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Kyoto-style gofuku (kimonos)

Japan, located to the east of the Asian mainland, has long been heavily influenced by Asian mainland culture. The kimono, a traditional Japanese garment, is no exception. The term gofuku, which means kimono, derives from an old Chinese dynasty name. In Kyoto, which was the capital of Japan for more than 1000 years, a unique Japanese culture of clothing and accessories managed to develop even while the influence of foreign cultures was being felt. Kimonos of the style nurtured by the superb technology and aesthetic sense developed in Kyoto are called Kyoto-style gofuku (kimonos) and, in a sense, they express the brand image of the city.

Development of the Kyoto-style gofuku (kimonos) in Kyoto, where the capital of Japan was located for more than 1000 years, was heavily influenced by the customs of the Imperial Court. One example is the custom of the seasonal changing of clothes. Kimonos, in which much thought is put into the weaving method as well as the materials and tailoring to make them appropriate for a specific season, are switched out on a set date according to the season. Due to the widespread use of air-conditioning and the effect of global warming, fewer people still strictly observe the custom of the seasonal changing of clothes. However, in more traditional homes this custom is still strictly observed.

The abundant natural landscape of Japan and seasonal flowering plants are often used in traditional designs on Kyoto-style gofuku (kimonos). Designs based on Chinese customs and historical events as well as designs which originated in the Middle and Near East that were transmitted via the Silk Road are also often seen. In addition to these, there are also designs which show the influence of the West and Southeast Asia that trading ships brought in the 16th century. These designs brought from foreign countries in the distant past have undergone various transformations and become a natural part of Japanese tradition. Japanese people's unique characteristic of adapting foreign cultures into their daily lives can be seen in Kyoto-style gofuku (kimonos).

One characteristic of kimonos is that they have a simple shape. This is because kimonos are created through drafting with a straight-line based style of tailoring that is meant to prevent waste of any precious silk. The coloring and design change according to the age of the wearer. Kimonos are roughly classified into two types: dyed kimonos (design is created after white fabric is woven) for formal occasions, and woven kimonos (woven using pre-dyed thread) for casual occasions.

Kyoto-style gofuku (kimonos) are produced using highly-developed traditional technical expertise represented by Yuzen dyeing, kyokanoko (dotted kimono pattern) tie-dyeing, Kyoto-style paper patterns for kimonos, and Nishijin fabric. Through the hands of skilled craftsman each dedicated to an individual complicated process through a division of labor, delicate silk is turned into Kyoto-style gofuku (kimonos). Facilities where it's possible to observe these traditional techniques are located in numerous locations within Kyoto.

Boxwood combs

Wood combs (boxwood combs) have a long history in Japan, with remains from more than 6000 years ago having been discovered. At the start of the Nara era, technology for making saws arrived from China (Tang dynasty era), and combs of almost the same style as those today began to be produced. Use of crescent-shaped combs spread in East Asia where most people have straight hair. In Japan, as the Japanese hairstyle developed in the Edo period, many types of unique lengthwise Japanese-style combs (fork shape) were developed. Even now, boxwood combs are widely and frequently used by men and women of all ages.

Materials for wood combs include boxwood, plum wood, cherry wood, camellia wood, ebony and Japanese oak, but Satsuma boxwood produced in Ibusuki in Kagoshima Prefecture is considered the highest quality material. This wood is used mainly as material for seals, but it is a fine wood combining the right amount of firmness and suppleness. After lumbering Satsuma boxwood material that is at least 35 years of age, the wood is fumigated and then dried over approximately 10 years to produce stable material. If the wood material is processed immediately after lumbering, it will be unstable due to water remaining in the wood. Combs produced with this wood will eventually become unusable due to warping or bending occurring. Pieces with excellent wood grain are carefully selected from wood material that has undergone the long drying process, and each piece undergoes approximately eight handcrafting processes such as tooth grinding and tooth polishing before a comb is produced.

As a boxwood comb is used more and more, the surface of the teeth become smoother due to friction with the hair and it becomes easier to move the comb through hair. Boxwood combs create gloss and moisture in hair, prevent the occurrence of static electricity, and do not damage hair. The teeth of the comb not only stimulate blood circulation in the scalp, but it is also believed that they create a hair restoration effect and massage the scalp. One of the more pleasant features of Satsuma boxwood is that putting camellia oil on the surface of comb while using it over a long period (5-10 years) will make the yellow bark color change into a deep amber color.

In Kyoto, a part of the character of the local area is that there are many beauticians who do Japanese hairstyles for Japanese maiko (apprentice geisha) and geisha, so these combs are in great demand. There are also specialty combs such as combs for use in wig hairdressing for kabuki, noh and kyogen, and period dramas as well as combs for use in weaving fabrics such as handwoven Nishijin fabrics.

When selecting a comb, the traditional, plain, and orthodox crescent-shaped comb is recommended for its practicality. The fineness of the spaces between the teeth of the comb are beautiful to admire. For short hair that is straight, combs with fine spaces between the teeth are recommended. For long hair that is permed, combs with rough teeth are more useful. Among young people recently, combs decorated with handcarved floral patterns and lacquerware combs treated with gold or silver are popular.

Kyoto-style ceramic ware and kiyomizu yaki (Kyoto-style pottery)

Pottery and porcelain have been equally manufactured in Kyoto for over 270 years, and Kyoto has always led the way for Japanese ceramics. From traditional ceramic molding designers to innovative and creative ceramic molding artists, various ceramic molders all compete in Kyoto. The clear common thread between all of these craftsmen is the originality, refinement, splendor, elegance, style, and impact contained in all of their creations. Born out of a coexistence and development of both pottery and porcelain rarely found in the world, these ceramic objects ranging from tableware to interior and exterior decorative items and art objects are loved as being part of a culture of arts and crafts that gives artistic color to people's everyday lives. The secret to this abundant diversity and charm is self-evident if one takes just a partial look at the history of Japanese ceramics.

Even judged from a global perspective, the outstanding originality, diversity, and beauty of Kyoto pottery and porcelain are obvious. They are an integral part of everyday life in Japan and contribute to beauty in everyday life. The reason for this is clear if we look at the history of ceramics across the globe and the history of art in Japan. The place where the world's oldest earthenware was found was not one of the four cradles of civilization (China, Egypt, Indus river basin, Mesopotamia), but rather Japan.

Jomon pottery age fire pottery from approximately 10,800 BC displays an overwhelmingly strong impact and expressive power that has been lost in modern life. The excellent sense of balance and delicate adornment of Yayoi pottery combined with the characteristics of Jomon pottery from the previous era shows that ancestors of the Japanese people were able to achieve polar opposite characteristics with pottery. At this time, copper civilizations were flourishing in China as well as all over the world and earthenware was obsolete. In contrast, in Japan advances with kilns, potter's wheels, and glaze continued, and in addition to the six ancient kilns, kilns flourished in every region of the country such as Kyoto, Karatsu, and Hagi.

In the Muromachi period, at the same time that the simplicity and refinement of the tea ceremony were very influential, celadon porcelain arrived in Kyoto from China. In the Momoyama period, achievement of beauty was emphasized due to the influence of the gorgeous fine arts as well as arts and crafts of the period, and "oribe" and "shino" were major types of pottery at this time. In 1616, porcelain was first fired at Arita, and sometsuke (blue and white porcelain), akae (red-painted) porcelain, and Nabeshima porcelain were rapidly developed. In 1651, kilns at the foot of the Higashiyama mountains and in the heart of Kyoto that were already producing fine, artistic hard pottery that far exceeded quality in the rest of Japan, began to flourish even more with the addition of porcelain production. In the second half of the 17th century, the superior originality, literary qualities, and pictorial qualities of work by Ninsei Nonomura and Kenzan Ogata had an influence on several kilns. Porcelain kilns began to compete with each other, geniuses such as Eisen and Mokubei appeared, and at the start of the Meiji era a number of artists of exceptional quality such as Touzan and Hozen competed with each other. In the Taisho and Showa eras, numerous excellent artists such as Hazan, Yaichi, Rosanjin, Uichi and also Kanjiro Kawai in the field of folk art development and the artists of Sodeisha in the field of modern art objects continuously opened up new fields in pottery.

The origin of the myriad abundant charms of Kyoto-style ceramic ware and kiyomizu yaki (Kyoto-style pottery) is based on achievements in pottery over 13,000 years and in studious refinement of porcelain over 360 years. These ceramic ware and pottery are also the product of the accumulation of the highest degrees of perfection, exquisiteness, advanced technical expertise, and creativity in Japanese fine arts, pictorial arts, arts and crafts, dyed fabrics, architecture, and landscaping, which have all continued to flourish for over 1000 years since the Heian period. From tableware, vases and tea ceremony utensils to modern spatial art objects, life is enriched greatly through the beauty of these products and that is the reason why people are attracted to these arts.

Family Buddhist altar

The family Buddhist altars that Japanese people pray to on a daily basis have their origin in a decree listed in the Chronicles of Japan, one of Japan's oldest historical documents, that was handed by the Emperor Tenmu and stated that all court nobles in Japan must have a Buddhist sanctum built in their homes that contained a Buddhist image and holy scripture. This decree was given on March 27th in the year 685, and so this date is considered the origin date of Buddhist altars. The earliest family Buddhist altars seem to have been made using materials such as stone, dirt, and wood, and these altars were located in temples and at the residences of court nobles. The spread of use of family Buddhist altars by common people was due to the Buddhist faith registration system started at the beginning of the Edo period. This system stipulated that citizens had to select a family temple of which to become parishioners.

Originally, the teachings of Buddhism were meant for people to aim for enlightenment and to "attain Buddhahood". As new ideas were brought to Japan via the Silk Road, China, and the Korean Peninsula during the Asuka period, the "ancestor worship" of Confucianism was added to Japanese Buddhism. In addition,Ihai (Buddhist memorial tablets) were brought by Zen sect in Kamakura Period. Enshrining it in the family Buddhist altars because Ihai (Buddhist memorial tablets) had generalized in Edo period came to tend to be thought the ancestor.However, the family Buddhist altars are originally believed to be a place where the principal image of the sect is faced in each home.

Family Buddhist altars can be broadly divided into Buddhist family altars with gold leaf and exotic wood Buddhist family altars. Kyoto was the center of culture, art, and industry as the capital starting from the Heian period. Additionally, there are various big and small temples representing each Buddhist sect in Kyoto, which also makes it the center of Buddhist culture, art, and industry. The category Kyoto-style Buddhist family altar refers to altars manufactured in Kyoto that satisfy exacting standards for each part. These altars are Buddhist family altars with gold leaf that feature lacquering and gold leaf finish. These altars are made using a division of labor system consisting of craftsmen who posses the high arts and crafts expertise of Kyoto accumulated since the Heian period. Even parts that do not appear to be painstakingly crafted are characterized by being made with the kind of elaborate craftsmanship and meticulous technique that the people of Kyoto are fond of. Since the Edo period, craftsmen from production centers all over the country came to Kyoto to study altar production methods. After mastering these methods, these craftsmen returned to their local areas and passed on these techniques, which meant that Kyoto had a large influence lacquer Buddhist family altar production centers everywhere. They are made by hand, and their structure differs according to the sect in order to create a miniature design of each sect head temple, so Kyoto-style Buddhist family altars cannot be mass produced. Kyoto-style Buddhist family altars, as Kyoto-style Buddhist ritual implements and also traditional arts and crafts objects designated by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, are produced to answer the demands of people across the country.

At the same time, the spread of exotic wood Buddhist family altars has been a relatively recent occurrence since the start of the Meiji period. In particular, these altars started to be mass produced after the Great Kanto Earthquake to answer the demand for Buddhist family altars. In contrast to Buddhist family altars with gold leaf these altars could be mass produced to some degree because of their simplified structure, and demand for them grew rapidly due to their low cost and due to lifestyle changes in Japan. Rosewood and ebony are the most commonly used construction materials, and these altars are characterized as being simpler in comparison to lacquer Buddhist family altars because the hard broadleaf tree woods used make construction more difficult. Recently, due to conditions in modern houses, the demand for smaller altars with a furniture-style design that match with flooring and that can be placed on top of a chest of drawers or a sideboard has increased.

Prayer beads

Prayer beads are an indispensable Buddhist ritual implement for worship. A set number of small beads with holes are strung on a string to form a circle, and these beads are strung on the hands during a Buddhist invocation or sutra chanting. It is believed that beads used in Brahmanism in ancient India were adopted into Buddhism. Additionally, it is also believed that these beads were brought to Western Europe during the time of Alexander the Great's conquests and that these beads became the idea for the Christian rosary.

The basic number of beads is 108, and there are various views that this represents "the extinguishment of the 108 worldly desires" or the "expression of the 108 honorable pious acts". The style of formal prayer beads, such as the bead arrangement and tassels, is different depending on the sect. There are some sects that are not particular about there being 108 beads. Simplified prayer beads that are formed into a circle long enough to go around the hands and have a tassel attached are also widely used. It is believed that when Buddhism came to Japan in the middle of the 6th century, prayer beads were also introduced at this time. Initially, prayer beads are believed to have had 108 beads with one oyadama (central bead) of a larger size all held together with a string.

It is thought that 108 represents the number of worldly desires of man. The concept of worldly desires is one doctrine of Buddhism. Worldly desires indicates emotions that confuse and disturb the mind and body, and these emotions stand in the way of people reaching spiritual enlightenment. It is believed that the role of prayer beads is to exorcise these worldly desires. This practice has the same meaning as praying in front of a Buddhist family altar on a daily basis. However, depending on the sect, prayer beads are not always used in this way. Crystal and the fruit of linden tree are famous as materials to make prayer beads. However, to say that the effectiveness of prayer beads depends on the material used to make them is itself an expression of worldly desires. Beads can be used as prayers beads as long as there are holes of a certain size that a string can be passed through and as long as the beads are hard and durable.

The 108 beads that are standard on prayer beads are called omodama (main beads). There are two beads called oyadama (central beads) that are either one or two sizes larger than the omodama (main beads) depending on the sect, and there are four beads called shiten or shibosatsu (four bodhisattvas) that are one size smaller than the omodama (main beads). To create one prayer bead loop, 33 omodama (main beads) are first placed before placing one oyadama (central bead). Then, 14 omodama (main beads) are placed before placing one shiten. Seven more omodama (main beads) are then placed before placing one oyadama (central bead). Next, 7 more omodama (main beads) are placed before placing one shiten. Fourteen more omodama (main beads) are then placed before placing one shiten, and then 33 omodama (main beads) are strung leading up to the first oyadama (central bead). These beads are connected with a string and fastened together. At this time, a part where the tassel will go is fastened to an oyadama (central bead). This loop for the prayer beads is the same for many sects. The placement of the hanging tassel is what allows for the differences between sects to be expressed.


Incense came to Japan along with the introduction of Buddhism. Originally from India, it developed as a medicine in China. In Japan, incense arrived as something to be appreciated by "listening" to (not simply smelling) its scent, and this sparked the development of incense appreciation. Incense appreciation developed as an artistic and therapeutic pursuit, and the high degree of artistic sophistication seen in incense appreciation that is also found in the tea ceremony and flower arrangement is something that is uniquely Japanese.

It is believed that the use of incense was brought to Japan along with Buddhism. The fragrance of incense is thought to cleanse the body and mind, purify the area before a Buddhist altar, and to drive away misfortune. Additionally, because the fragrance of incense spreads freely, it is said to be like the compassion of the Buddha that is transmitted to all people without discrimination. Enjoying the fragrance of incense outside of the context of an offering to the Buddha is called "soradaki" (perfuming an area). The fragrance of aromatic wood has a calming effect, so the beneficial effect of incense on the health of the mind and body is also used extensively in a scientific way such as in aromatherapy or aromachology. It has been shown in experiments that the fragrance of aloe increases alpha waves in the brain.

There are varieties of incense where the aromatic wood itself is used such as kizami, wari, sasade, and tsume, and there are types in which incense from several aromatic woods is combined such as incense sticks, spiral incense, and cone incense. There are also various kinds of incense for different specific uses such as incense sticks that are mainly for use as an offering at Buddhist temples and incense for creating a Japanese-style room scent when a guest is visiting. In addition, as with the tea ceremony and flower arrangement, there is an art of incense appreciation. There is a set way to "listen" ("smell" is not used) to the fragrance of incense and appreciate it. Incense sticks, cone incense, and spiral incense can be lit directly to enjoy the fragrance, and with these types the area that is below the burning portion is heated by the flame and also gives off a pleasing fragrance. When searching for a pleasing scent, one has to pay attention not to directly breathe in the smoke.

The history of incense in Japan started in April in the year 595 when a piece of aloe wood drifted ashore at Awajishima. For this reason and because the Chinese characters for the 18th look like the broken up elements of the Chinese character for incense, April 18th is considered "Incense Day" in Japan.

Facial oil-blotting paper

Wide use of facial oil-blotting paper started from the Edo period. Facial oil-blotting paper originated from the paper produced in the process of manufacturing gold leaf. When manufacturing gold leaf, a piece of gold is placed between two pieces of Japanese paper each measuring 18 square cm. The entire area is then struck with a hammer or other tool in order to apply pressure and stretch out the gold to produce gold leaf. The reused portions of this Japanese paper are what became facial oil-blotting paper.

In Kyoto, these pieces of paper were professional-grade items that were frequently used by actors on movie sets in order to make face make-up last longer. Use then spread to geisha and maiko (apprentice geisha) in Gion and today these papers are a common product sold in stores. Facial oil-blotting paper is also called furoyagami, kishi, and ukonshi, and it became widely used starting from the Edo period. In old books this paper is called furoyagami (furo means bath and gami means paper) because it was used to remove oil from the face and make the skin feel like one had just gotten out of the bath.

Facial oil-blotting paper originated from the paper produced in the process of manufacturing gold leaf. When manufacturing gold leaf, a piece of gold is placed between two pieces of Japanese paper each measuring 18 square cm. The entire area is then struck with a hammer or other tool in order to apply pressure and stretch out the gold to produce gold leaf. The reused portions of this Japanese paper are what became facial oil-blotting paper. From the Edo period and up until now, gold leaf has mostly been produced around the Kanazawa area in Ishikawa Prefecture.

It's said that the popularization of facial oil-blotting paper in Kyoto started with its use on movie sets. From the time movies first started being made in Japan, Kyoto prospered as a center of movie production. In the earliest days of film production, the amount of lighting when filming in a studio would create a lot of heat and this would cause oil to appear on the actors' faces after make-up had already been applied. Facial oil-blotting paper was used to make make-up last longer and it became an essential and frequently used item. The size of the original papers was four times the size of the facial oil-blotting papers today. These papers were for professional use. Use then spread to geisha and maiko (apprentice geisha) in Gion and these papers became popular amongst women. After that the present size of nine square cm became common as a size convenient for carrying, and these papers are now a common product sold at stores.

One factor behind the popularization of facial oil-blotting papers is the emphasis that people in modern times place on cleanliness. Facial oil-blotting papers are most generally used by women to reapply makeup. Women use foundation as a cover on their faces to give their skin a beautiful appearance. This is similar to putting stockings on bare feet. However, as time passes, oil will begin to appear on the surface of the skin. Facial oil-blotting paper is used to remove extra oil from the face. When the paper is softly placed against the skin, oil sinks into the paper. Facial oil-blotting paper made from Japanese paper that has been struck is ideal for this. In addition, by diligently using facial oil-blotting paper, one can also prevent oil from adhering to sponges used to spread foundation. Recently, young men who don't like the feeling of having an oily face have become enthusiastic and frequent users of facial oil-blotting paper.

Kyoto-style fresh Japanese sweets

Kyoto-style fresh Japanese sweets are handmade sweets utilizing various ingredients as well as colors and shapes to evoke scenes of Japan's four seasons and natural beauty. Names for the sweets are meant to bring to mind Japanese stories and poetry collections such as the Manyoshu tanka collection and the Tale of Genji. The main raw materials are rice flour and various types of azuki beans such as Tanba dainagon (Tanba premium azuki beans), hokkai azuki beans, and Bitchu white azuki beans. Powdered uruchi-mai (Japanese white rice) and glutinous rice are used, and the name of the rice and the way it is used depends on the fineness of the powder. In addition, flour, powdered arrowroot , and sugar are also used as raw materials. Sugars such as white sugar, powdered sugar, granulated sugar, and brown sugar are all used separately for specific purposes.

There is also a unique ingredient called wasanbon refined sugar, which is an ancient Japanese sugar. Dough is made by mixing these ingredients, and bean paste is also separately made. After wrapping bean paste with dough, various figures are created to evoke the current season. The dough can be changed based on the ratio of different ingredients. However, the wrapped bean paste is basically azuki bean paste that is either bean paste with whole beans or strained bean paste.

When creating seasonal figures, plum blossoms, cherry blossoms, green maple leaves, and red maple leaves are all created using the same ingredients. Using the example of a cherry blossom, in some cases a sweet in the shape of an entire flower may be created, while in others only the shape of one petal may be created. In addition, a peach color can also be blended in with black or plain white dough to create a color that evokes a cherry blossom. Thus, sweets can be freely shaped into both concrete and abstract figures. A strong image for a sweet is established through the name of the sweet. Taking the same dough and creating various shapes to express appreciation of the seasons is a part of Japanese culture. Many people from overseas may be puzzled as to why different sweets have the same taste despite the fact that the colors and shapes are different.

Ryokan (Japanese-style inn)

The term ryokan (Japanese-style inn) refers to places that have served the lodging needs of Japanese travelers since long ago.

Ryokan (Japanese-style inns) are essentially unique Japanese-style accommodation facilities. In the present day, they are popular with Japanese people wanting to stay somewhere where they can experience the unique Japanese architecture and customs of the past, but they are also popular with foreign visitors.

The main guest rooms are Japanese-style tatami rooms. Guest rooms generally accommodate 2-5 people. At some ryokan (Japanese-style inns), a woman called an okami manages the inn and nakai (guestroom servers) take care of the customers' needs in the warm spirit of omotenashi (hospitality). Ryokan (Japanese-style inns) have recently become very popular amongst foreigners because of the opportunity they give people to experience regional traditional culture such as Japanese clothing, food, and Japanese-style rooms that can't be found in a western hotel. In most cases, ryokan (Japanese-style inns) have common bathrooms and some do not have bathrooms in the guest rooms. In addition, there are many Japanese-style inns that feature hot springs baths.

Meals feature a varied and abundant amount of regional foods and cooking methods, with many seafood dishes being served. However, ryokan (Japanese-style inns) in mountainous regions also offer meat dishes. Eating in guestrooms is common, but recently many facilities have separate sleeping and dining areas where guests eat in a location separate from the guestrooms. In addition, many inns have Japanese-style banquet rooms for tour groups. A yukata (light kimono) is prepared in each guest room, and these are commonly worn to walk through the hot springs town as well as within the ryokan (Japanese-style inn). The room charge includes dinner and breakfast, with a set one night/two meals plan being common.

Yatsuhashi (Kyoto sweet)

Yatsuhashi (Kyoto sweet)are sweets from Kyoto born in the Edo Period.

Kengyo Yatsuhashi was the greatest master of koto (zither-like instrument) music in the early Edo period, and he left behind a lot of famous piece of musics such as "Rokudan-no-shirabe". He is called the founder of modern koto (zither-like instrument) music. After his death, he was buried at the Joko-in Temple in Kurodani (Yatsuhashi Temple), and people continually came to visit his grave. For this reason, four years after the death of Kengyo Yatsuhashi in year 2 of Genroku era (1689), a dry sweet shaped like a koto (zither-like instrument) was given the name "yatsuhashi" (Kyoto sweet) and began to be sold in the area of the Kurodani Sando (approach road) of the Shogo-in Temple. And about 320 years later, Yatsuhashi (Kyoto sweet) continue to be loved even today.

Yatsuhashi (Kyoto sweet) are sweets that combine rice flour and sugar with cinnamon added for fragrance. The yatsuhashi (Kyoto sweet) that most commonly come to mind when the name is mentioned are a fresh Japanese sweet in which bean paste with whole beans is wrapped inside unbaked yatsuhashi (Kyoto sweet). These sweets were invented in year 35 of the Showa period (1960) on the day before The Gion Festival at the Omotesenke tea ceremony that is held every year at Gion Ichiriki-tei. The name "mikimochi" was given to a Japanese sweet in which strained bean paste is wrapped in unbaked yatsuhashi (Kyoto sweet) by the master Sokuchusai, and it was popular with customers. This "mikimochi" was the origin of the sweet, and it later became a commercial product.

Present-day yatsuhashi (Kyoto sweet) have fillings of bean paste with seasonal or black sesame bean paste and there are many other variations. Yatsuhashi (Kyoto sweet) are also a typical sweets as a gift of Kyoto sightseeing.

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