April 12, 2004
by Natsuki Kamikura & Satoko Kawaguchi
Kiyomizu Temple; you will almost certainly go there when you come to Kyoto. But did you know that the areas surrounding the temple are also especially attractive? One sloping street which leads to Kiyomizu is called “Kiyomizu-zaka.” There are many souvenir shops on both sides. You can rest and drink Japanese tea for free at a nama-yatsuhashi sweets shop near the temple. The shop has many kinds of the “raw” nama-yatsuhashi, which are a Kyoto specialty, such as chocolate, banana, or chestnut flavors, and it sells ice cream cones with flavors like green tea and black sesame, too.
Shichimiya, a spice shop, stands at the intersection with Gojo-zaka. The shop opened 350 years ago as a teahouse and served visitors hot water with cayenne to help them warm themselves. It is said to have started selling spices in this way.
The steps which you’ll see at the side of Shichimiya are the starting point of Sannen-zaka. The area near the steps is a Preservation District for Groups of Historic Buildings. This area originally opened for business more than 1200 years ago and there are many historic properties. The district was made along slopes and steps such as Sannen-zaka and Ninen-zaka which have been roads strolled by visitors for many years.It is beautiful urban scenery. But watch your step! Tradition says that you will die within three years if you fall down on these stairs. If you tend to be clumsy, you can buy a gourd like a kind of roly-poly as a charm against falling at a gourd shop along the steps.
Seryu-en, a shopping mall made with traditional Japanese-style buildings, was opened north of Kiyomizu Temple in July of 2000. Its name means “blue dragon garden,” which happens to be a deity that is said to watch over the eastern side of Kyoto. The mall has restaurants, cafés and Japanese incense and pickle stores. You can eat or sip a drink while looking at a beautiful Japanese garden and you can also walk there. This new mall is popular among young people in Kyoto.
Located midway between Kiyomizu and Kodaiji temples, Yasaka Tower is a five-storied pagoda. It is said that this tower was built by Shotoku taishi (574-622), who was a Regent in the Asuka era. The present tower was reconstructed by Ashikaga Yoshinori (1394-1441), the 6th shogun in the Muromachi era. It is 40 meters high and the oldest tower in Kyoto city. It is called “the symbol of Higashiyama.” You can go up to the second floor and look at Kyoto city. In recent years the unsightly telephone lines have been removed, beautifying the views of and from the pagoda.
Ishibei-koji is a tasteful stone street which runs from Shimogawara-michi to Kodai-ji-michi (also known as Nene-no-michi). It’s famous for being used as a location in dramas, movies and TV commercials. High-class Japanese-style restaurants and hotels are there. People wet down the street every morning, an old Kyoto custom for setting the dust or easing the heat of summer. This street is a good place for taking photos. You might be able to see maiko (apprentice geisha) in the evening.
When you go through the street, you will find Kodai-ji temple. Nene, a wife of Toyotomi Hideyoshi built this temple to pay her husband her last respects. There were a succession of fires, so only a part of the original buildings remain now. Kodai-ji is one of the national important heritages and it’s famous for its small, flowering hagi trees. Mountains in the Higashiyama are used in the view of the garden as if they belonged to it. Two buildings, Chayagasa-tei and Shigure-tei were designed by Sen-no-rikyu, a master engaged in tea ceremony (1522-1591). Kodai-ji temple is illuminated by bright lights in spring (March to May) and fall (October to December). You can enjoy the difference of views between day and night.
There is a museum in front of Kodai-ji temple. The museum shows things connected with Nene and treasures of Kodai-ji, which is called “the temple of maki-e” (which is a kind of lacquer ware).
You can go to Kiyomizu temple along another street. It is “Shin-Kiyomizu-dori.” The slope is called “Chawan-zaka” because there are many pottery shops along it. Pottery made in Kyoto is called kyoyaki. It spread out from the Higashiyama area in the beginning of the Edo era by the popularity and prevalence of tea ceremony. Along this slope, there is also the Memorial Museum of Kondo Yuzo, a living national treasure. You can see beautiful pottery there. You can also go to Kyoto Pottery Hall, which shows and sells kiyomizu-yaki, a kind of kyoyaki, including teacups, mugs, tea bowls for green tea and decorated plates. You will be able to feel relaxed by looking at the beautiful pottery. On Gojo-zaka the Pottery Fair is held in August every year. It is a big market and many people come there from all over Japan. And if you like, you can enjoy riding on a jinrikisha or putting on a kimono and making up like a maiko at shops like Shiki, in the area surrounding Kiyomizu Temple. You can be elegant like a maiko and have pictures taken at a studio. These will also be your good memories from Kyoto.