Kyoto is renowned for being the home of craftsmanship in Japan. It also has the most kaiseki cuisine per capita, which makes it the perfect place to pick up a souvenir or dip into the wealth of culinary delights on offer.
Following my earlier Walking Tour route of Gion, here I’ve chosen a few of my favourite places, tucked away in traditional machiya, that are open for business. The area offers some standout places for eating, drinking and shopping whilst exploring Old Kyoto so I hope you enjoy them as much as I do!
Gion Oku – this small cafe opened in 2008 by ex-Michelin Star chef Hisato Nakahigashi. His focus is on incredible design, the café is an ode to tranquility with its warm wooden features, comfy chairs and stunning Japanese style garden to gaze upon over an obanzai style lunch. The cakes and desserts are famous for being superbly sweet and light, a perfect pick me up during an afternoon of exploration.
Komorebino Natural Wine Bar – tucked away on the ground floor of what looks like an apartment block is this surprisingly quaint wine bar. Designed to have a natural feel, there’s dark wood and greenery a plenty and the wine list is extensive and delicious. Staff are knowledgeable and friendly, speaking a little English and happy to help find a wine to suit your tastes.
Tempura Endo – taking up an old tea house in Gion, Tempura Endo is indulgent and elegant, traditional and beautiful. The staff are attentive, waiting outside for your appointed arrival time, eager to serve you their exceptional cuisine. There is a main dining area, seating around 16, and also a few private rooms for families or groups to enjoy. The menu is multi course and centres around their famous light and tasty tempura. Dining here isn’t cheap but it’s worth it for the incredible experience.
Ishibekoujimamecha – tucked away down one of the prettiest streets in Higashiyama, this is an izakaya that is relaxed and refined, serving excellent sake with standout sharing plates. The seating is counter style where you can watch the chef prepare fresh sashimi and modern takes on Japanese classics. Service is professional but a little slow so don’t go if a speedy supper is what you’re after. However, if you’re looking for a dining experience with a focus on seasonal dishes in a leisurely atmosphere then this ticks all the boxes.
Shinmonzen Dori – Kyoto’s famous antique street. The street is not only lovely to stroll along but it also has some exceptional antique stores specialising in everything from traditional Japanese lacquerware to folding screens to ceramics. There’s so much on offer that you should be prepared to spend at least a few hours trifling through shelves as there’s definitely treasure to be found.
Leica Store – stunningly simple and very traditional Kyoto style, the Leica Store and gallery is housed in a beautifully restored machiya in the heart of Gion. It sells everything from rare Leica cameras to lenses and has a wonderful (but tiny) permanent photography exhibition on the second floor. This is a must visit place for photography fans.
Uragu Stationary – secreted away down a tiny alley, this gem of a stationary store is worth the hunt. The stationary is the perfect blend of modern and traditional Japan with graphic prints on stunning washi paper. You’ll find everything from postcards to folding fans to memopads, each more lovely than the last.
Pass the Baton – originating in Tokyo, this upmarket second hand store sells everything from antique kimono to matcha bowls to jewellery. The Gion branch opened in 2015 and is housed in a beautiful machiya along the Shirakawa Canal, accessed by a lovely little bridge. The products are painstakingly sourced and each has a story telling of their provenance and previous owner. Exhausted from shopping? Pull up a seat in the onsite tea house and indulge in some fine Uji matcha or houjicha.