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Fushimi: A Town Just Waiting for You to Stroll Through It with Someone

Walk the main thoroughfare of any town, and you can feel on your skin the daily life of the friendly locals. The carts of daily specials, the calls of storekeepers, vegetables lined up in front of windows, laughter coming from the open door of a drinking house. In Fushimi, an area known all over the world for its sake, this is especially so. Here you’ll find not only a bevy of sake breweries, but some wonderful places to enjoy Japan’s national drink. There’s a main street reminiscent of the times when main streets meant something, and beyond this, canals that criss-cross the district carrying tiny boats to and fro.

It’s a part of Kyoto, but unlike any Kyoto you have seen before. A town you feel somehow nostalgic about, even the first time you visit. There’s only one Fushimi. You’ll have to visit to find it, but strolling around the town, you most certainly will.

Take a detour from the tourist-jammed streets of the city, and come experience the leisurely-paced lifestyle of Fushimi locals. For starters, here’s a half-day stroll that will take you to another side of Kyoto. The only question remains: who will you walk it with?

Abura-cho

This inviting liquor store stocks over 80 varieties of Japanese sake, including most of Fushimi’s locally-produced brews. But even more notable than its enormous selection is the counter at the back of the store, where customers can drink kikizake— tasting paddles of up to three types of sake. Just inform the store manager of your favorite styles, and he’ll come up with some recommendations for you. All sakes are available for purchase directly from the store. It’s a place where people come for the wonderful sake and conversation, and one popular with locals and foreign tourists alike.

Terada-ya

History buffs shouldn’t miss the Terada-ya Inn, a site of interest not far from Fushimi’s main street. Originally a lodging house for boat crews, this was where revolutionary hero Sakamoto Ryoma was nearly assassinated in 1866, as he stayed at the inn during his campaign against the Tokugawa shogun. There are several conflicting theories as to the authenticity of this building, since the original Teradaya Inn was supposedly burnt down in the Battle of Toba-Fushimi in 1868. The current building is said to be a reconstruction, complete with bullet holes and swords nicks recreated in the wooden door frames to remind visitors of Ryoma’s brush with death.

Gekkeikan Okura Sake Museum

This fascinating museum is run by one of Fushimi’s largest and oldest sake breweries, Gekkeikan, which was founded in 1673. Richly evocative of the town’s history, the museum is housed in a renovated sake storehouse dating from 1909. Discover the wells that provided the quality water for many a famous sake brew, and the array of tools and equipment used by brewers to extract every drop of flavour. Also available, and perfect for souvenirs, are special edition brews from among the countless varieties of Gekkeikan sake.

Scenic canal views from the Benten Bridge on the Hori River

With its network of transportation canals flowing from the mighty Uji River, Fushimi once thrived as a river port town and place of lodging on the doorstep of the ancient capital. From the Benten Bridge it’s possible to catch glimpses of this historic riverside ambience even today. Spring and autumn see the canals teem with boats, and the neighbourhood exudes the bustling atmosphere of a canal town.

Okobu

It might surprise you to learn that Fushimi was also a port town—a river port, that is. During Kyoto’s thousand-year reign as imperial capital, goods and supplies that shipped from all over Japan arrived in the town by boat. One of these foods was dried kelp from Hokkaido, which for over a century has been processed by local merchant, Kitase Konbu. In 2017, the manager of the company opened a cafe and bar next to the store, named Okobu Kitase. The menu is based around home-style obanzai dishes made with kelp stock and paired with local sake. The mainly young clientele enjoy mini-concerts and other regular events.