Hotaru-bi no Chakai: A Tea Gathering in the Fire of Fireflies

For anyone set to visit Kyoto this weekend, there’s one event Japanese haven’t failed to celebrate at the Shimogamo Shrine. Wondering what this is? Here’s all you need to know about the Hotaru-bi no Chakai.

Shimogamo Shrine is one of the oldest shrines in Japan which is located north of Kamo and Takase Rivers of north-central Kyoto. The shrine dates back to the prehistoric periods and the first reference of the Shimogamo was of a fence repair dating back to 2BC.

The shrine has served as a central religious aspect for Kyotoites. It has said that the shrine played a significant role in the Heian period when prayers for the capital where held in that area. In countless tales, of which includes “Tale of Genji”, Shimogamo Shrine has been featured.

Today, this Kyoto shrine has been registered under the UNESCO World Heritage Site. Shimogamo contains 52 building all of which are recognized as iconic Cultural Properties. A number of events take place at the Shimogamo Shrine of which include the Hotaru-bi no Chakai

About Hotaru-bi no Chakai:

Hotaru-bi no Chakai is the event held at the beginning of June which is a special tea gathering done amidst the glow of live fireflies. “Hotaru” translates to firefly while “bi” refers to fire. “Chakai” on the other hand means tea gathering. This event shows the true essence of Japanese tradition where one of its aims is the preservation of Tadasu no Mori, “The Forest of Justice,” which surrounds the Shimogamo Shrine.

Hotarubi no Chakai

For the event, around 600 fireflies are released over the stream called Mitarashigawa which serve as invites to the grandiose tea gathering. Usually, a reservation is required for one to attend the ceremony but there are other programs of the Hotaru-bi no Chakai open to the general public.

If you are ever in the area, make sure to check the Shimogamo Shrine. Other than the Hotaru-bi no Chakai, the ancient “Juni-hitoe” where 12 layers of the kimono will be shown and various dance performances are set for the night. Twenty long established stands also sell around the area at 1pm where the popular Kyoto souvenir, yatsuhashi and the common rice dumpling, mitarashi dango is being sold.

“King of Psyborg Rock Star”, a death that astonished many

Hideto Matsumoto <Matsumoto Hideto>, more commonly known just as ‘Hide’, was born on December 13, 1964. He was once an extremely popular Japanese musician, but due to an unfortunate event, he passed away on May 2, 1998.

Matsumoto was primarily known as being the lead guitarist of the popular heavy metal band, X-Japan from 1987 to 1997, but also occasionally was a songwriter, contributing some of his composed songs such as the single “Scars” to the band. X-Japan, also known as just ‘X’ from 1982 to 1992, was one of the first Japanese acts to achieve mainstream success while being on an independent label, and is also credited for playing a major part of the visual kei movement, being one of the bands to pioneer it. Visual kei refers to a movement among Japanese artists characterized by the use of eccentric and sometimes flamboyant looks. It usually involves unusual hairstyles, striking make-up, and elaborate costumes that are often, but not always, coupled with more feminine looks on men.


His solo career took off when he had took place in an art film and recorded with one of the members of Luna Sea. In 1994, he oversaw the production of the first release on his own label. In the same year he also recorded and released his first solo album, Hide Your Face, in which in addition to songwriting, he played most of the guitar and bass on the tracks and provided all the lead vocals for it. In 1996, his second album was released, and in 1997 when X-Japan disbanded, he formally named his solo project ‘Hide with Spread Beaver’. Also in 1996, he formed a second band known as Zilch, that included some American and British artists.

In 1988, it was a dark and devastating year for fans, for it was the year of his death. After a night out drinking, Matsumoto was found hanged with a towel from a door knob in his Tokyo apartment. During the week of his death, five teenage girls tried to kill themselves while playing X music or wearing X merchandise, and of the five three succeeded. At his funeral, 50,000 fans mobbed the streets and by the end of the day 60 were sent to the hospital. Nearly 200 more fans received medical attention in first-aid tents after either passing out or injuring themselves in some other way. In one case, a girl tried to slit her wrists with a plastic knife.

Here is a quote from a radio-and-video-show host, Bryan Burton-Lewis, who toured with Hide as a disk jockey:

(Disclaimer: the quote is taken from an article in The New York Times, which should be fully credited to Neil Strauss)

”The wake was sad,” he remembered. ”I was sitting in there for two hours, and all you heard outside was kids screaming from the bottom of their stomachs. They sounded like demons. In Japan, the image that we have of the X audience is rural kids going through a rebellion phase. They put their life into being X fans: they dress like it, they breathe it, they all talk about how he gave them something to live for.

”A lot of what Hide did was grotesque. He’s talked about suicide in his records for five years. But the fans who followed him always knew there was a Hide behind that who was a very solid character. He was very outspoken about freedom and doing what you want, and he took on a fan who had a rare bone marrow disease as a personal crusade.”

Despite his death being ruled officially as a suicide, many of Matsumoto’s friends feel certain it was not. Many of them remembered him as a person who would go out of control when he was drunk, getting himself in trouble and yet having no knowledge of what he did the next day. Under these circumstances they believe his death was a drunken accident.

Even if Matsumoto Hideto has passed away, he is still remembered today with his music and reputation of being one of the few who have changed and shaped the image and genre of visual kei and his impact on culture and the music industry will never be forgotten. He has a museum built in his honor and a remembrance concert takes place every year.

Print Club, Anyone?

athe-coffee-postDid you know that in most Japanese cities you can enter a booth that transports you to youth, joy and child-like fun for only 400 yen?  You choose where you want to go—
into a manga, to outer space, or onto a carousel horse that rides through eternity.

Or you might prefer a bike ride in the countryside of your dreams.

If you are the abstract thinker, you could simply place yourself into a pattern of never-ending dots.

This memory is preserved in print. You will have a sheet of colorful stickers to show off your adventures. You can share the memento with a friend that you meet later the same day.  It may even last long enough for your children and your children’s children  to see. But the zen of the experience is in the now.

The name of this magical booth is something you may have heard of —
Print Club.
In Japanese Pu-rin-to Ku-ra-bu.
Pu-ri Ku-ra for short.

These are the photo booths you find in game centers or at train stations.  You insert four 100 yen coins, choose the settings, and pose.  The photo booths have become quite varied over the years.  When they first opened there was only a choice of simple colored backgrounds or basic patterns.  Now you can find booths which contain a tiered stand where you can vary your pose to fit into the scenery you choose.

For example, if you choose a space background, you can lie face down on the bench with your arms out at your side, and a friend can do the same on the higher tier.  Turn your face to the camera lens and smile. In the printed photo you and your friend will appear to be flying through space.  In the same way you can pose on a horse, on a giant chess board, on the cover of a notebook, or in a bento lunch.

The final part of the fun is the graffiti.  You go the graphic station where the images you posed for appear.  Here you use a touch pen to add words, graphic elements, and seasonal messages.

If you have had dreams of sitting on top of an ice cream sundae, or kissing your loved one in a sea of bubbles, I suggest you take your coin purse, join with a friend, and head over to a Print Club near you!


The graphic station.
the graphic station