Traditional townhouse cafes

February 8, 2019

by Mai Kobayashi and Haruko Ishii

 

Have you ever been to a café in Kyoto? We’re sure you have as there are a lot of cafes in Kyoto City these days. Also, Instagram is popular now, and a lot of pictures of cafes in Kyoto appear on it. So, cafés in Kyoto are becoming more and more popular. Recently, cafes which are in many of Kyoto’s renovated traditional townhouses have become very popular! In this article, we will look at some of these renovation cafes.

Traditional townhouses used to be merchants’ houses which were built from the Edo period (1603-1868) through to the beginning of the Showa period (1926-1989). A traditional house in Kyoto is called unagi-no-nedoko which translates as ‘bed for an eel’. The meaning of this name comes from the narrow width and considerable depth of the houses, making them resemble an eel. The reason why there are many unagi-no-nedoko in Kyoto is related to the old Japanese tax system. In the Edo period, the amount of tax was decided by the width of the frontage, so many traditional townhouses had an elongated structure. The reason why traditional townhouses are being renovated more and more recently is that people who visit Kyoto can really experience the interior spaces of Japanese tradition. Also, to keep the appearance of Kyoto, activities to protect traditional townhouses are being held. As an effort to do that, entrepreneurs have renovated traditional townhouses and are building fashionable shops and cafés.

Here are some Kyoto cafes which are renovated traditional townhouses for you to try!

SARASA-KAYUKOJI

This cafe opened in 1984. The interior of this café has a first floor with counter seating and a second floor with tables and sofa seats with almost all of the furniture is made of wood. The entrance is a very small and deeply shaped, so it looks like unagi-no-nedoko and many Japanese movie posters are hung on the walls. This café’s staff are very friendly so you can have a comfortable time enjoying the atmosphere here. On top of the interior design, there is a selection of Japanese Manga to enjoy.

Sarasa opens from 12:00 to 23:30 Monday to Saturday. On Sunday, they open from 11:30 to 23:00. At lunchtime (12:00-15:00), you can eat their daily lunch which has a main dish, rice and soup. You can have dessert and drinks anytime. There is also a lot of dishes to try at dinner time (18:00-23:00). The soup rice dish is recommended! This has a mild taste. You can choose chicken or pork. At this café, you can try dishes that are favorites of a lot of Japanese people.

 

Soup rice

 

Lunch menu

 

Chocolate parfait & Season Cake

 

The café’s address is 〒604-8024 Kyotoshi-cyuouku-shinkyougoku-shijyouagaru-nakanocyo-565-13. You can get to this café by taking the Hankyu Line and getting off at Kawaramach Station. Go to Exit 6 and when you get to ground level, go right and go to Kayukoji Street (花遊小路商店街). Lunch time and dinner time are popular, so you may have to wait.

Blue Bottle Coffee

The Blue Bottle Coffee Company is from California, America. There are 10 cafes in Japan: Tokyo, Kobe, and Kyoto which only has one café. This café is a renovated traditional townhouse that is over 100 years old. The interior has a high ceiling with large windows which let in a lot of natural light in this open space. Neon lights are on exposed earth walls with bamboo. The ceiling has modern neon lights that harmonize with the nostalgic atmosphere of this old building. Leading up to the entrance there is a gravel courtyard where you can spend a special moment in the seasonal nature: fresh green from spring to summer and autumn tints that fall in autumn.

This café opens from 8:00 to 18:00. There are 44 seats in this shop so you can take a seat to enjoy the selection of freshly brewed coffee and pastries while looking at the interior. The aroma of the coffee here is very good and has a deep flavor. If you like it, you can buy the coffee beans to take home.

A further tip is, before or after you go to Nanzenji Temple, have a break at Blue Bottle Coffee. Nanzenji is the highest rank of temples in Japan. This temple is very popular with Japanese people and overseas tourists. In mid-November, you can see beautiful autumn leaves in this area.

Latte

 

The address is 〒606-8437 Kyotoshi-sakyoku-nanzenji-kusakawacyo-64. This café is located near Nanzenji. You can get to this café by taking the Tozai subway line and getting off at Keage Station (蹴上). Blue Bottle mark is a landmark for this café!

 

 

The landscape of Kyoto is different each season so you can enjoy them from the numerous cafes dotted around Kyoto. In spring, there are a lot of cherry trees and blossoms. In summer, you can relax in a café with the sound of cicadas. In autumn, colored leaves are beautiful in Kyoto. And finally, in winter, you can see snow. So, you can enjoy not only cafes in Kyoto but also the real feeling of the four seasons. We recommend you to try out these two cafes especially.

Old Schools as the ‘New Kyoto’

Background

At present, Japan has an aging population and declining birthrate problem. Therefore, the government has been closing about 500 schools a year. Rather than let these buildings go to waste, the closed schools are being revamped into new places such as welfare facilities, hotels, community centers and so on. The closed school sites are attractive plots of land in Kyoto due to it being a crowded city that sits in a basin. The densely populated situation in the city center means that any large spaces are far and few between. Plus, the school buildings themselves have historical value.

There are 3 main advantages of using old school buildings. First, the ample space can be used effectively, for example, holding seminars in the classrooms and enjoying sports in the gymnasium or outdoor ground. Second, by using existing facilities, new ventures can significantly decrease their costs. Finally, the site of a former school is designated as cultural property as a historic building, so they should be maintained as such. The Kyoto Art Center and Comic Museum in Kyoto are both housed on old school sites. On the other hand, there are demerits too. These old schools need repair work which means they are not always easy to use as a welfare facility or for social gatherings. They also need a lot of money to look after them. As explained, using these sites has various problems which need to be considered carefully.

 

Renovations

Currently, even in the center of Kyoto, there are 10 sites where elementary schools used to be. These buildings have been turned into libraries, hospitals, homes for the elderly, NPO offices, museums, cafés and spaces for volunteer activities. Kyoto International Manga Museum is a famous museum for overseas visitors. Inside there is a café, shop, exhibition room and memorial hall about the old elementary school. Before this site was used as a museum, it used to be Tatsuike Elementary School. The wooden floors and stairs faced of stone and tiles still remain. The floor creaks under your feet when you step on it, giving sweet memories of times gone by but in a modern setting. Moreover, visitors can read various comics and books in the surroundings of an old school. In one of the buildings, there is still the principal’s office. You can see the main terrace by the playground from the window in this office.

Kyoto Art Center used to be Meirin Elementary School. You can see the design of floats that were used for traditional feasts in Kyoto in front of the building. There is a large tatami mat -156 square yards- which adds to the traditional Japanese atmosphere. This facility also has a library, cafe and workspace for art. The management of the facility wanted to revive Kyoto, so they established the center in the old school. In 2008, there was some resistance to use the site as a cultural property, but this school was used carefully for a long time by the people in the neighborhood. Even now, a lot of people go there to learn and see the art, drink something and catch up.

The Department of Administration in Kyoto City Hall has beautifully renovated these old elementary schools into new facilities with thoughtful consideration of the local community. Elementary school buildings create fond memories for many children and adults, so it is important that the new facilities do not destroy old memories.

 

Future of old schools

Finally, let’s take a look at some future plans for reusing old school sites. Until now, old schools in Kyoto have been transformed into new facilities through a careful renovation process that does not break up the existing buildings, creating spaces for bustling communities and thriving cultural exchange. Planners care about the thoughts of the local community more than anything else and intend to continue this way in the future. They have to observe the rules made by the city. For example, stores that are built inside of these old schools must be local business’ that have a link to Kyoto’s traditions. As a result, local people who have affection for the old school buildings agree to the new utilization plans. As an example, there is the case of Rissei Elementary School. It is located in Nakagyo-ku, Kyoto and closed in 1993. This school will be renovated by 2020 and opened as a new complex that includes a hotel, café, library, resident committee meeting space among others with the cooperation of the city, local self-governing associations and real estate companies. Furthermore, a similar cultural complex will be opened in 2021 at the site of Shirakawa Elementary School in Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto. In this complex, planners intend to build shops that exhibit and sell Kyoto’s traditional crafts, a garden where local people can feel free to gather, and a hotel where guests can experience Kyoto’s culture. You will be able to see a lot more renovated buildings with new cultural complexes that protect the old school buildings. The purpose of the old schools can live on through these reconstruction projects.