Let’s Stroll Around Nishijin & Enjoy the Traditional Kyoto Townscape!
[Local College Students Tell All!] There is an air of nostalgia remaining in Nishijin. The area is most famous for their Nishijin-ori textiles, and the small alleyways and old Japanese houses observed throughout the district create a traditional atmosphere. Many of the traditional Kyo-machiya (traditional wooden Kyoto-style houses) have been converted into interesting shops! We had local college students take an actual stroll through this charming area. Here are some of the interesting spots they found along their walk!
Oct 02 2017 (Dec 28 2019)
Nishijin is an alias referring to the northwest area of central Kyoto. The exact perimeter of the area is not determined, but it is roughly considered to be the area within Marutamachi Street (Marutamachi-dori) to the south, Kamigamo to the north, Karasuma Street (Karasuma-dori) to the east, and Nishi Oji Street (Nishi Oji-dori) to the west.
The name "Nishijin" originated from the Onin no Ran (Onin War) of 1467. In the battle, 2 forces fought against one another, each taking positions on the east and the west sides of Kyoto. The territory where the western military troop formed their lineup became known as Nishijin (nishi = west, jin = territory).
It is a district with a long history of textile manufacturing, and the area is actually known for being the producer of Japan's top quality textiles. The signature Nishijin-ori (ori = weave) is a yarn-dyed figured fabric woven to make a wide spectrum of goods in very small quantities. It is recognized for its elaborate patterns, and has been designated as one of Japan's national traditional crafts. There are many weaving manufacturers in the area to this day.
You'll also find rows of Kyo-machiya lined up along the streets within the district. It is fascinating to see the numerous shops renovated from Kyo-machiya all around Nishijin.
Keep a lookout for stone-paved streets (top image shows the beautiful stone-paved path of Jofukuji Street (Jofukuji-dori) and back alleys with an air of nostalgia (bottom image shows Mikamike Alley (Mikamike-roji), where traditional nagaya - Japanese-style row houses - still remain). Taking a walk in the area will make you feel like you've gone back into time!
Taking a Stroll Around Nishijin!
We went on an actual walk through the Nishijin district to enjoy the traditional Kyoto townscape!
The tour begins at the Ichijo Modoribashi, Seimei Jinja-mae bus stop on Horikawa Street (Horikawa-dori). We then head west on Ichijo Street (Ichijo-dori) after crossing Horikawa Street. Walk through the Senryogatsuji neighborhood, which flourished as the center of Nishijin-ori, and then proceed through the beautifully stone-paved Jofukuji Street to visit the cafes and shops along Kuramaguchi Street (Kuramaguchi-dori).
Sightseeing Spots in Senryogatsuji
First up is the Senryogatsuji area that was known to have flourished as the center of Nishijin-ori. Here are some of the spots we thought were worth mentioning.
1. Cat Apartment Coffee
The cat cafe is situated within a renovated 100-year-old Kyo-machiya, where you can enjoy a cup of coffee while playing with cats in a retro atmosphere. They charge an hourly rate, offering package menus such as the Drink Package (1,500 yen plus tax for 60 minutes) that comes with a drink, and the Sweets Package (1,800 yen plus tax for 60 minutes), which is a drink and cheesecake set.
2. Nishijin Tondaya
This exemplary Kyo-machiya building is over 120 years old, and is registered as one of the Tangible Cultural Properties of Japan. Today, the inside of the building is open to the general public as an educational facility, exhibiting old furnishings and offering education on the lifestyle and customs of Kyoto. For an additional charge, there are also optional cultural activities available where one can experience tea ceremonies and kimono wearing.
3. Cafe Rhinebecke
Cafe Rhinebecke is one of the most popular pancake shops in Kyoto. Each pancake is carefully made to achieve a fluffy texture that melts in your mouth. The renovated interior of the Kyo-machiya has a peaceful and nostalgic atmosphere, and is tastefully decorated with classy accessories, paintings, and antiques. Their Fruit Garden Pancakes (1,000 yen) are a must-try!
4. Shin-ichirou Minami Creative Kimono Workshop
If you are fascinated by Kyo Yuzen, one of Japan's leading dyeing methods, then this is the place to go! The workshop of the Kyo Yuzen artisan, Shin-ichirou Minami, is a 150-year-old machiya that is free to enter while Minami is at work. With reservations, you can experience the art of Yuzen dyeing on handkerchiefs and other items (7,000 yen).
Walk Around Nishijin! Sightseeing Spots of Jofukuji Street Daikokucho
Going north from Senryogatsuji will take you to Imadegawa Street (Imadegawa-dori). Take this street westward until you see Jofukuji Street, and then walk north. After a few moments of walking, you'll see a section with stone-paved streets. There are some interesting spots to see in this stone-paved area.
5. Hand-weaving Museum Orinasukan
This building facing the charming stone-paved street houses the hand-weaving museum. The museum exhibits traditional handwoven items and historical garments from all over Japan. There is also an operating weaving factory within the facility, where you can observe the craftsmen at work.
Totoya is a famous shop offering handmade, no-additive Chirimen Sansho (1,000 yen/90g). It caters to a big fan base all throughout Japan. Chirimen Sansho is made by cooking small dried sardines with Japanese pepper berries. It is a specialty of Kyoto, which makes it a popular souvenir.
7. Kyo-Nishijin Kasho Souzen
Souzen is a prominent arare (Japanese sweets made with rice) manufacturer that is most famous for their Jowaza-mono (honorary title signifying highest excellency) arare. Their cafe is in a 130-year-old Kyo-machiya, and one of their popular menu items is a unique wagashi (Japanese sweets) called Kori Warabi Mochi (with Kyo-kinako (roasted soybean powder) and Uji matcha, 500 yen). It is a frozen warabi mochi (a confection made by mixing bracken powder with water and sugar) with which you can enjoy different textures as the mochi thaws.
Walk Around Nishijin! Sightseeing spots of Kuramaguchi Street (Kuramaguchi-dori)
After passing through the traditional stone-paved area and walking further north, you'll arrive at Kuramaguchi Street. This neighborhood is full of great cafes and eateries. Here are two recommended shops along this street.
8. Umezono Sabo
Kyoto's well-established kanmi-dokoro (Japanese sweets parlor), Umezono, recently opened this cafe in 2016. Here is where the inventive wagashi (Japanese sweets), Kazari Kan, is served. Kazari Kan is a fusion of Japanese elements - such as bracken powder, agar, and sweet bean paste - with Western-style confectionary ingredients, such as lemon, raspberries, and other fruits, along with fresh cream. The cafe is situated in an old machiya, giving it a serene atmosphere. Their store is on the first floor, and the dining area is on the second floor.
9. Sarasa Nishijin
This cafe sits in a renovated sento (Japanese public bathhouse). With a store front that reminds us of the yesteryears, the go-tenjo (coffered ceiling) that displays a lofty architectural style, and Majolica tiles that create a retro atmosphere, the cafe exhibits a very distinct and stylish ambience. They offer a vast menu that is perfect for a casual cup of coffee, as well as for a full meal.
How did you like the stroll? The entire course took approximately 30 minutes, a perfect length for a walk. There are also many more interesting spots to see in the neighborhood, such as the Kitano Tenmangu Shrine. If you want to enjoy the traditional townscape of Kyoto, why not walk off into a side street during your sightseeing visit?
The information in this article is accurate at the time of publication.