An evening stroll down the cobblestone streets of Sannenzaka, Ninenzaka, and Ishibe-koji
As the streets of this area lead to the famous Kiyomizu-dera Temple, they are usually bustling with people; however, once the temple closes, the streets clear out and go quiet.
(Temple closing time: July/August: 18:30. August 14 to 16: Special evening event closing time: 21:00).
During summer it's still relatively light, and you can still see the road clearly until around 7:30 PM, so this area is perfect for a stroll after dinner or in between drinks.
In this part, we'd like to introduce everyone to a route that leads from the famous Kiyomizu-dera Temple down to the central Yasaka Shrine. This area of Sannenzaka, Ninenzaka, and Ishibe-koji, and its beautiful scenery is designated under and preserved by Japan's "Important Preservation Districts for Groups of Traditional Buildings" category of historic preservation.
Enjoy a solemn and profound sense of history as you stroll down these cobblestone streets lined with buildings from an age gone by.
This historical cobblestone paved, sloped street is roughly 100 meters long and houses Kyoto Machiya townhouses built in both the Edo (1600s–late 1800s) and Meiji (late 1800s–early 1900s) periods.
One theory says that the name comes from the street’s origins as a passageway for those heading to Kiyomizu-dera Temple’s Koyasu Pagoda to pray for safe childbirth.
People would pray that their birth, Osan, would go peacefully, so the name came to have the Chinese character for birth (産) in it.
Another theory believes that the name originates in the street being used by patrons returning from the Kiyomizu-dera Temple and the year in which it was built, Daidō Era 03 (San)
You will see this five-storied pagoda after making your way down Sannenzaka. The roofs of the surrounding Machiya townhouses and old street lamps give the area its beloved atmosphere.
The continuous plaster and wood walls and lack of signage make this street elegant and beautifully photogenic. The wood grain and colors of the walls also give a sense of the passage of time.
Japanese tiled roofs
Tiled roofs are one of the defining characteristics of Japanese architecture. These tiles were built to be sturdy and thick to keep out the rain but nowadays have come to give off a solemn and dignified atmosphere. In addition, the differing texture from the plaster and wood walls below further the traditional charm of the buildings.
Facing the pagoda, you’ll see a path to your right; that will be Ninenzaka.
This street made waves in recent years for being home to the popular coffee shop, Starbuck’s Tatami bamboo mat floored location.
There is also a superstition that if you trip on Ninenzaka, you will die within the next two (ni) years. This superstition comes from the fact that people did not want others to trip and fall down the stone steps.
The wooden facades that line Ninenzaka have braved wind and rain for their entire long lives, which has led to their now charming weathered appearance. In addition, the facades have not been painted with any colored material in order to utilize the natural beauty of the wood and other material used.
The color of each building and each slat vary from one another, allowing you to get a glimpse of the builder and owner behind the buildings.
Developed as a residential area at the end of the Meiji Era, this small alleyway is now home to inns, restaurants, and bars. Due to its incredibly Kyoto-esque atmosphere, this street has also become the set of a number of Japanese TV shows and movies. Due to recent disturbances in the area, now photography is allowed down the street, so we decided to respect their wishes and not take any photos. Although you can’t take photos, take a stroll down the street and enjoy the sound of bird calls and the light that streams out of the various restaurants that line the street.
As you make your way down the street you will come to what seem like sudden dead ends. If you cautiously make your way closer, you will see that there is actually a bend in the road at the street continues on. When you run into these charming wee sections of the road, you’ll find yourself letting out an unconscious “Woah” as you realize what just happened.
You could say that this is one of the most worthwhile parts of seeing this street yourself in person. Sometimes you also run into actual dead ends, which gives this street a maze-like vibe and makes it a fun place to explore.
Red brick walls
As you make your way down the street, you’ll come across a western-style red brick wall.
This western style wall stands out among the atmosphere of the surrounding Japanese architecture; however, for some reason, it doesn’t feel out of place. Instead, the Japanese cobblestone and red bricks work in harmony with one another and give off a unique atmosphere, something very characteristic of the early 1900s Taishō Era.
From Ishibe-koji, aim for the stone Torri gate and begin heading north to find yourself at Yasaka Shrine. From there you can head down to the Gion District for a drink or continue your walk in the Maruyama Park. Either way, we’ve still got tons of ways to enjoy summer nights in Kyoto in the following parts of this feature.