Kyoto—a city where each area is colored by unique culture and history. Many guidebooks speak of Kyoto’s charms, but they don’t tell the whole story. It’s the unexpected surprises and discoveries that ensure you will never forget your trip here. Plenty of unknown, hidden spots still await those who venture out to see for themselves.
This time, we’ll be introducing the Fushimi Momoyama area, a part of town known for water and sake south of Kyoto Station. One of the famous places found here is the Teradaya Inn. This former sailors’ inn has a connection to Sakamoto Ryoma, an important figure in Japanese history who was fiercely dedicated to Japan’s modernization in the 1860s. Our guide around this area will be Kazuki Mori. Kazuki runs a yakiniku (grilled meat) shop on Ryomadori Shopping Street, named after Sakamoto Ryoma, and he is the director of the Ryomadori Shopping Street Promotion Association.
Our tour guide: Kazuki Mori
Kazuki runs Nikusho Moritsuru, the yakiniku restaurant that he opened on Ryomadori Shopping Street in 2016. He originally opened it to continue Moritsuru, a butcher shop on Takedakaido Street near Ryomadori Shopping Street which had been run by his relative. This butcher shop had been in operation for over 100 years since 1888. Although it had long been operating in this area, Moritsuru might have closed if left as it was because there was no successor to continue the business.
Kazuki tells us that “Since this was such a beloved local shop that the older locals even added ‘-san’ to its name and called it ‘Moritsuru-san,’ it would have been awful to see it disappear.” (“-san” is a Japanese honorific title typically added to end of people’s names.) Kazuki had lived in Fushimi until around elementary school, but his father then moved the family away from the area, and Kazuki later worked in his father’s company in Kyoto City which manufactured bags. He even established and managed a new bag brand, so he experienced first-hand how difficult it can be to keep a brand going. He wondered if there was a way to protect the Moritsuru name while continuing the bag company’s current business, so he launched a restaurant business division within the company and opened a yakiniku restaurant that would use meat from the butcher shop, bringing us to the present day.
Characteristics of the Fushimi Momoyama area
The Fushimi Momoyama area has been popular for sake brewing since olden times thanks to its high-quality water. In the years from 1603 to 1868, commonly referred to as the Edo period, the flowing canals in this area were used for transporting goods and water transport flourished. Also prosperous as a port town and post town where travelers could rest on their journeys, retail shops handling goods such as food, clothing and daily sundries lined these streets and are said to have developed into the shopping street that we see today. The Teradaya Inn, one of the sailors’ inns where Sakamoto Ryoma stayed, burned down in the 1868 Battle of Toba-Fushimi. It was later reconstructed as a lingering reminder of Sakamoto Ryoma, a figure beloved by the Japanese people, and it is still a popular spot that evokes thoughts of the turbulent days of that transitional period.
This area underwent significant development into a commercial shopping area. It has been reconstructed using scenes from the past, such as by using stone monuments, lingering as reminders of the many people who came and went here from olden times, as cobblestones in the shopping streets. When Kazuki visited five years ago, he didn’t feel that the streets were yet as lively as they have now become. Many people had turned to the large-scale shopping malls that had opened in recent years and smaller retailers had closed one after another without anyone to carry on their business. However, Kazuki opening his restaurant led to more new shops opening gradually, and now new shops coexist with those holding over 100 years of history. This has created a new community here. Kazuki says that “I wanted this to be a restaurant that locals would love. If not, I’m certain we wouldn’t get customers from overseas either.” Because Kazuki didn’t live here for his entire childhood, there are things he can see clearly thanks to his time away. He showed us around the present shopping street, introducing the area from his perspective.
It’s not the things but the people that give this shopping street its charm
A five-minute walk from Keihan Chushojima Station. Cross Horai Bridge over a small river and you’ll see a collection of buildings in the style of traditional Kyoto machiya townhouses. This is Ryomadori Shopping Street with 23 shops covering two blocks, including general merchandise stores selling clothes, shops selling vegetables, alcohol and pickles, as well as restaurants. Kazuki says “People are what create this shopping street.” He turns his camera’s viewfinder to the store owner of the over 100-year-old Tanaka Tsukemonoten pickle shop, and to the shopkeeper who runs produce shop Fujiwaraya. These are just a few of the people supporting this shopping street. Kazuki says that “People are warm here at this shopping street. They’ll speak to anyone in a friendly manner. I’d like many different people to experience the warmth of the people here.” And just as he says, anyone we speak to answers us with a kind expression on their face.
There are shops here that haven’t changed and have been operating since the olden days of this area, but there are also many shops forced to close due to lacking a successor. However, the establishment of Kazuki’s restaurant here prompted more new shops to open in this area. These new shops have even been decorated to suit the retro atmosphere of the streets, protecting the historical atmosphere of the scene.
Old and new coexist, creating new interactions
Kazuki says that “The number of new shops is increasing lately, but everyone on the street feels like family.” One of these newly built shops, Yamorido, features Yasumoto Chaho, a specialty Japanese tea vendor, in addition to being a store that serves craft beer. Originally, Yasumoto Chaho sold Japanese tea here independently, but the shop was struggling to continue without a successor. However, a company from Tokyo involved in brewery facilities was eager to use this building to create a shop where customers could enjoy beer, and so a new method of coexistence was achieved where the shops are operated together.
Once closed shutters are also reopening with other new shops previously unseen in the area, such as Don Ciccio where you can enjoy authentic Neapolitan pizza. The area is rapidly becoming increasingly lively as the locals engage in close communication with newcomers. Lately, there are more chances for shop workers to naturally interact thanks to opportunities like new gourmet events involving the shopping street, and this is really becoming a shopping street with a friendly, family-like vibe.
It only takes around 10 minutes to walk from one end of the shopping street to the other. However, by asking about the history of the shops and letting your imagination take flight while walking around and enjoying meeting people, you can experience a lifestyle here that has been passed down over many years and still lives on today.
Author: Kazuyo Inui
Ryomadori Shopping Street as seen through Kazuki’s eyes