Dera Temple’s hand-watering structure

Relationship to Daily Life

This pure water is an essential part of the daily lives of the people of Kyoto. Kyoto households use this water for cooking and tea to bring out the best flavor of the ingredients. In addition, many springs in Kyoto are known as “famous waters,” and the use of these waters in daily life is a part of Kyoto’s unique culture.

Kamogawa River
Kamogawa River

Conclusion

More than just a physical resource, water in Kyoto is deeply connected to local traditional crafts, arts, and even shrines and temples. The fact that these cultures and beliefs continue today is due to the efforts of the people of Kyoto, who have protected and cherished their clean and abundant water resources. Understanding Kyoto’s water and the culture and traditions it has nurtured is nothing less than a deeper understanding of Kyoto’s charms. To convey to foreign readers how Kyoto’s water affects local life and culture in multiple ways is to convey the true beauty of this ancient capital city.