Torii gate in Kyoto, Japan

a love letter to kyoto

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By Victoria Stone

This Fall I went to Kyoto — the major textile center of Japan — to scout for our upcoming textile tours. However, there’s so much more in Kyoto that I absolutely love.

Of course the first thing to mention is the secret needle shop, Misuyabari. The hidden machiya surrounded by a quiet garden, in the middle of the bustling Shinkyogoku shopping arcade, always delights me.

When I’m in Shinkyogoku, I love to stop at Sou-Sou. They make everything from modern tabi (toe socks and shoes), home goods, tenugui (hand towel), fabric yardage, and even children’s clothing.

Each location is devoted to a particular type of product, leading to the joy of entering a shop that’s bursting with colorful and fun tenugui. And, I can’t resist the children’s shop where I always get something for my nephew Henry!

A surprise in the shopping arcade is Nishiki-Tenmangu Shrine. Dedicated to a god of scholarship, this shrine has many beautiful plum trees and brass cow statues you can pet for luck.

While fortune-telling is a common feature of Shinto shrines, Tenmangu has my favorite method. Robotic marionettes of shishi lions dance to ancient court music while they fetch fortunes.  

After the busyness of the markets, a good place for quiet calm is the perfectly preserved home of the folk-art ceramicist Kanjiro Kawai. He designed his combination home, studio, and stepped kiln in 1937— with every inch imbued with his artistic vision. 

After the potter’s home, I like to continue walking along the edge of the Gion — the famed geisha district —to a strange little shop. Dubbed “The World’s Smallest Museum,” the Ukiyoe Small Museum is famous for its eccentric sign.

It’s actually the entryway to the private home of woodblock artist Ichimura Mamoru. On my last visit to the Museum, I bought a sublime print of the Golden Pavilion. 

Although I was scouting textile adventures, I managed to run off to a tiny dumpling shop. Gyoza-dokoro Sukemasa serves only one kind of dumpling—with pickles, rice and miso soup on the side. In the cold weather in November, piping hot pan-fried dumplings were an absolute treat.  

Many of my friends have started settling down and having children. Like most quilters, I like to make them baby quilts.

However when I’m in Kyoto I also like to visit Okazaki-jinja, a Shinto shrine dedicated to happy and healthy relationships, pregnancy, and children. Filled with rabbit statues, this shrine sells small ceramic bunnies with good-luck fortunes inside — a perfect gift.

I stumbled across Ichiwa, the oldest confectionery in Japan. It was founded in the year 1000, and has been run by the same family for 25 generations —serving charcoal-grilled mochi with sweet miso sauce and hot green tea. Across the street is a competing shop selling the same grilled treat, but it’s new: not even 500 years old.

Even though I didn’t make it there on my most recent trip, just outside Kyoto is Arashiyama — a whole district of attractions, one of the most notable being the Bamboo Grove.

When I visited with Patricia, we walked through the soaring stalks of bamboo with the magical green air. The rest we took at the home of haiku poet Mukai Kyorai was so serene, I still think about it.

I particularly enjoyed the hike up Mt Arashiyama to see (and feed!) the wild snow monkeys. 

On my way home this November, I had some time between check-out and my train to the airport. I stored my luggage at the station and just took a walk—stumbling onto the Shosei-en Garden. Its entrance is on a small side street, and the garden is surrounded by high walls that hide villas, a tea house, and a picturesque pond. 

There are so many fascinating places to discover when wandering Kyoto. It was hard to leave!

ABOUT US: Okan Arts, a petite family business, is co-owned by mother-daughter duo Patricia Belyea and Victoria Stone. Patricia and Victoria sell Japanese textiles online, host creative quilting experiences, and lead quilting & textile tours to Japan.