October 3, 2012
by Kyoko Kiminami and Sayaka Matsuda
Moss, Pottery and Bonsai at Café Koke-dango
Café Koke-dango is located in Kamishichiken in the northern part of Kyoto. Its kind and friendly owner, Yasue Sawa, spoke to us us about the history of the cafe and her everyday life. She began to display tougeihin, or ceramic arts, in the café as a hobby, but soon she began to display more works in response to positive customer interest. So the café established a gallery of ceramic art. Some other pieces that also decorate this café include the koke (moss) art and bonsai.
“Tougeihin” means works of ceramic art in Japanese. These pieces are formed out of various kinds of clay and then fired at a high temperature in an earthen kama or kiln. There are many different kinds of pottery in Japan since each region has its own characteristic geography, materials, techniques and traditions.
Koke, or green moss, grows over the surface of the earth or on rocks, and is especially used in Japanese gardens as a ground cover. Some types of koke are even edible. Recently, cultivating moss in decorative balls or in vessels or trays has become a popular pastime for some people.
Finally, bonsai is the traditional Japanese art form of growing a miniature tree or bush in a tray. The hobbyist patiently and carefully guides the form of the tree, so we can appreciate the beauty of its shape, leaves, the grain of its trunk and its entire appearance. A characteristic of bonsai is that it appears like a scene out of nature. It requires years of attention, including fertilizing, trimming, wirework and watering.
In the past, Nishijin-ori was produced in Kamishichiken. Nishijin-ori is a type of Japanese textile produced in Nishijin, the textile district of Kyoto. Nishijin produces many kinds of textiles —clothes, obi (sashes for kimono), kimono, neckties and bags— and has a long-established tradition in Japan.
Before Cafe Koke-dango was cleaned up and renovated, it was a Nishijin-ori textile store. So it is a very old townhouse with a beautiful garden, elegant windows and peaceful atmosphere. Even in summer, this café is cool. Nearby are Kitano-Tenmangu Shrine and a training school for maiko and geisha, so visitors to the café might be able to catch a glimpse of them if they are lucky!
Most visitors sit on the traditional tatami mats, but there are some chairs, too. So if you have weak needs and have trouble sitting on the floor, you can use these. It’s very considerate for foreigners who may not be used to the Japanese custom of sitting on the floor.
Sometimes at the café, an artisan will hold a handicraft workshop. They may teach participants, for example, how to make a decorative ball of moss. In the café, there are many handicrafts like pouches and purses with Japanese patterns for sale. When we went, we saw an exhibition of ceramic arts called “Togei“. On display were small dishes shaped liked leaves; they can be used for pouring soy sauce or as a chopstick rest. There were also stylish rice bowls and teacups. So Café Koke-dango is popular with ladies. Of course is a good place to buy souvenirs. In summer, shaved ice with syrup is added to the menu.
3 minutes by foot from the bus stop Kamishichiken
Go down Shichihon-matsu street and turn left at the first corner, you will see the café on your right.