Forget big-box shops or available-anywhere finds. Japan’s former capital is a haven for crafty shoppers and those looking for something a little different.
Visitors to Kyoto might have temples and food on their mind (there’s plenty of both in Japan’s ancient capital) but it also has an extraordinary breadth of shops that any other city would struggle to host. There are small workshops making ceramics, washi paper, canvas bags and all manner of other crafts that have been honed over generations. Another nice touch is the careful gift-wrapping that is offered year-round no matter how humble the purchase.
Japanese brand 45r launched in 1977 and is best known for its indigo-dyed cotton casuals (which are, of course, made in Japan). At this beautiful shop you’ll find the brand’s full line-up for men and women. Expect to discover staple indigo shirts and jackets, smart-casual three- piece tweed suits and Supima organic-cotton denim jeans, as well as indigo dresses and hand-woven Indian Khadi blouses. 45rpm.co.jp
Unexpectedly located inside Bukko-ji, a Buddhist temple, this shop sells a thoughtful selection of food, drink and homeware from Kyoto. Pick up some delicious Sookuu saké by Fujioka Shuzo in Fushimi, a few handmade zabuton cushions by Platz in Arashiyama and one or two tea caddies wrapped in bright handprinted paper from nearby Suzuki Shofudo.
On the sixth floor of an anonymous building near city hall is one of the largest record collections in Japan, covering everything from rare jazz, hip-hop and house to techno, rock and reggae. “We have about 200,000 records in the shop,” says manager Tetsu Kozai. “We get shipments of the newest albums from around the world almost every day.” You’ll also find books, magazines and Jet Set branded bags and accessories here. Japan is a magnet for vinyl collectors; once you visit Jet Set you’ll know why.
This homegrown menswear label offers contemporary tailoring and casual clobber; founder and designer Shuji Itai offers the kind of attention to detail that keeps customers coming back. Look out for his bestselling organic-cotton chinos and suits made with yarn from Japan’s top wool company in the Bishu region. Unlike many other Japanese brands, here clothes are available in a wide range of sizes.
Sonya Park started her Arts & Science brand in Tokyo in 2003. Today she has three shops in Kyoto, all on the same street close to the Kamogawa River. Hin, the name of which means “quality” in Japanese, sells craft pieces from the city and further afield. Park has worked with some of the city’s traditional workshops to make beautiful modern products such as soft leather clutch-bags in collaboration with kimono-maker Gion Saito. “We want to show what these makers can do,” says Park.
Tables are piled high with books in this cosy outpost, which opened in 1975. Here you’ll find 25,000 books and magazines covering everything from literature and art to fashion and travel, plus a section for small independent publishers and plenty of books about Kyoto. With a lifestyle shop, changing displays and a vast library, it’s all too easy to while away an afternoon here.
Kura sells mingei folk art and everyday Japanese homeware in a shop housed in Horikawa Danchi, a 1953 building with shops on the ground floor and apartments upstairs. Owner Kazuhiko Kimura, whose father runs a craft shop in Okayama, is a former Kiyomizu-yaki ceramic painter. He has a sharp eye and the shop is filled from floor to ceiling with more than 2,000 items, including ceramics from Shussai and nanbu tekki ironware teapots from Iwate. He also designs a line of canvas goods, including a traditional Japanese maekake apron and beautiful tote bags. Keep an eye out for kokeshi dolls from Tohoku and the furoshiki cloths made in Kyoto.
Shigeru Teraji, an octogenarian, is a master craftsman of cooking tools. He still hammers copper and aluminium into pots and pans every day with his son Nobuyuki and three other employees at a workshop in Kuse-gun, south of the city. Teraji’s popular rectangular copper-pan is perfect for making tamagoyaki (Japanese omelette), while his yukihira nabe aluminium pot is the essential all-rounder in Japanese kitchens for making a dashi stock or cooking vegetables.
578 Shichiken-cho, Higashiyama-ku
This speciality shop sells hundreds of different types of handmade kyodo gangu (local toys). Founder Kiichi Hirata got started in 1967 with his personal collection but it’s his daughter-in-law Keiko Hirata and family who now keep this tiny shop stocked with 1,500 toys. Some of the clay Fushimi ningyo dolls and maneki-neko cat dolls on display were made in the 17th century.
89 Toji higashimonzen-cho, Minami-ku
The seasons dictate what people eat in Kyoto – and the tableware they serve it on. One place to see the diverse styles that the city’s artisans produce is Tosai, a family-run kiln started by Hayao Yamada in 1919. Today it’s his son Yoshio who oversees the kiln’s production of handmade Kiyomizu-yaki plates, bowls and cups, all of which are prized by traditional ryokan inns.
Established as Smart Lunch in 1932, Smart Coffee is one of the oldest kissaten (traditional coffee houses) in Kyoto. Housed in the covered Teramachi shotengai shopping arcade, this kissaten roasts its own coffee and sticks to the classics, such as café au lait, lemon squash and fluffy omelette sandwiches.
Licensed to grill
Set on the bank of the Takase River, 34-seat Japanese-style bistro Kiln specialises in dishes prepared over a charcoal grill. The dinner menu is varied but at lunch they keep it simple, offering steak (rump or sirloin) and hamburgers with side dishes that include carrot and beetroot salads, and homemade pâté.
Housed in a traditional machiya townhouse, two-storey restaurant Gion Yata serves Kyoto comfort food. Customers leave their shoes at the door and sit at a long wooden counter before sharing dishes such as Kyoto Wagyu beef, red snapper sashimi and deep-fried kamo-nasu aubergine in a dashi broth.
Housed in a restored century-old wooden townhouse, Shiki Juraku has 10 guestrooms replete with with vintage chairs and lamps. Everything from the flowers to the artwork is carefully considered and staff are on hand around the clock