Bars in Kyoto

flag of Equador

Juan VACA (Equador)


Juan Vaca(second from right)

 Photo by Christopher Petterson

My first experience with life in Kyoto wasn't quite as rosy as that of most foreigners who come here for the first time. When most people in my native Ecuador think of Japan, they think of it as though it were an alien planet, and considering the cultural differences, it might as well be. Although I was already living on my own before coming to Kyoto, I still had my family who checked up on me every week or so and took care of any important matters for me, so I wasn’ t exactly what you would call “independent". Coming to live here in Japan was a big step for me.

So when most other people could be fantasizing about cherry blossoms, temples, geishas and so on, I was sick with worry about more mundane matters. The thoughts that went through my mind were like these: “How will I pay my rent?” “How much will I have to spend each week on food and transportation?” “What if I run out of money?” “What do I do if I get lost?” among many other thoughts. But the one thing that probably worried me most was whether or not I would be able to integrate, make friends, and not end up becoming isolated and lonely. I am not very gregarious to begin with, and so I was very afraid of socializing in a country where people are almost completely different than in the place I've lived all my life. Interestingly, since then I've found many similarities that surprised me!

After getting over the initial shock, I set up a goal for myself to actually go out, meet people, and practice my Japanese at the same time. In Ecuador, going to bars wasn't really something I was interested in, but a big part of that was the sad fact that stumbling out of a bar while drunk in the middle of the night is just one of the many ways one could get robbed or worse. This is not at all the case in Kyoto, and since I am the type who is always wanting to try out things that I could never do back home, I went out of my apartment one evening to see what sort of entertainment the night life of Kyoto had to offer.

Clubs and the like were out of the question for me; aside from the fact that I don't like dancing and loud music all that much, from my experience, those places in Japan are meant for people who already have their own group of friends, and who aren't really interested in meeting new people. Bars, on the other hand, are much better places to socialize, as simply sitting next to another person and having a few drinks provides a more relaxed atmosphere in which others are more willing to having a talk with someone they've just met.

As for the places I would recommend, one of my favorite hangouts is “F.S.N. Bar", owned and run by a French man. It has quite a diverse crowd of people from many nations, and there are many Japanese as well. It is located on the west side of Kiyamachi Street, south of Shijo Street. There's also “Clantz", a “game bar” where you use video game consoles while you drink, located on the streets Takoyakushi and Tominokoji. And last, there is “Otro Mundo", at the intersection of Chiekoin and Marutamachi Streets; the owner is a Japanese man who has travelled throughout Latin America, so the place has a very Hispanic feel to it.

But there really are many other nice places besides the ones I have mentioned, and I strongly encourage you to simply go out one night and drift from bar to bar until you find some place that suits you personally, just like I did. Kiyamachi Street is probably the best place to start, but you can find many more bars just about anywhere in Kyoto. Finally, and this is just my preference, but I like the smaller bars more than the big, franchise-owned pubs. The cozier a bar feels, the easier it is to talk to the person next to you.

And do not think for one second that you need to have some sort of special talent for meeting people in order to do all this. I am as introverted as can be, and if I did it, then anyone can!

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Leave your modesty at the air port!
  (Let's go to the sento!)


When we moved to Kyoto, one of my friends invited me to go to a sento. Having no idea what a sento was, a quick search on Google explained that a sento was a public bath, just like they had in ancient Rome. A little nervous at the idea of sharing anything with strangers, let alone while naked, my friend told me they were, like all things Japanese, very clean and an absolut must. We later found out that, up until the 1970's, most Japanese houses were built without bathtubs or showers, so the sento was, and for many still is, vital to daily life. Since moving to Kyoto, I have tried a few small, local baths, and one “super sento ” which has extended services, including a restaurant, sauna, massages, and other available spa treatments.

Some sento even have an electrified bath. These small one-person tubs are equipped with two panels that pass an electric current through the water. When you stand between the panels, the electric current zaps your muscles, causing them to contract and release. Usually the only people who use the “electric” baths are obachan (older Japanese women) who have no fear and are certainly not afraid of a little electricity.

For as little as 410 yen , you can spend time relaxing in the baths, chatting with friends, and washing your cares and stress away. Although sento in Kyoto are generally gender-segregated, the separation wall never seems to go all the way to the ceiling, so you can often sit and listen in on the daily gossip of the opposite sex.

If you are in the Kyoto area and looking to try a public bath, Nishiki-Yu is an excellent choice. Located just outside the Nishiki Market, it is open to foreigners and locals alike. Be prepared to bare it all while you rub elbows with some of Kyoto's finest!

Megan Roberts

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To the markets of Kyoto, okoshiyasu(please come!)

Every month a variety of markets are held in Kyoto; on this occasion, I went to the Hyakumanben Chionji handicraft market(

Chionji Handicraft Market

Its location is about a 10-minute walk from Keihan Demachiyanagi station, across the street from the Kyoto University campus, on the grounds of the Chionji (Temple). The Chionji Temple is one of 7 head temples of the Jodo sect (※1) of Buddhism. It is a pioneer handicraft market in Kyoto, and has been held continuously for about 20 years. It is held on the 15th of every month, from 8:00 am to dusk. Because it is a popular market, some items are sold out by the early afternoon. On the other hand, it is rumored that bargains start around noon, so I went there at 11:00 am.

Unfortunately, it was raining, and because it was a Saturday, the streets were very crowded. I saw many people taking home big bags of goods, so I became very hopeful to also buy many interesting things. Passing under the South Gate, over 450 tents were set up within the temple grounds; foods, crafts, accessories, clothing and so on, were all on sale.

At first, I was interested in the food stalls. Pickled vegetables, boiled and dried baby sardines, pastries, sweets, smoked meat and cheese, there was a wide variety of options available. I chose a muffin that was recommended by another exhibitor. The muffins were so big, you could eat and eat and never finish. Although muffins are usually 300 yen, due to the rainy weather, the price dropped to 200. I was very lucky! There were also many pottery stalls; it was interesting to see that each ceramic artist had a unique style. I found a nice vase and tried to get a discount on it; I bargained the price down from 900 yen to 800. There were no other people bargaining, so it seemed that most people buy at list price.

At one tent, a man was selling picture books of his own paintings. One of the stories was about the great adventures of a squirrel, a robot and a dog in Thailand. It had English and Japanese bilingual notations, and it looked very interesting.

Chionji handicraft market

Under the eaves of the temple, you can avoid the rain and have a coffee break. Sometimes sutra recitations can be heard from the temple; it makes the market all the more charming. In addition, chopsticks, chairs, bags and cutlery were available. There were so many things I wanted to buy... Being able to shop while chatting with the maker is also attractive. If you start a new life in Kyoto, you can get miscellaneous goods for daily use at the market.

There are other typical markets in Kyoto, such as the Toji Temple Koubouichi (Koubousan), held every month on the 21st; over 1,200 stalls are set up, and close to 200,000 people visit.( is one of the most popular markets in Kyoto, known especially for the nearly 150 stalls of antiques there, and many collectors come early in the morning. A plant market, with a great variety of offerings, is also a highlight of this event.

The Kitano-Tenmangu Shrine Tenjinichi (Tenjinsan) is a market held every month on the 25th. Over 1,000 stalls full of old furniture, pottery, and antiques are open, and people can also enjoy a special confection from a famous shop. ( It is so much fun to shop at the markets of Kyoto!

※1: Jodo (Pure Land), a Japanese Buddhist sect. Its head temple is Chion-in, located in Kyoto.

KAWAI Midori

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Koryo Museum of Art
 (Cultural exchange between Japan and the Korean Peninsula)

The Koryo Museum of Art

Photo 1

Since ancient days, Japan has been receptive to overseas cultures; there has been cultural exchange through sea routes between Japan and the Asian continent, primarily China and the Korean Peninsula. Chinese written characters and Buddhism both made their way to Japan from across the sea. Furthermore, the Silk Road, which connected east and west Asia, created commerce and cultural influences. Glass craft works, such as cups and vases, were brought from Persia to Japan and are stored in Nara, in a storehouse of Shoso-in Temple. Since before the Nara Period, the culture of the Asian continent came to Japan, by envoys dispatched to and from the Sui and Tang Dynasties of China.

However, exchanges with the Korean Peninsula were more frequent than with China. Many people migrated across the sea to Japan and settled here. They brought many special skills, including flood control, architecture, agriculture, and even the establishment of a system of administration. Specifically, they contributed to the construction of Nagaoka-kyo in 784 and Heian-kyo in 794.

The Koryo Museum of Art

Photo 2

The Koryo Museum of Art (photo 1, in the Kita Ward of Kyoto city is a unique museum in Japan where 1700 pieces of arts and crafts are housed. In the 1970's, the exchanges between Japan and the Korean Peninsula were researched with the support of writers SHIBA Ryotaro and OKABE Itsuko, and historian Emeritus Professor of Kyoto University UEDA Masaaki. Altogether they wrote 50 reports. The late Mr. JEONG Jomun founded the Koryo Museum in 1988. In an interview with his granddaughter LEE Soo-hae, she said that he came from the Korean Peninsula and desired the unification of his homeland. She added that in the Koryo period, the Peninsula was unified and peaceful. She hopes that this will not be forgotten.

The Koryo Museum of Art frequently holds exhibitions of pottery (photo 2), calligraphy, furniture, and Buddhist arts. They showcase collections that have, directly or indirectly, some connection with the Korean Peninsula. From April 5 to June 29, an exhibition of “Goryeo jade-green celadon and Korean white porcelain” will be held. The Goryeo celadon works are very highly regarded, and can be found exhibited in famous museums worldwide. Don't miss this!

*Koryo, in this article, refers to the Goryeo Dynasty which ruled from the 10th to the 14th century. It is also the root of the word “Korea”.

FURUTA Tomiyoshi

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New and Traditional Ways of Flower Arrangement


There are many people learning flower arrangement (ikebana) in Kyoto. Their reasons for learning are different: one person likes flowers; one wants give glory to a room, and one want to make it their work. It is said that flower arrangement was started 500 years ago. How have the flower arrangement techniques been passed on while lifestyles have changed with the times? I took a trial lesson in a flower arrangement classroom.


I tried free style arrangement; this has no rules governing the arrangement, and the style emphasizes the characters of the plants and vases. The first set of materials was matched to the Festival of Doll's (Hina Matsuri (※1)) of March 3rd. The components of this flower arrangement seemed to represent hina dolls by branches of peach blossoms and by tulips. Flower arrangements consist of three elements: line (sen), surface (men) and mass (katamari). I put branches of the peach blossoms in each end for the vertical lines. I cleared the central area and put in two tulips for the hina dolls (※2). In the space at the bottom, I put in some flowers and ferns for mass. The artistic idea was conveyed through lines and mass, and the arrangement for the Festival of Doll's was completed.

For the next composition, I used Barberton Daisies and long rushes. Since the rushes were long with thin stems, I used them to create a modern arrangement. They accented the vertical lines and made for a stylish artwork appropriate for living room.

In Japan, architecture changes steadily. We used to display a flower arrangement in a big vase in the alcove of a traditional Japanese room or at an entrance. These days we consider the limited space of a room and put flowers in small dishes. It always comes down to arranging flowers creatively. The work of creating flower arrangement is a technique from 500 years earlier. Flower arrangement in Japan today may be said to be a fusion of new and traditional.

※1: Hina Matsuri(Festival of Dolls)is celebrated on the 3rd of March by families with daughters.
※2: Hina dolls are used in the Hina Matsuri to decorate a room; primarily, two dolls represent a young married noble couple.


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kokoka news * * kokusai koryu kaikan news

For Parents and Children in Kyoto:
koko Kids A new program starting in April 2014

Kids Learning Support: We will support your kids in their classroom, homework and Japanese language studies. Tea breaks and playtimes will make their learning easier and more fun.

Support for Raising Your Kids: We support your life here while raising kids and making new friends in Japan.

Friendly Events for Parents and Children: We will hold several events, such as hiking, for promoting communication between parents and their children.

◆Schedule: 1st and 3rd Saturday of every month, 15:30 - 17:00
◆Eligibility: children (between 6 and 15 years old) whoes parent/parents is/are non-Japanese, including children of Japanese returnees and their parents
◆Fee: free, no reservation required
◆Location: kokoka Kyoto International Community House, 3rd Floor, Volunteer Room
◆TEL: 075-752-3511

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Library Letter - Kyoto International community House Library

kokoka recommends this book

Over 1,000 Japanese Kanji and Kana Mnemonics”


Written by Michael Rowley
Published by Stone Bridge Press, 1992

The Japanese language has three kinds of characters, called hiragana, katakana and, and you may be struggling to learn them.

How about tryng to capture the images of the kanji with the help of this book?

The book introduces hiragana, katakana and kanji characters with humorous illustrations that provide a visualization of each character. It also provides readings in romaji (Latin characters excpressing Japanese pronunciation), as well as meanings and example sentences.

If you can't remember the stroke order of those kanji, don't worry! You will be fine if you think of the illustration, and you’ll be able to write them without any hesitation

Once you have learned some kanji,

Once you have learned some kanji, you can take a look at phrases which include them. From the book ”’Body’ Language” (Kodansha International, 1990), you can learn such expressions as “ashi wo h ak obu” (to visit certain places) or “chi ga sawagu” (tingle with excitement). You may impress the people around you by using these phrases. The book comes as a part of the “Power Japanese” series, which includes books titled “Basic Connections” and “Strange But True”; these all have explanations in both Japanese and English.

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Volunteer members of this issue

Members and Collaborators

AZUMA Keiko / Daniel SETTELEN / FURUTA Tomiyoshi / IKUTA Minoru / Karl JANSMA / KANAYA Chinami / KAWAI Midori / Megan ROBERTS / Kevin ROBERTS / NAKAGAWA Satomi / OHARA Manabu / OKAMOTO Yuko / SUZUKI Hidetoshi / SUZUKI Shoichiro / TOMITA Minori / YEH Tzuju / WU Yingxue / YAMASHITA Motoyo / YUZAWA Kimio / Michiru ONIZUKA / Juan VACA

Editor of this WEB page

KANAYA Chinami

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