Downtown Kyoto shopping

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Downtown Kyoto shopping

  Central Kyoto’s streets and alleys team with shoppers, business people, tourists, students and sightseers. They are drawn by the department stores, boutiques, restaurants, banks and food markets that line Kawaramachi and Teramachi, between Sanjo and Shijo dori, and Nishiki koji, from Teramachi to Karasuma.
  Kyoto’s downtown district has not changed much in centuries. Now, cars and modern dress replace carts and traditional dress and glitzy neon and colorful lettering supplant the subdued hand carved signs once mounted over shop entrances, but the entrepreneurial spirit remains.
  Some streets, such as Kawaramachi dori, did not exist 1,000 years ago. The easternmost street then was Kyogoku (now called Shinkyogoku or New Kyogoku Street) that runs parallel to Kawaramachi on the west.
  To the east, Kawaramachi was bordered by the Kamo River, an overflowing torrent during heavy rain but reduced to a shallow flowing stream within a vast sandy expanse. Realizing that when the river was low the city was vulnerable to attack, the warlord Hideyoshi (1536 98) began a project to reshape the capital by enclosing it with a large earthen wall and building sturdy bridges. Sanjo Bridge, constructed in 1590, still closely resembles depictions of the original bridge seen in old woodblock prints.
  The Kamo River banks were home to entertainers, precursors of Kabuki, while the narrow nearby Takase River carried charcoal and cords of wood to the pottery kilns along Gojo Street in the central eastern part of the city.
  Over the centuries, the defensive earthen walls that confined and guarded the city’s eastern flank disintegrated and Kyoto pushed east. Eventually, the expanded area to the east of the Kamo River became home to the villas and ateliers of wealthier citizens and artists.
  Teramachi (literally, Temple District) got its name when Hideyoshi moved many temples to this street and to Shinkyogoku. His goal was not to show off Kyoto’s religious heritage to travelers, but to provide defense if the city were attacked from the east.
  Today, some shops still sell religious goods altar ornaments, handmade candles, prayer beads, incense and Buddhist images. But the clutter of souvenir stores, restaurants, cafes, boutiques and game centers have largely crowded them out. As covered pedestrian only streets, both Teramachi and Shinkyogoku remain extremely popular with shoppers.
  Nishiki koji (Brocade Street) does not reflect its name. Originally called Gusoku koji, this wide street was where warriors’ armor was forged and sold. But the name, pronounced quickly, sounds unhappily like Excrement Street. The dismayed Emperor renamed it “brocade” in 1054 to complement Twill Street (Aya no Koji) two blocks south, thereby protecting Kyoto’s reputation as a refined aristocratic capital.
  About 300 years ago, as the demand for armor decreased, the convenient location drew fishmongers and other food vendors. Many items are displayed along the arcade, uncovered and within inches of onlookers, so that strolling along the narrow street  is a visual and olfactory adventure, even for locals. Prices are higher than at local supermarkets, but customers, from housewives to discerning chefs from Kyoto’s finest restaurants, rely on the quality of the vendors, whose reputations can go back generations.

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