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Walking Route

Shisen-do, Manshu-in & Shugaku-in
Sanjusangen-do Temple to Gion
Chushojima and Fushimi
Kamigamo Shrine area
Old Capital Walking

Sanjusangen-do Temple to Gion

This jaunt will take you through a particularly dense concentration of traditional life - craft workshops, small merchant residences, quiet temples - as well as a neon night town. No great amount of distance is involved, but there is much to absorb, so allow yourself the best part of a day. You'll find good gifts here, too.

The walking starts from The Kyoto National Museum. If you start walking in the late morning, you will have had time to look inside the museum, and at the 1,001 Buddhist statues of Sanjusangen-do Temple across the road, too.

From the southwest corner of the Museum grounds, head north to Toyokuni (or Hokoku) Shrine. Here is the 16th century tomb of Hideyoshi Toyotomi (1537-1598), the rough-hewn warlord who was nevertheless popular in Kyoto. Indeed, much of the present shape of the city is the result of his planning.

Running west from the shrine is a short street. At the end of the street is a clapboard post office, one of the last of the distinctive civic projects of the Meiji period (1868-1912). Follow the local streets north and east from here until you can see a red brick building (a rarity in Kyoto) with ivy climbing up the walls. Now the Kansai Tailor KK clothing company, it marks your entry into the pottery district. If you are lost, anyone around here can put you back on course in as much time as it takes to say "Kawai Kanjiro." Kawai (1890-1966) was the most celebrated local ceramicist, and his house, a wonderful museum of his works, is a must-see. (Open 10:00-17:00, closed Mondays). The pottery store next door has a changing selection of excellent works, too.

Coming north out of the Kawai Kanjiro's House (passing an important kiln on your way) you will quickly reach the main east-west thoroughfare of Gojo. Gojo was once one of the main roads bringing visitors into Kyoto, mentioned often in local literature and lore. Now it is a noisy city road, which in the first week of every August becomes a colorful potters' market as craftsmen set up booths on either side of the street, selling their wares well into the night.

Walk west along Gojo until the first traffic signal, where Yamato-oji Street crosses Gojo, going north. You'll see a tea store at the corner selling quality tea from Uji, a district in the southeast of Kyoto. Cross Gojo here. The design of the large, modern building (Manju-do) on the north side of the street shows a rare attempt to match the architectural flavor of the district. There is a pleasant cafe inside, and it's about time for tea.

The walk from here north east to the temple of Rokuhara Mitsu-ji Temple is a little crooked, so ask a local. At this temple there is an incredible, almost shocking, statue of the priest Kuya (903-972), with tiny Buddha figurines floating from his mouth. Kuya was one of the more spectacular characters in Kyoto history. When he recited sutras on a boat on the Kamo River in 963 (to music, no less), many of the passing beggars were said to have attained enlightenment on the spot. The temple closes to visitors at 17:00, and by the time you leave it should be getting dark, a lovely hour to be wandering in south Gion.

Keep drifting north along any street to Yasui Konpira-gu Shrine with its ema museum, where thousands of these little wooden votive tablets are displayed, then west, crossing a few congested streets, till you reach the pedestrians-only Miyagawa-cho lane, one of Kyoto's five Flower Town districts where maiko and geiko live and work. Keep drifting north to Shijo Street, which you'll reach somewhere near the Minamiza theater.

Cross Shijo and walk north along the same street you were following before the bath (the name of the street changes here from Yamato-oji to Nawate). If your timing is good, it will be early evening and the streets of Gion will be coming alight with neon. On the east side of Yamato-oji, two streets north of Shijo, there is a Japanese-style restaurant called Kappa. For something completely different, walk about a minute further north until you see a cobbled street leading off to the right. At the corner restaurant, stop for some okonomiyaki, often referred to as "Japanese pizza." The interior of the restaurant must be seen rather than described.

Continue slowly east along the flagstone street (catching glimpses of the high-class bars across the little river through their bamboo blinds) until it meets another narrow lane in a V. There is a shrine at the apex, and facing it is gallery/bar Nex'us. Step inside for a drink - it's very Kyoto!