Watching a Concert at Heian-jingu Shrine

The Heian Shrine located in Higashiyama district of Kyoto has a very spacious shrine ground oftentimes used for concerts and other public events. A yearly spring concert called Benishidare「紅しだれコンサート」is held at the shrine ground every year to celebrate spring and appreciate the weeping cherry trees at the shrine. Because of its spacious grounds, Heian Shrine is a popular venue for live concerts by Japanese artists. Although rare to have modern concerts at a historical site like a shrine, some events and artists use the shrine to merge old and modern culture – a unique character of a city like Kyoto.

Heian Shrine Red Torii
Heian Shrine Red Torii

Watching concerts are once-in-a-lifetime experience and only natural that you go and watch a favorite artist. One such artist for me is Domoto Tsuyoshi 堂本剛. Since 2009, Tsuyoshi is the only artist who has held a concert at Heian Shrine for the past 7 years. Tsuyoshi Domoto Heian-jingu Shrine Live 2017, supposedly scheduled on 1-3 September 2017 should have been his eight. **However, on August 8, 2017, it was announced on his website that his live will be cancelled due to Tsuyoshi’s condition. Towards the end of June 2017, Tsuyoshi was hospitalised due to sudden deafness.

Heian-jingu Shrine Live 2016 gate
The shrine gate on Tsuyoshi Domoto’s Heian-jingu Live 2016

I was at the last Heian-jingu Shrine Live 2016 and watched the concert on the first day, 26 August 2016. Anyone who was there on that day would remember the rain that halted Tsuyoshi’s performance. Rain on an open ground concert can be devastating but as a fan, the rain became a highlight for me. More on this later but let me introduce first the music of Tsuyoshi and why I like him as an artist.

堂本剛 平安神宮 チケット
堂本剛 平安神宮 チケット
[Tsuyoshi’s Heian-jingu Shrine Live 2016 ticket]

The Music

Tsuyoshi’s music style is funk with influences of blues and traditional Japanese sounds. His discography also contains emotional ballads, and some pieces are arranged with heavy electric guitar resembling rock music. Since 2002, he has launched a solo music career, apart from being one half of popular duo Kinki Kids, with Domoto Koichi 堂本光一 of whom he has no blood relation. He writes both music and lyrics for all his songs, sings in most of them, except the instrumental pieces. His backup chorus are composed mostly of women with deep voices, which I found rare for Japanese female singers. His other members are musicians of different genres and some maintain their own bands.

The Voice

When I first heard Tsuyoshi’s voice, it was a Kinki Kids song called 薄荷キャンディ [Hakka Candy or Peppermint Candy]. It was 2014 and during that time, I decided to start learning Japanese. And I was browsing what Japanese music can aid me in learning. Hearing this song was the start of my admiration for Kinki Kids music, and then Tsuyoshi’s solo music. Since then, I have acquired all of Tsuyoshi’s solo releases more so than Kinki Kids music. I love the quality of Tsuyoshi’s voice. When it comes to Japanese artist’s voices, I noticed that a lot of female pop idols have high-pitched voices, while their male counterpart have low-pitched voices. Of course, this observation should be taken with a grain of salt. But that’s how I see it.

Tsuyoshi Domoto from Heian-jingu Shrine Live 2012
Tsuyoshi Domoto from Heian-jingu Shrine Live 2012

Tsuyoshi’s voice is not too deep or low-pitched. If my ears can eat, then for me it’s a voice that I can describe as delicious. Tsuyoshi’s 2013 cover album, where he sings songs of Japanese artists he admires like Fumiya Fujii 藤井フミヤ, Chage & Aska チャゲ&飛鳥, Dreams Come True, Yoshida Takuro 吉田拓郎 to name a few, shows his singing ability. Hear him sing a soulful ballad and you know that the guy despite his idol status is a talented singer. To be honest, I don’t understand why in Japan, there is such a distinction just because his agency is an idol factory.

Heian-jingu Shrine stage setup
Stage setup

The Concert

25 August 2016. It was cloudy when I arrived in Kyoto, coming from Wakayama, of which I spent a day in the temple lodging of Kongo Sanmaiin in Mt.Kōya. I arrived an hour before Heian Shrine closes at 4pm and visited the beautiful garden. In the shrine grounds the stage for tomorrow’s performance is already set up.

Right after sundown, I heard Tsuyoshi practicing with his band. Of course I stayed for this rehearsal. Although I must say that I was actually playing Pokemon go that time. [The area of The Rohm Theatre Kyoto near the shrine has a few rare pokemons.] Just outside the shrine gates, you can clearly hear Tsuyoshi and his band testing the sound system and singing a song. While some light projections can be seen on the sky. A few other fans were there to listen to what we can actually hear from our spots outside the shrine gates.

My weather app says that there is 60% chance of rain for 26 August 2016. And because I didn’t really prepared for rain on a summer day in Kyoto, I didn’t brought any rain gear when I arrived a few minutes before 5pm just before the shrine gates closes. I went there because I hoped that some band members would be checking in early and rehearsing. And I was right. I saw Duttch, who plays drums for Tsuyoshi, practicing. Some other staff is making sure the light equipment and the instruments are where they are supposed to be.

Some of Tsuyoshi's band members just before the concert
Some of Tsuyoshi’s band members just before the concert

Everyone including the shrine visitors, were escorted outside around 5:30pm. We cued outside and went in by 6:30pm for the concert. What a great concert it was! Tsuyoshi played the songs in very different arrangement that I didn’t easily recognized the songs. Only when he sang did I know the song titles. But I like the arrangements, it’s like giving new life to the songs.

The atmosphere is great even if it rained 20 minutes into the performance. At first it was a drizzle but became rain just as the concert is about to end. I particularly liked the laser beams and 3D projection mapping you can see just above the shrine roof and historic buildings. It was truly a fusion of historic sites and modern technology.

Tsuyoshi played about 8 songs in one hour. Even with the rain, Tsuyoshi didn’t stopped and every band member continued playing music. I can’t imagine how he continued to play guitar while being drenched. But he certainly did. It was an open-air concert. He was on an elevated stage and I was only able to see because I brought binoculars. But from my seat I really can’t make out what he was wearing or his expressions. The band, the performances, and us viewers are all drenched.

Heiang-jingu Shrine Concert seats
The stage and audience seats just before the concert

When everyone was already wet, except those who had raincoats, Tsuyoshi addressed the crowd. He tells a joke about how skillful some of the audience members are in putting on their raincoats while still listening to the music. He thanked everyone for coming and asked to give love to those who weren’t able to come. But the most touching part for me was when he asked everyone to pray for good weather for the next 2 days of the concert. Praying inside a shrine with a thousand people, seeing the sky filled with raindrops and the dancing lights projected above evoke a peaceful and spiritual atmosphere. Just like his music. An experience I cannot forget.

Heian-jingu Shrine Live 2016 Set list:

  1. I gotta take you shamanippon + Tu FUNK
  2. Clap Your Mind
  3.  Believe in intuition
  4. TUKUFUNK
  5. Ongaku wo Owaraseyo
  6. Paint it, fill it with love
  7. NIPPON
  8. Koredake no Hi wo Mataidekitanodakara
  9. Session

2016 Heian-jingu Shrine Live Band members:
Tomoji Sogawa, SWING-O, Tomoyasu Takeuchi, Taiji Sato, Wataru Suzuki, Duttch, Steve Eto, Takafumi Kawashima, SASUKE, Takeshi Mizota, Keiko Hiraoka, Tiger, Olivia Burrell, TAMA, HACHI

**Updated on August 8, 2017.

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