Bike around the Nishijin Area in Kyoto Prefecture

Bike around the Nishijin Area in Kyoto Prefecture
The Nishijin area is a fairly well-known place in Japan, however not many people have actually visited the area.
Although it does not stand out as much as other places in Kyoto, the Nishijin area is a place that has not been turned into a tourist site. Therefore, it is highly recommended if you are interested in experiencing the history and old-fashioned atmosphere of Kyoto, especially if you are tired of the cliché tourist sites.

|Ride a bicycle around the Nishijin area

  • Nishijin
  • Nishijin
You should go around the Nishijin area by bike, especially if you are planning to see everything in one day, because there are so many great spots scattered all around the area. It is a lot easier to bike through Kyoto, because there are many of narrow alleys, and this way you can easily stop by any store that you find along the way.

This time, I would like to introduce the wonderful places that you should visit when biking around the Nishijin area.

1.The mysterious Japanese rock garden, Ryoanji Temple Hojo Garden

The Ryoanji Temple is a Zen temple that was built in 1450. It was registered as a World Cultural Heritage Site by Unesco.
This rock garden is now famous worldwide, but it first became known when Queen Elizabeth of Great Britain visited the Ryoanji Temple in 1975, and highly acclaimed the beauty of the rock garden.

|The mysterious garden that even Queen Elizabeth praised

 Ryoanji Temple
  •  Ryoanji Temple
  •  Ryoanji Temple
The official name of this rock garden is the "Hojo Garden". It has a width of 25m and a depth of approximately 248m. The garden is filled with white sand, and there are 15 rocks of various sizes arranged inside it.
These 15 rocks are actually exquisitely positioned, so that you can only see 14 of them at once from any position.

Nobody knows who built this mysterious garden, or why it was created.
 Ryoanji Temple
▲ A mini rock garden displayed in front of the souvenir shop
This is a miniture version of the Hojo Garden displayed in front of the souvenir shop. It is an accurate reproduction of the garden, including the position and shapes of rocks, made for those who are visually impared so that they can also enjoy the garden through feeling it by hand.

If you look at this miniture garden, you can see the exquisite layout and positions of the 15 rocks.

|The Kyoyo Pond, where the Heian Period aristocrats enjoyed boating

 Ryoanji Temple
  •  Ryoanji Temple
  •  Ryoanji Temple
After looking around the Hojo Garden, you should head over to the next highlight, the Kyoyo Pond. This pond was formerly called the "Oshidori (Mandarin Duck) Pond", because many ducks would gather and play at the pond.

The pond is so vast that it takes up half of the south side of the temple grounds. The pond has a scenery that you can enjoy through all four seasons of the year. There are cherry blossoms in the spring, maple trees in the fall, and colorful water lilies on the water in the summer.
It was counted as one of the best ponds in Japan during the Heian Period, and it is said that the Heian aristocrats spent a graceful time on this vast pond.

2.Pray for good luck at the "Tamanokoshi Shrine" in the Imamiya Shrine

 Imamiya Shrine
The "Imamiya Shrine", located in Kita-ku, Kyoto prefecture, is a shrine that was built during the Heain period, to end the spread of an epidemic.
Many people visit this shrine to pray for health and to drive out evil spirits and bring in good luck, but in recent times, it is popular among women who dream of marrying a wealthy man. For this reason, it is now called the "Tamanokoshi Shrine".

|The origin of the name "Tamanokoshi Shrine"

 Imamiya Shrine
The main building of the Imamiya Shrine was once burned down during the Onin War. Then, mother of the 5th generation Shogun, Tokugawa Tsunayoshi, whose name was Keishoin (aka Otama), made the effort to rebuild the Imai Shrine.
Otama was originally the daughter of a greengrocer who lived in the Nishijin area. Just like Cinderella, the Shogun Tokugawa Tsunayoshi fell in love with her at first sight, and she became his concubine.

It is said that the "Tama" in "Tamanokoshi" came from the name Otama.
As the shrine has a strong connection with Otama, who went from being the daughter of a greengrocer to a Shogun's concubine, this shrine has become one to pray for Tamanokoshi.

|The No.1 most popular good-luck charm has got to be this one!

 Imamiya Shrine
Out of the many good-luck charms sold at the Shrine Office, the most popular is the one for Tamanokoshi.
 Imamiya Shrine
These chamrs are made with the Nishijin textile, and the pale pastel colors look lovely. Most likely because Otama was the daughter of a greengrocer, there are designs of vegetables embroidered on each charm. Isn't it enjoying to be able to choose from so many color variations?

| See if your dreams will come true with the sacred stone "Ahokashi-san"

  •  Imamiya Shrine
  •  Imamiya Shrine
For those who are aiming to marry a wealthy person, do not feel too relieved after buying a Tamanokoshi good-luck charm. You must also make sure to stop by the sacred stone named "Ahokashi-san", which is placed in the corner of the temple grounds, and see if your dream will come true.
Imamiya Shrine
The Ahokashi-san is also known as the "Kamiurai-ishi", and it is a rock that can tell whether or not your dream will come true.

The way to tell your fortune is simple
① Pat the rock with your palm 3 times and then lift it up
② While thinking of a wish, stroke the rock 3 times
③ Lift up the rock again

If the rock felt lighter when you lifted it for a second time, it is said that your dream should come true.
《 Imamiya Shrine 》
【Address】21Murasakino Imai-cho, Kita-ku, Kyoto-shi, Kyoto
【Open Hours】 Open all day
【Closed】Open all year round
【Fee】Free admission
【Access】If coming from JR Kyoto Station, take the subway Karasuma Line and get off at Kitaoji Station. From Exit 3, ride the city bus (1, Kita8, 12, M1, 204, 205, 2069). Get off the bus at Funaokayama Station, and walk for about 7 minutes in the Northern direction.

3.Have a Japanese snack at a long-established cafe after visiting the shrine. Try the "Aburi Mochi" at "Kazariya" or "Ichiwa".

Aburi Mochi
▲East gate
When you visit the Imamiya Shrine, you must try the local specialty that is served right outside the east gate of the shrine.
This specialty is the "Aburi Mochi". It is a Japanese rice cake that is covered with sweetened soybean flour, skewered, lightly broiled, and then covered in white miso. It is believed that this mochi brings good health.
Aburi Mochi
When you go out the East gate of the shrine, you will find two shops that sell Aburi Mochi, standing right across from each other. The one on the right is "Kazariya", and the one on the left is "Ichiwa (Ichimonjiya Wasuke)"
"Kazariya" was established 400 years ago, and "Ichiwa" was established more than 1000 years ago. It is the oldest Japanese confectionary store in existence.
  • Aburi Mochi
  • Aburi Mochi
Both of the stores have such good smells of roasting mochi coming from them, and it makes it difficult to decide which one to go into. The Aburi Mochi seems to taste slightly different in each store, so you could even try both and compare them.
《 Aburi Mochi "Kazariya" and "Ichiwa" 》
【Address】96 Murasakino Imai-cho, Kita-ku, Kyoto-shi, Kyoto
【Closed】Wednesdays (It is open if Wednesday is on the 1st, 15th, or on a holiday, and it is closed on Thursday instead)
【Access】About 3 minutes by foot from Imamiya Shrine

4.Have lunch at the retro public bath cafe "Sarasa Nishijin"

Sarasa Nishijin
The 80-year-old building of "Sarasa Nishijin" used to be a public bath called "Fujinomori Onsen", which closed down in 1998. The magnificent cusped gable that remains is reminiscent of the public bath that it used to be. Anyone who walks past here for their first time may not notice that it is a cafe.

|The retro inside of the cafe is reminiscent of the public bath

Sarasa Nishijin
Most of the inside of the cafe was left as it was from when it used to be a public bath. When you walk in, the first thing that wil catch your eye is the majolica tiles on the walls. (*A majolica tile is a colorful tile that was produced from the 1910's to the 1930's. They are made of metal mold, and have star shaped reliefs painted on them.)
This psychedlic design is what creates this retro and endearing atmosphere. The tall ceiling will also allow you to feel the presence of the public bath that it used to be.
  • Sarasa Nishijin
  • Sarasa Nishijin
When I biked around Nishijin, I was so busy exploring that I completely forgot about lunch time. But at this cafe, after their lunch time from 12pm to 3pm, they begin dinner time from 3pm to 6pm, and you can enjoy a full and delicious cafe meal.
If you want to have a late lunch, I recommend coming to this retro bath cafe.
《 Sarasa Nishijin 》
【Address】1-1 Murasakinohigashi Fujinomoricho, Kita-ku, Kyoto-shi
【Closed】Last Wednesday of each month
【Access】About 10 minutes by foot from Karasuma Line Kuramaguchi Station

5.Visit and pray before the hidden spiritual spot of Kuginuki Jizo at the "Shakuzo-ji Temple"

Shakuzo-ji Temple
The Shakuzoji Temple was built in 819 by the Japanese Buddhist monk named Kobo Daishi, most famously known as Kukai. To local people, he is most known as the Kuginuki Jizo.
The small and cozy temple is perfect to drop by on a whim. It looks unpretentious and approachable, but this temple is said to have saved many people from suffering since the ancient times.
Shakuzo-ji Temple
▲The large Kuginuki statue
At the Shakuzo-ji Temple, there is a Jizo stone statue enshrined, and it is said that Kobo Daishi carved it by himself from a rock that he brought back from the Tang Dynasty.
The Jizo was made as a prayer to save people from suffering of the mind and the body. Later, it became called "Kuginuki Jizo", because it is believed that it pulls out (nukitoru) suffering (ku).

|A breathtaking sight of wooden picture tablets called ema, covering the walls of the main hall

Shakuzo-ji Temple
  • Shakuzo-ji Temple
  • Shakuzo-ji Temple
▲The ema are lined up tightly all the way up to the roof
The ema that cover the walls of the main hall are there to offer gratitude for taking away the suffering of the mind and the body. Each of the ema has two long nails and a pincer put on to it.

The breathtaking scenery of the approximately 1,000 ema placed so close together with no gaps inbetween, looks like an art piece. When you see this scenery, you will suddenly understand why the blessings here have such a high reputation.

Maybe it is a great temple to visit in this stress-full society that we live in now. If you are feeling stressed lately, how about coming to the shakujo-ji temple to refresh and clear your head?
《 Shakuzo-ji Temple (Kuginuki Jizo) 》
【Address】503 Senbon-dori Kamidachiuri-agaru Hanakuruma-cho, Kamigyo-ku, Kyoto-shi, Kyoto
【Access】About 3 minutes by foot from Kyoto city bus stop "Senbon Kamudachiuri"

6.Experience the beauty and craftsmanship of the Nishijin textiles at the "Kyoto Nishijin Textile Center"

Kyoto Nishijin Textile Center
The Nishijin Textile Center is a tourist site that aims to spread Kyoto's famous traditional art called the Nishijin Textile. In addition to an exhibition that introduces the Nishijin Textile and its history, you can also watch a demonstration by a craftsperson of how the Nishijin Textiles are made.
I highly recommend visiting here if you are interested in the beauty of the Nishijin Textile and the traditional skills that are used to create it.
  • Kyoto Nishijin Textile Center
  • Kyoto Nishijin Textile Center
On the second floor, there is a souvenir shop where you can purchase many items from small accessories to actual kimonos. There is also a loom used for weaving Nishijin Textiles on display, where you can watch a craftsperson demonstrate hand-weaving.

|Watch the "Kimono Show" that has a long history of over 60 years and a Guinness World Record.

Kyoto Nishijin Textile Center
  • Kyoto Nishijin Textile Center
  • Kyoto Nishijin Textile Center
When you visit the Nishijin Textile Center, you must see the "Kimono Show" that is presented 6 times a day on the 3rd floor.
In this show performed every day, models wear different kimonos to show off the designs. The number of performances and guests over the 60 years that the show has been held, is listed in the Guiness World Records. The show is very popular amongst tourists.
《 Kyoto Nishijin Textile Center 》
【Address】414 Horikawa-dori Imadegawa Minami-hairu Tatemonzen-cho, Kamigyo-ku, Kyoto-shi, Kyoto
10:00am~5:00pm(November 1st~February 28th)
10:00am~6:00pm(March 1st~October 31st)
【Closed】December 29th~Januray 3rd
【Access】 About 1 to 2 minutes by foot from Kyoto city bus stop "horikawa Imadegawa"
※Please check the official website for the running time of the Kimono Show

7.Experience being a national guest at the "Kyoto State Guest House"

Kyoto State Guest House
The final plast to visit is the Kyoto State Guest House. In Kyoto, the symbol of Japan's history and culture, this guest house was built to warmly welcome honored guests from overseas. Along with the State Guest House Akasaka Palace in Akasaka, this is one of the places that are not familiar to the local Japanese people because it is a place for giving hospitality to honored guests from outside the country.

Normally, it does not seem like a place that an ordinary person is allowed to enter, but it is actually open to the public, and you can thoroughly look around inside.

|A welcoming place that embodies the essence of Japanese tradition and art

Kyoto State Guest House
  • Kyoto State Guest House
  • Kyoto State Guest House
The Kyoto State Guest House was built in 2005 inside the Kyoto Gyoen National Garden. It was made to welcome honored guests from foreign countrires, and to deepen their understanding and friendship towards Japan.
Kyoto State Guest House
Inside the house there is traditional art that represents Kyoto, found in the interior design and furnishings, including plasterwork, a garde, the Nishijin Textile, and laqcuer ware.
This room called "Kiri-no-ma" is used to entertain guests with Japanese food.
The shiny Japanese-style low table is made from a 15m long single plank painted with lacquer.
  • Kyoto State Guest House
  • Kyoto State Guest House
▲A "Goshichi-no-Kiri"
Various parts of the room is decorated with the "Goshichi-no-Kiri", which was once used as the royal family's secondary family crest. It is now used as the crest of the Japanese government.

|The vast pond where the king and queen of Butan visited and enjoyed boating

Kyoto State Guest House
  • Kyoto State Guest House
  • Kyoto State Guest House
The Guest House is positioned in a way that it is surrounded by a garden and a pond. From the bridge cast over the pond, you can view colorful Koi fish swimming elegantly through the water.
On the other side of the bridge, there is a dock where you will find a Japanese-style boat. This was where the king and queen of Butan visited and enjoyed boating on their honeymoon in 2011.
If you gaze at the elegant scenery of the garden, you will feel like you are spending an extravagant time, as if you are an honored state guest.
《 Kyoto State Guest House 》
【Address】23 Kyoto Gyoen,,Kamigyo-ku, Kyoto-shi, Kyoto
Self-guided Tour-10:00am~5:00pm(Last admission at 4:30pm)
Guided Tour-10:00am~5:00pm(Last admission at 3:30pm)
【Closed】Every Wednesday, or when there is a guest
①Self-guided Tour(*Children under middle school cannot enter)
・Adults 1,000yen、Middle and High School Students 500yen (until September 30th)
・Adults 1,500yen、College Students 1,000yen、Middle and High School Students 500yen(After October 1st)
②Guided Tour (*Children under middle school cannot enter)
・Adults 1,500yen、Middle and High School Students 700yen(Until September 30th)
・Adults 2,000yen、College Students 1,500yen、Middle and High School Students 700yen(After October 1st)
【Access】About 7 minutes by foot from Kyoto city bus stop "Furitsu Idai Byoin-mae"
Much of the old-fashioned atmosphere still remains in the Nishijin area. Because there are many tasteful old houses and refined streets that will make you stop and take a photo, it is a great place to wander around.

There are many more fascinations other than the ones mentioned here, so when you visit, bike around and look for your own favorite spot.

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