Shinmonzen-dori: A Street of Art & Culture

April 14, 2009

by Maki Okada; Atsushi Nanjo; Shoma Horikawa


Shinmonzen-dori is a famous street located in the Gion district of Kyoto. You can enter it from either Higashi-oji street to the east, or Nawate street to the west, and it is a short five minute walk from either Sanjo or Shijo streets, two of the main downtown thoroughfares in Kyoto. The area surrounding Shinmonzen street has also been designated as a traditional ‘Geisha and Maiko Quarter’ by the Japanese government, so there are a number of traditional houses and teahouses close by.

Shinmonzen Street is famed for the large number of shops selling traditional arts, crafts and antiques; however, it is not just about these types of businesses. You can also find other kinds of specialist shops here, for example, an incense store, a dye shop, a kimono shop, a roof tile specialist, and restaurants and teahouses. Walking around Shinmonzen-dori, and the surrounding area, gives you a real glimpse into the classical past of Japan, as well as a comfortable stroll through the present.


Many of the businesses on Shinmonzen-dori sell antiques, or art and crafts, and around 14 of these are registered with the Ohto Antique Art Association, in Gion. Commonly found items include paintings, writings, woodblock prints, tea sets, pottery, lacquerware and scrolls. We decided to take a look at one or two other kinds of shops, though, that sell goods a little less expensive than the others.

Incense shop ‘Kaori’

This shop has an incredible selection of incense to choose from, and the wonderful scents you take in as you walk around are quite intoxicating. It was opened about thirty years ago by the present owner’s aunt, who named the shop after herself her name means “aroma”! This shop is quite famous, and is often visited by tourists, both Japanese and foreign. Items purchased here cost from around 500 yen upwards.

Opening hours: 10:00 ~ 18:00 (closed Wednesdays)


“Old Art Kanzando” has a fine collection of traditional dishes, plates, and cups for sale, with some nice examples of the famous ‘Imari’ style of pottery, but they also sell other items, such as ornamental hairpins (kanzashi). A lot of foreigners come to this shop in search of interesting and authentic pieces, and it is also a favorite of ryokan owners, looking for tableware for use in their traditional hostelries. Items can be purchased here from 1500 yen and upwards.

Opening hours: 10:00 ~ 18:00 (closed Wednesdays)

Other places of interest


This is a government registered ryokan, or traditional Japanese inn, founded in 1747. Housed in a beautiful old, wooden building, Yoshi-ima offers a true taste of traditional Japan in the way of food and style of accommodation. This place has many original and interesting features, such as a beautiful Sukiya style garden with a small teahouse, “Ben-Tei”, set in it. Actually, it is possible to attend candle-lit tea ceremonies here on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays from March through November, presided over by a highly skilled tea master. Reservations are, of course, required. Yoshi-ima has English-speaking staff to assist foreign guests, and their website (with English) is for more information.

Shinbashi Street

This street lies immediately south of Shinmonzen-dori, and is a special government-designated area for preserved buildings, such as machiya and the teahouses associated with the world of geisha and maiko. It is interesting to walk this street and view the pleasing architectural features, and at the same time perhaps catch a glimpse of a geisha or maiko going about their business, especially in the early evening.

Shirakawa Street

This street is several streets south of Shinmonzen, and is known as one of the most beautiful spots in Kyoto. There are no telephone or electricity poles or wires along this street, as you find in other parts of the city, but there are beautiful willow trees lining the pathways and a small river that runs through it. Gorgeous wooden teahouses, restaurants and ryokan are to be found on this strolling lane, and it is very popular with locals and tourists alike.

We can highly recommend a visit to this small, but fascinating area of Gion, and suggest you take your time strolling the quiet lanes, taking in all the sights, sounds and smells of traditional Kyoto, in the present day.

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