Around Kiyomizu-dera: Ninen-zaka, Sannen-zaka & Kiyomizu-zaka

One of my favorite areas in Kyoto is the historic Higashiyama district between Yasaka Shrine (八坂神社) and Kiyomizu-dera (清水寺). If you are visiting Yasaka Shrine, it is highly recommended that you take a slow walk through the meandering small historic streets through Ninen-zaka (二年坂), Sannen-zaka (三年坂) and Kiyomizu-zaka (清水坂), before finally reaching Kiyomizu-dera. The distance is definitely not very near, but it is well worth the extra steps as there are pleasant surprises every corner and you will be so distracted that you will forget the distance you have walked! (Trust me. ^^)

We started our walk along the main road from Yasaka Shrine. After walking around 10min (or less), we saw a signboard which pointed us to turn into a small street to get to Kiyomizu-dera.

The first interesting shop which greeted us was a yuba shop. (Yuba is a Kyoto delicacy where soy milk is simmered in a pan till a ‘skin’ forms on the surface. It is then scooped up and eaten in many ways.)

Yuba shop: soy milk simmered till a 'skin' is formed, scooped up and eaten in many ways

Yuba shop: soy milk simmered till a ‘skin’ is formed, scooped up and eaten in many ways

The streets before reaching Ninen-zaka are so quaint and peaceful. This was the quieter area before we reach the bustling touristy parts. Approaching Kiyomizu-dera by this route provides another perk: you will get to pass by Yasaka Pagoda – the symbol of Higashiyama. Find the photo below a familiar sight? This pagoda is frequently featured in the tourist ads for Kyoto! 🙂

Symbol of Higashiyama: Yasaka Pagoda

Symbol of Higashiyama: Yasaka Pagoda

Just next to Yasaka Pagoda, we found an awesome shop which we bought a lot of souvenirs from. This shop provided free embroidery on pretty little towels and handkerchiefs! I bought quite a number of towels from this shop as gifts for my friends and family back home.

Free embroidery on towels: lovely shop

Free embroidery on towels: lovely shop

Customize your own towel or handkerchief by embroidering your name

Customize your own towel or handkerchief by embroidering your name

Aren't the items so adorable? :)

Aren’t the items so adorable? 🙂

The very cute lady shop owner. She was so sweet and she helped translate our names into Japanese names (ie. Vivien = びびあん)

The very cute lady shop owner. She was so sweet and she helped translate our names into Japanese names (ie. Vivien = びびあん)

We ordered so many towels from this shop that we returned to pick up the items only after we were done sightseeing at Kiyomizu-dera!

Great chill-out time

Great chill-out time

As we continued our walk, both sides of the streets were lined with many interesting souvenir shops. It was almost impossible for us to walk more than a few steps before we ducked into another shop! There were many sweet shops as well which sold really interesting stuff like sushi shaped sweets?!

Sushi shaped sweets! Oh so cute!

Sushi shaped sweets! Oh so cute!

More sweets of all shapes and colors

More sweets of all shapes and colors

Another interesting sight in the Higashiyama area is tourists or locals dressing up as maiko. Dressing up as a maiko is known as ‘maiko henshin 舞妓変身’. There are a couple of makeover studios along the streets as well. At first sight, you might really think that you are seeing a real maiko! However at closer sight, you will be able to spot the difference. (A real maiko will be too busy to stroll around on the streets anyway.) I caught a few along the way.

These 'maiko' are from USA and Australia. They were so sporting and posed for the camera. ありがとうございます!

These ‘maiko’ are from USA and Australia. They were so sporting and posed for the camera. ありがとうございます!

Real maiko or not, don't you agree that the kimono and obi they are wearing are so exquisite and beautiful? :)

Real maiko or not, don’t you agree that the kimono and obi they are wearing are so exquisite and beautiful? 🙂

These 2 young Japanese girls were so kind to pose for the camera too :)

These 2 young Japanese girls were so kind to pose for the camera too 🙂

As we walked closer towards Kiyomizu-dera, the quaint old shop buildings gave way to newer looking ones along Kiyomizu-zaka.

Approaching kiyomizu-zaka

Approaching kiyomizu-zaka

There is really so much to eat and see along these streets! Here’s a famous traditional food in Kyoto – Yatsuhashi (八ツ橋). It has a soft, mochi-like texture and is filled with red bean paste.

Various flavors of Yatsuhashi (八ツ橋), a famous Kyoto confectionery

Various flavors of Yatsuhashi (八ツ橋), a famous Kyoto confectionery

Shop specialized in selling Yatsuhashi

Shop specialized in selling Yatsuhashi

There are many shops selling great snacks and I had a happy time munching along the way.

I call this the 'rabbit puff' because of the rabbit picture on the wrapper. I have to eat this every time i come here.

I call this the ‘rabbit puff’ because of the rabbit picture on the wrapper. I have to eat this every time I come here.

IMG_8121 (1)

Crisp outer shell, creamy vanilla filling oozing out

Crisp outer shell, creamy vanilla filling oozing out

Another shop which is a ‘must not miss’ is MALEBRANCHE! Oh man! I love this shop! This shop is famous for selling matcha cat’s tongue or langue de chat. They have an outlet at Kiyomizu-zaka.

Malebranche: delicious matcha cat's tongues (茶の果)

Malebranche: delicious matcha cat’s tongues (茶の果)

Oh so delicate and delicious. Malebranche's take on the french langue de chat cookie.

Oh so delicate and delicious. Malebranche’s take on the french langue de chat cookie.

Kiyomizu special edition packaging

Kiyomizu special edition packaging

More special edition packaging

More special edition packaging

There is seriously so much to see, eat and buy along the streets of Ninen-zaka, Sannen-zaka and Kiyomizu-zaka! Do allocate enough time if you are heading by this area 🙂 As a benchmark, I spent a quite a number of hours just trying to get to the main Kiyomizu temple as I was really distracted by all the above as you can tell. Lol.

And of cause, traveling is all about kicking back your feet and enjoying life. So why not stop by for some matcha parfait and warabi mochi (a jelly like confection) along Kiyomizu-zaka as well? 🙂

Tea time: Warabi mochi with a side bowl of kinako for dipping (soy bean flour), and a beautiful matcha parfait

Tea time: Warabi mochi with a side bowl of kinako for dipping (soy bean flour), and a beautiful matcha parfait

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3 responses to “Around Kiyomizu-dera: Ninen-zaka, Sannen-zaka & Kiyomizu-zaka

  1. aaah….one of my lifetime dreams is to make time to visit japan…and especially kyoto….ive always wanted to visit the old temples you have there, ever since i was a little boy! perhaps providence will make it possible some day!

  2. Hi! I was just wondering if you know what time the shops and restaurants close? Some people said they’re open until night and some are saying they close early. I’m quite confused. We’re planning to go this November and see the fall illumination of the nearby temples at night. So, it’s really more ideal for us to go in the late afternoon or at night. I hope you can help! Thanks in advance!

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