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Where Mysterious Power Resides

Discover unique architecture, culture and people

A low, ship-shaped hill on the northwest side of Kyoto, called ''Funaokayama,'' is rarely mentioned in guidebooks. Yet, this hiddengem is a must-see in terms of Kyoto's history. It is also one of the city's most interesting places for a stroll.

Funaokayama, which is recognized as a place with mysterious power, was the geographic starting point when the Imperial government decided to establish a new capital in Kyoto. The hill itself was also designated as one of the four critical directions: Since the 8th-Century, Funaokayama has been the guardian of the north, protecting the city from evil spirits.

At the top of the hill, a boulder (called Iwakura) juts upward, and the area was worshipped as a sacred place since ancient times. During the medieval era, it was also one of the major battlefields during the Onin Civil War (1467-1477.)

Today, many traditional machiya (old houses) stand side-by-side along narrow streets, evoking a picturesque, nostalgic atmosphere. The area is usually free of crowds and is highly recommended to visit while cycling. This month, KVG features Kuramaguchi Street, which runs along the south side of Funaoakayama Hill. Discover mystery and fun in Funaokayama!

Sarasa Nishijin

Sarasa Nishijin is a popular cafe that has been loved by locals and tourists for 16 years. The manager fell in love with an abandoned public bathhouse whose interior and exterior were decorated with fabulous Majolica tiles, and decided to revive the fantastic old building as a cafe. After a full-scale renovation, the cafe emerged as an open and light-filled space that utilizes remnants of the old public bath. Today, the old bathtubs are kept under the floor, and visitors will find many other relics from the time when locals gathered and enjoyed taking baths here.

A couple of set lunch choices are available every day, as well as a variety of drinks, from coffee to alcohol. The owner says, ''I feel like this cafe space is like a theatrical stage, and I enjoy creating new stories with each customer every day. I hope customers will feel the good-old-days of a Japanese public bathhouse come alive.''

Open: 12:00-23:00 (L.O. 22:00); Closed only on the final Wed. of the month; cafe-sarasa.com/shop_nishijin/

Funaoka Onsen

Originally started as a ryori ryokan (Japanese-style accommodation serving meals) in 1923, Funaoka Onsen also featured a large bath facility. In 1947, it changed to a public bathhouse, which it remains to this day. Both the exterior and interior have exceptionally unique architecture, and the building is registered as a National Tangible Cultural Property as the first and sole public bathhouse in Kyoto.

Visitors will be astounded to see richly decorated ornaments everywhere- sophisticated Majolica tile designs, extensive wood carvings on the ceiling, and more. In contrast, the actual bath is simple and modern. What is surprising is the number of different kind of baths: Herbal, bubble, cypress bathtub, sauna, and more. You will take a while to pick which to enter first! The authentic open-air bath is also a must-try. Experience the classic public bath culture of Japan. They run a guesthouse nearby (only one group per night,) and guests are able to take as many baths at Funaoka Onsen as they wish.

Entry: 430 yen (adults), 150 yen (6-12); Open: Mon.-Sat.: 15:00-25:00; Sun: 8:00-25:00; funaokaonsen.net

Fujino Mori-ryo
Stylish complex of shops in old town houses

Fujino Mori-ryo, an old house that was once a college dormitory, has been reborn as a stylish shopping complex. Currently, nine uniquely renovated shops (glass studio, felt studio, pottery and accessories, etc.) are operated by nine artist-owners. Explore deep inside the old -yet new- style of Kyoto.

Open: 11:00-16:30; Closed irregularly

Sophisticated paper items

As soon as you encounter the display of beautiful paper at the front of the shop, you will be attracted to the sophisticated paper world of Kamisoe. The owner-artist, Mr. Kado, completed an apprenticeship at the long-established Karakami shop in Kyoto, then opened his own shop. Every single item is carefully made by hand- based on traditional methods using woodblocks and delicate colors -in a painstaking process. Letter pads, cards, small envelopes and many other exquisite paper items are available.

Open: 12:00-18:00; Closed: Mon. & irregularly; kamisoe.com

little CHIMO
A palm sized sweet delight

The owner's long-held dream of opening a shop on Kuramaguchi Street came true last October. Her signature item is lovely roll-cake style sweet called ''Chimo Roll.'' Using fine butter cream, the petit cakes are a delight for your eyes and taste buds. Choose from more than 10 flavors. The owner also designed the shop's interior and adorable gift boxes.

Open: 10:00-18:00; Closed: Sun. & irregularly