Like most ancient cities, Kyoto is built on the sides of a river. You’ll find yourself referring to destinations as ‘this side of the river’ and ‘that side of the river’. The older portions of the city are to the east of the river, whereas the train station, many hotels and the downtown shopping area are west of the river. By shopping neighborhood, here’s what you’ll find….
ARTS & CRAFTS CENTER: Sakyo-ku is the name of this district, although it is sort of out in right field to the east of the central shopping district. There’s a nice shrine and a few antiques stores around here, and the Handicraft Center is as large as a department store with classes and a rent-a-kimono-for-a-photo department. Great for gifts; we bought original woodblocks. Take the elevator to the top then walk and shop your way down.
GION/ GEISHA LAND: Taxis can drop you at Gion Corner, which is near the shopping and the area shrines; this is an address you can tell a driver in English and he will understand. This is the oldest part of Kyoto and home to wonderful shops a street of antiques dealers and many geisha homes.
KAWARAMACHI: This is my favorite shopping street in town; the destination that we all aspire to. This main drag bisects Shinjo and leads to City Hall and the Okura Hotel. Along the way, there are covered sidewalks on both sides of the street with boutiques, pachinko parlors, cafes, department stores and even a 100 Yen shop.
NISHIJIN: Slightly to the north of the main action, this district was once the textile area of town. The touted Nishijin Textile Center is a glorified TT, although the kimono fashion show was fun. There are no tiny little ateliers making or dying fabrics. For vintage kimonos, go to the antiques district. The location is not in a strolling around part of town but you are a short walk from the Imperial Palace.
KYOTO STATION: The modern station home of the bullet train has box lunches for sale and scads of souvenir shops. Buy your green tea KitKat bars here. Station shopping is so good that you may enjoy this more than Tokyo.
NISHIKI MARKET : Central ‘downtown’ location for this marketplace which is like an enclosed mall with a colored glass ceiling. There are raw foodstuffs and ingredients, mostly are in artistic poses…such as piles of rice that look like a magazine spread. Many stalls and cafes for eating; no yucky smells.
SHINMONZEN : Street on edge of Gion devoted to older houses turned into art galleries and antiques shops. Very picturesque. Stores closed on Mondays.
SHINKYOGOKU: Arcade running behind Shijo’s main shopping street— something like a mall, filled with boutiques, eats, multiples, a few 100 Yen Shops and lotsa fun. Don’t miss it.
SHIJO / SHIN-OHASHI: You could call this the high street or the main shopping street, on both sides of the river. Shin-Ohashi is the bridge leading to Gion. There are stores on the eastern side (Gion side)—this is incredible shopping in terms of tiny shops with gourmet foodstuffs and boutiques of local designer fashions. Shijo dead-ends at the Yasaka Temple (a must-do) and is possibly the most important shopping thoroughfare in Kyoto. On the western edge, you find your basic ‘downtown’ shopping with all the big department stores and banks.
MY FAVORITE STORES IN KYOTO
I am hindered here by not being able to read some of the addresses I have on cards—this is especially true for the little bitty shops in Gion and the marvelous food stores on Shinjo Street on the way to Yasaka Temple.
LOFT, KAWARAMACHI: A department store devoted to young looks and hot merchandise, this is a good source for gifts, gadgets, unique items, designer masking tape; there’s a branch of Uniqlo in the store also. Loft has stores all over Japan; it is a division of Seibu.
TAKASHIMAYA, SHIJO-KAWARAMACHI: At the crossroads of the major shopping district, this department store has everything you need and want but isn’t so large as to make you nuts. In the ground floor accessories department you’ll find various brands you don’t know as well as small scarves and wonderful accessories. The makeup department is large and complete.
MEIDI-YA: An international supermarket something like Whole Foods; also in Tokyo.
Incense Prayer Store: It has a name, but who can read it? Not me! This chic, stunning store sells only incense. What makes it so special is the small shrine built into the rear of the store. On Shinjo Street in the Gion section.