(This article contains affiliate links)
Kyoto is a true heaven when it comes to ceramics hunting, filled with lots of small ceramics shops and workshop - it will be a wonder if you tumblers upon some beautiful ceramics. But still here are some tips.
If you're not traveling to Japan (only dreaming about it), but maybe still love to get your hands on some unique ceramics made in Japan - go here to see our selection.
Kyoto (京都, Kyōto) served as Japan's capital and the emperor's residence from 794 until 1868. It is one of the country's ten largest cities with a population of 1.5 million people and a modern face.
Over the centuries, Kyoto was destroyed by many wars and fires, but due to its exceptional historic value, the city was dropped from the list of target cities for the atomic bomb and escaped destruction during World War II. Countless temples, shrines and other historically priceless structures survive in the city today.
Picture of the beautiful Kinkaku-ji (The Golden Pavillion)
HOW TO GET THERE?
You cannot fly directly to Kyoto, but don't worry it's very easy to travel to Kyoto anyway. Either you can do it by direct train from Tokyo (and at the same time experience a true Shinkansen-ride) or take a train from Osaka, which has an airport and is about one hour away from Central Kyoto by bus. We actually tried both now, and both ways were easy and a very smooth ride.
Tokyo and Kyoto are connected with each other by the JR Tokaido Shinkansen. Nozomi trains require about 140 minutes to reach Kyoto from Tokyo, Hikari trains about 160 minutes and Kodama trains about four hours.
Getting around in Kyoto is also very easy, I always prefer walking around a city, in my humble opinion I believe is the best way to experience and explore. But Kyoto is quite large, so some transportation is needed. :) But no worries here there are local trains, buses, and taxis. Everything is very easy to maneuver. However some taxi-drivers do have some trouble with the English language, so a map, a picture of the location you going or the likes is always a good idea.
WHERE TO STAY?
Kyoto has so many beautiful hotels, Airbnb apartments, and Ryokans (traditional Japanese inns). We have tried some different things, but our favorite stay has been at the RC Hotel. It's the most interesting and cool hotel we stayed at. The hotel is made in a 50 years old concrete building, once used as a residence by local people in Yasaka, Kyoto. The hotel consists of small apartments and is a cool mix between a "private" apartment and a hotel. The hotel is located right next to the Pagoda Yasaka, which is the last remnant of Hokanji Temple, and one of the most visible and recognizable landmarks in the Higashiyama District. A district which a true pleasure to wake up to - and to explore, so many beautiful houses, small gardens, and unique shops (including a lot of small ceramic shops and workshops). See more and book RC Hotel here
Picture of one of the rooms at the RC Hotel.
Picture of view from the rooftop terrace at the RC Hotel.
LET THE CERAMIC HUNT BEGIN
Kyoto is mostly visited to see it's beautiful temples and shrines and they are worth visiting, not only for the sights but also for all the small ceramics shops around temple areas. The areas are quite a tourist magnet, but still, there are some really lovely shops with beautiful and unique ceramics to be found. Remember to get your ceramics gift wrapped even if it's just for yourself - the shops do it so beautiful and it makes the whole experience so much more special.
Kyoto is famous for its 'Kyo Yaki' and 'Kyomizu Yaki' porcelain. The origins of Kyoto pottery can be traced to the 5th century in the area around Kyomizu-dera temple in the Higashiyama hills in the eastern part of Kyoto. In the Muromachi Period (the 14th century) a new technology was imported from China and colors were added to the pottery. A few years later, overglazing techniques were introduced. In the late Edo Period, potters shifted from earthenware to Chinese-style porcelain. Nowadays, Kyoto pottery can be found in a wide variety of tableware, tea utensils, and ornamental objects that come in elegant shapes, graceful design, and pure, intense colors. I've been told, that a good place to buy Kyo Yaki and Kyomizu Yaki should be the Kyoto Handicraft Center located in 21 Entomi-cho Shogo-in Sakyo-ku, Kyoto. All kinds of traditional handicrafts can be found here and more. Another shop dealing with Kyoto pottery is Roku Roku Dou (六々堂) located at 3-342 Kiyomizu, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto. There is a tea ceremony room behind the shop where special exhibitions are held.
Other shops which are on my next visit-list is, Kusaboshi, named after the Japanese name of one star in Plaiades and focuses on everyday use items. Akane, which focuses on the works of contemporary artists who are connected to Kyoto. The collection is based on her taste, feminine and elegant, and suitable for casual use. At Tosai they create their art by combining the elegance of Kyo-yaki and modernity of Tokyo. The essence of tradition fostered in Kyoto is what makes their works beautiful and attractive. Nakatani, This shop is located right at the bottom of Kodaiji Temple, the center of Kiyomizuyaki. They also have potteries of various artists in Japan as well as their original works. Their work, elegant and of high quality, might be expensive but totally worth buying for lifelong use.
Spread over the city small pottery workshops can be found, here you can make your own pottery but also you can find a beautiful selection of the potters own creations. Along the 'Path of Philosophy' (The area of the Northern Higashiyama), I tumbled into the loveliest pottery workshop and his creations were just beautiful - defiantly worth a visit. The workshops are quite popular, so it always a good idea to try to book a space at one of the workshops in advance, you can, for example, find ceramic workshops here.
If you need a bit time away from the tourist I would recommend visiting the antique market held at the grounds at the Toji-temple. This market is truly wonderful, not only because of the surroundings but also because the market is filled with Japanese ceramic artists selling their own work along with antique ceramics. It's truly ceramic heaven. The market is held the 21st. of each month.
Last time we were in Kyoto we visited the 'TENJIN-SAN market', which turned out to be a true gem in terms of ceramic-hunting. Lots of artists displaying their work, and antique gems to be discovered.
Another market, which I haven't visited yet but is on my list, is the KAMIGAMO TEZUKURI-ICHI market. It's a bit outside Kyoto but should also have a large number of stalls and a great mix of new and old crafts.
'Nishiki Market' is a must-visit, and also all the small streets guiding to and from the market is a must to explore. Here you can find beautiful small designer and craft boutiques. One of my favorites is the most lovely little store that sells Japanese iron tea kettles - and only that! And right next to it - lies my favorite vintage store, which always has the most unique vintage clothing.
'Gion', which also is the best area for "geisha-spotting", you also get a sense of some of Japan’s most traditional aspects. We walked through there one evening in some light rain, and it was really beautiful to go through the small streets in the light of the lanterns.
If you're into design and well-served coffee then Kaikado Cafe is a must-go-coffee-stop for your trip! Kaikado is a blend of Kaikado, a traditional Japanese tea caddies house, and OEO studio, a design and interior-studio based in Copenhagen. It is a true design paradise is recently created, and is perfect to enjoy a coffee while you admire the beauty of Japanese craft and Nordic lines. As an extra plus they also sell a small selection of ceramics and other handmade crafts.
Another great coffee-stop is Arabica Coffee. It was the start to every morning, it's a popular place, so be prepared for some waiting-line, but don't let it frighten you away the staff are super quick, friendly and the coffee is worth it. They have a coffee-shop in Yasaka (actually very close to the RC hotel) and another one near 'Arashiyama'.
Sfera Concept Store, a super delicious design store, that mixes wood, metal, stone and natural ﬁbres to create functional, quality and timeless pieces. Behind every single piece, there's a story and respect for tradition mixed with contemporary architecture indoors. They also have a downstairs café, which has a small outdoor terrace where you can look at the people walking by while enjoying a tea and a little piece of cake.