Higashiyama District (東山区)

Sunday, 7 January 2018

Visiting the charming Higashiyama District (東山区) is a must for those who want to experience old Kyoto and what was once the capital city of Japan. Lined with boutique shops, cafés, restaurants housed in traditional wooden buildings, I think it was an absolutely wonderful experience walking through the historic streets of Higashiyama and I wished we had spent more time there.

Higashiyama is a hilly area filled with narrow lanes, so do take your time to explore the area. Ideally, I would suggest spending the whole day there. We were in Higashiyama three times during our time in Kyoto: on route to Kiyomizudera Temple (清水寺); another time during in the evening to take photos in our kimonos; and a third time at noon to do some café hopping and shopping. In Japan, there are many attractions where you have to visit twice because it looks so beautiful during daylight and evening hours. Higashiyama is definitely one of them.

Photographed above and below respectively, Ninenzaka (二年坂) and Sannenzaka (三年坂) are two of the best preserved streets of Higashiyama—a must visit for photographers. I couldn't stop snapping away with my camera!

As much as I wanted to do some café hopping in Higashiyama, there was only so much we could drink in a span of a few hours (unlike water). All in all, we visited two cafés: % Arabica Kyoto and Starbucks.

Located just down the road from Hokanji Temple (法観寺), % Arabica Kyoto is a very sleek coffee shop unlike the older buildings in the area. However, it fits so well with the architecture outside because its creates a beautiful contrast of modern and traditional buildings. (Oh how I wished to took a photo of the store outside!) The head barista is Junichi Yamaguchi, the latte-art world champion in 2014, and due his large following on Instagram, the coffee shop was filled with people when we arrived.

We ordered their "house specialty" (honestly, I don't know why), which was apparently a shot of espresso. I like drinking coffee, but neither Sharon or I are coffee enthusiasts so we did not enjoy the coffee at all. We should've bought a simple ice coffee instead because the shot was way too bitter for us.

In mid 2017, Starbucks opened its doors in a two-storey traditional Japanese tea house and being the world's first and only Starbucks with tatami flooring and noren curtains, I knew we just had to go. Unfortunately, we didn't find any space to sit on the tatami mat flooring, but we did manage to find some cushioned benches by a window with a view of Ninenzaka. For obvious reasons, most people wanted to sit on the tatami flooring, but there are also tables and chairs available for customers as well. The stairs and hallways are very narrow, and the unisex toilet is tiny—and there was only one toilet! (Though, I'm not sure whether there was one downstairs.) I ordered ordered a soy bean latte (SO GOOD!) while Sharon ordered a yuzu tea.

If you're fan of Studio Ghibli, you will also find Donguri Republic (どんぐり共和国) just a few shops down from Starbucks. We spent about an hour there, and both Sharon and I managed to buy a few items as souvenirs. And of course, we didn't leave the store without taking a photo with Totoro! ;)

While we were walking away from the main tourist area of Higashiyama District, we came across Zenkyoan (禅居庵), a temple devoted to a boar God. Located about 10 minutes away from Ninenzaka (walking distance), the temple has many statues of boars/pigs and lanterns hanging from the temple roofs. When we visited, it was very quiet with only two other tourists around. A really nice break from all the main tourist attractions with lots of people.

Even though we were in the Higashiyama District three times, I don't think we really explored all the narrow streets and lanes of the area. By arriving at noon and with the sun setting fast in autumn/winter, we couldn't really stay for longer past 5:00pm. Therefore, if you wish to get the most of Higashiyama, I'd advise you to go earlier in the morning around 9:00am and spend your day there.

% Arabica Kyoto (アラビカ キョウト)
87-5 Hoshino-cho, Higashiyama Ward, Kyoto 605-0853
605-0853 京都市 東山区星野町87-5

Starbucks Coffee Ninenzaka Yasaka Tea Parlour (スターバックス コーヒー 京都二寧坂ヤサカ茶屋店)
349 Masuyacho, Higashiyama Ward, Kyoto 605-0826
605-0826 京都市 東山区 高台寺南門通下河原東入桝屋町349

Donguri Republic Ninenzaka Store (どんぐり共和国 二寧坂店)
363-22-2 Masuyacho, Higashiyama Ward, Kyoto 605-0826
605-0826 京都市 東山区 高台寺桝屋町 363-22-2

Zenkyoan (禅居庵)
4 Josagaruchome, Komatsucho, Higashiyama Ward, Kyoto 605-0811
605-0811 京都市 東山区 大和町大路四条下4小松

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