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Sannenzaka and Ninenzaka: Don’t slip on this Imperial era shopping street or you’ll be dead in 2 to 3 years.

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typical Kyoto modern concrete streetMost of Kyoto looks like an average Japanese city, filled with modern, concrete buildings tied together by jumbles of telephone wires. So it wasn’t exactly a shock when we stepped off the train from Tokyo to a scene like this, just a regular day with people going about their business, like any other city.

But in my movie set version of Japan, I imagined scenes straight out of Memoirs of a Geisha and hoped to find the old, traditional Kyoto of winding streets and narrow wooden houses. Did the old Kyoto still exist, hidden somewhere in this modern city?

Sannenzaka and Ninenzaka shopping streets kyoto oldest souvenirIt turned out that old Kyoto is hidden in plain sight.  Walking along a dull, grey street, at any moment we might turn a corner and find ourselves in a Japan of a different era.  Our favorite “old Japan” experience was strolling through the ancient streets of Sannenzaka and Ninenzaka.

Sannenzaka and Ninenzaka

Dating back to Imperial times, Sannenzaka and Ninenzaka streets are two of the oldest and most atmospheric streets in Kyoto, paved with flagstone and crowded with traditional wooden storefronts, tea houses and restaurants.  Wandering the neighborhood is an also an excellent antidote to temple fatigue.

Sannenzaka and Ninenzaka shopping streets kyoto oldest souvenirStreet signs (at least those we could read) were non-existent, but we knew we were in the right place when we saw this steep set of stairs.

The names of the streets, Sannenzaka and Ninenzaka,  actually mean “slope of two years” and “slope of three years.”   Legend has it that if you slip and fall on either street, you’ll be dead in 2 or 3 years, respectively. Most guidebooks soften up “dead” to “bad luck” but I wasn’t taking any chances.  I stepped very carefully down those stairs.

Did I mention it was raining and I was wearing my most slippery boots?


The neighborhood is also a great place to sample all the Japanese food stalls, featuring traditional Japanese delights like green tea ice cream, mochi balls and baumkuchen cake.

souvenir pickles on a stick street vendor Sannenzaka and Ninenzaka shopping streets kyoto oldestAnd some more interesting offerings like pickles on a stick.

souvenir shop Sannenzaka and Ninenzaka shopping streets kyoto oldestShops line the streets, filled with everything from typical Japanese souvenirs like chopsticks and fans to hand-made artisan products.

japanese tea house kyoto Sannenzaka and Ninenzaka shopping streets kyoto oldestWe could have spent all day browsing the shops, but the pouring rain put a bit of a damper on our expedition.  We dodged the rain and ducked into this tea house that we chose for its movie set looks and views of a koi pond out back.

DSC03191As you come to the end of Sannenzaka’s enchanted flagstone path

Just keep walking and you’ll find yourself in the Higashiyama Ward.  Although this area is primarily residential and shop-free,  it’s worth walking through for some great examples of real Japanese homes built in the traditional Machiya wooden style. And every so often, you’ll look to the left or to the right

higashiyamaand stumble upon yet another temple.

marayuma park kyoto

Even the duck thinks it’s too wet.

By the time you reach Maruyama park, you’ll forget that there is any other Kyoto than the one filled with temples, koi ponds and a feeling of old Japan.

Japanese Souvenir Shopping Details:
Check out Sannezaka and Ninenzaka streets for great made in Japan souvenirs, Japanese food, and sweets.

To read about Kyoto attractions check out Nomadic Samuel’s city guide here.

Looking for more posts about Souvenir Shopping in Japan?  You may want to read these next:
Souvenir shopping Kyoto, Japan. Why Japanese customer service is the world’s best.
Kiyomizu Temple, Kyoto, Japan. The road to spiritual enlightenment is paved with shops.
Souvenir shopping Kyoto, Japan. Tourist Tat Alert Cute edition.
Guide to Souvenir shopping for made in Japan kimonos and yukatas: what to buy
Souvenir shopping Kyoto, Japan. Furoshiki, some assembly required.
Souvenir shopping Kyoto, Japan. Yes, gift please.
Kyoto, Japan. Shopping Fail: Philosopher’s Path

Credits: All photos by Souvenir Finder copyright 2013 except for Creative Commons licenses as indicated.  Attributions available by clicking on photo and below:
#1kyoto downtown / CC BY 2.0
#9 More Japanese Souvenirs / http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/

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6 Responses to Sannenzaka and Ninenzaka: Don’t slip on this Imperial era shopping street or you’ll be dead in 2 to 3 years.

  1. lukebunker 09/28/2013 at 9:02 pm #

    This was a great post – glad you didn’t slip! Thanks for stopping by my blog as I now look forward to visiting and frequenting yours! 🙂

  2. Kiki 09/28/2013 at 9:10 pm #

    Thanks Luke!

  3. Beachbums1 10/06/2013 at 8:27 pm #

    Nice photos!

    • Kristin 11/11/2013 at 8:31 am #

      Thanks so much, Beachbums1!

  4. nylonliving 01/11/2014 at 8:17 am #

    Reblogged this on Just Go Places.

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