Though Kyoto may be most famous for its ancient shrines and temples, make no mistake. This city is also a force to be reckoned with when it comes to shopping and dining! One of the best places to enjoy these activities is the downtown area, where numerous department stores, fashion brands, and restaurants of all styles and prices gather around trendy intersections and station areas. One of the best places to explore on foot with souvenirs or your wardrobe in mind is Shijō Street, and if you’re motivated more by hunger don’t miss the Nishiki Market, a food-lover’s paradise.
Shijō Kawaramachi Intersection
One of the hubs of big-city-esque modernity in the largely traditional Kyoto, Shijō Kawaramachi is centered around the intersection of the major east-to-west Shijō Street and major north-to-south Kawaramachi Street. Home to the large Hankyū Line station of the same name on one corner and sporting two large department stores, Takashimaya and Marui, on the others, Shijō Kawaramachi area is a shopping focal point that still sits a stone’s throw from the scenic Kamogawa river and popular Gion district. Upscale department store shopping is a major draw, but even if you’re on a budget the surrounding independent shops likely have something to fit your needs. Continuing on stylish Shijō leads you down a street populated with international brand name stores like Louis Vuitton, Brooks Brothers, and Lacoste, while going up Kawaramachi Street offers Japanese select shops, boutiques, sweets shops, and affordable restaurants. Either way, your wallet might be in danger if you enjoy a good shopping session!
Pontochō Geisha District
A narrow lane lined with restaurants and bars near the Kamogawa River, Pontochō may look nondescript at first glance, but it’s actually one of the five Kyoto hanamachi, “flower towns” where the geisha (called “geiko” in Kyoto) ply their trade. Taking its name from the Portuguese word for “bridge” and the Japanese word for “city” (according to one theory), Pontochō has had a geiko presence since at least the 16th century. One end of the street has the Pontochō Kaburenjō, the theater where the apprentices practice and where dances are performed for the public twice a year, with the spring Kamogawa Odori being quite popular. The street is a mix of bars and exclusive restaurants, some offering kawayuka, dining on platforms set over the cool river that is a must in the summer season. There are some cheaper options available as well, and some offer English menus. Though mostly dead during the day hours, the street comes alive with neon signs and welcoming restaurant lights come nightfall, and if you’re lucky you might just spot a geiko or maiko on their way to work, weaving through the narrow lane.
Based in the 1928 Building near the Sanjō-Teramachi shopping district, GEAR Theater offers one of Kyoto’s more fascinating modern performances. Starring four Roboroids and a Doll with their own distinctive personalities and skills, the act is completely non-verbal and uses miming, acrobatic dance, magic, illusions, juggling, and more to spin a truly captivating story in a universal language that everyone can understand and enjoy. The creativity and expressiveness of the show accompanied by incredible lighting and sound effects in a steampunk setting can make you totally forget the world outside! Since some aspects of the show change each performance, it’s even worth experiencing more than once. With an art gallery and a café located in the same art deco-style building (a registered Cultural Property of Kyoto), it is a great spot to take a break from admiring temples and shrines in the afternoon or to unwind after a day full of sightseeing in the evening. Please visit the official website for more information about GEAR Theater performances.
A popular place to experience a wide variety of Japanese food, from raw ingredients to alcohol to unknown somethings on a stick that somehow taste amazing, Nishiki Market is a five block-long covered market street between Shijō and Sanjō. With over a hundred shops, almost all specializing in a single type of food and most boasting products of the locally-grown and sometimes organic variety, Nishiki Market is one of the best places in Kyoto to get your hands on famous seasonal products, high-quality cooking stuffs, and some distinctively Japanese tabearuki “eat while you walk” snacks. A lot of the shops can trace their history back decades, if not centuries, and Kyoto’s high quality restaurants patron the area for ingredients to use in expensive cuisine such as kaiseki ryōri. If you’re interested in food be sure to take a stroll through Nishiki Market and try some, whether it be wheat starch dumplings, little octopi stuffed with quail eggs, fresh hot senbei crackers, sashimi on a stick, or Kyoto’s ever popular green tea flavored soft serve. Samples abound in storefront after storefront, so enjoy a culinary journey… just make sure not to spoil your dinner!
At the eastern end of everyone’s favorite Nishiki Market stands Nishiki Tenmangū, a Shinto shrine dedicated to the deity Tenjin. Despite its small size, Nishiki Tenmangū sees a lot of foot traffic from the many people who come to sample the local cuisine and shopping in Nishiki Market, and it is considered one of the preeminent Tenjin shrines. Easily spotted by the many softly glowing lanterns hung at the entrance, Nishiki Tenmangū's cozy grounds contain a natural spring, some nostalgic fortune-telling, a statue of Tenjin’s divine messenger, and a sanctuary dedicated to Tenjin himself.