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Travel

5 new tea, coffee and meditation shops

Nature

Kyoto’s flat geography makes long walks easy.

And using bustling Shijo Street – also known as Shijo-dori – as the main street for navigation, it was a breeze to navigate the city during my three-month trip in May.

Between meal shopping and plotting routes to popular attractions like Nijo Castle and Kiyomizudera, I logged nearly 130 miles on foot.

Kyoto’s traditional businesses and ancient temples did not disappoint, but a new trend caught my eye. More and more artisan shops are popping up, most of them near the city’s most famous sites.

Here are five of my favorites.

O’Chill — for meditation and tea

Opened in June 2023
Nearest: Kyoto Imperial Palace (12 minutes)

The path leading to O’Chill’s front door.

Source: Morgan Awyong

Curiosity was my main motivation for visiting O’Chill, which allows visitors to drink and smoke tea.

Phones are strictly prohibited in the Zen ceremony room, where matcha is served during a traditional tea ceremony. Customers are then given hookahs, with the tobacco replaced by tea leaves.

Co-founder Kiruta Wataru explains that the tea leaves eliminate the stigma often associated with smoking, while the cooked leaves act like incense. The experience is a form of “shiko-hin”. or a self-maintenance ritual, he said.

“We believe that any lifestyle is good if the person is happy,” Wataru said.

My eyes widened after the first puff. The scent of the tea leaves produced a sweet, woody flavor as I passed the pipe between the company’s other co-founder, Daichi Isokawa, and two guests.

The 90-minute experience includes a guided meditation and refreshments.

Rokuhichido — for paper objects

Opened in April 2023
Near: Hokan-ji Temple (1 minute)

Visitors purchase the handmade paper products at Rokuhichido.

Source: Morgan Awyong

With all eyes on the famous five-story pagoda nearby, it’s easy to miss Rokuhichido, a store that makes Japanese paper products using methods such as screen printing and paper cutting.

The brand first gained popularity with postcards, then expanded to produce playful paper balloons and miniature figurines, shaped like sea animals or places like Mount Fuji.

The designs are based on Japanese traditions and culture, the four seasons and landscapes, said director Shota Yamada. His ukiyo-e postcards, featuring classic motifs like the geisha and the shogun, are the most popular, he added.

“Depending on the product, a single artisan can make only a few dozen of our products per day,” Yamada said.

Gokago – for matcha drinks and food

Opened in June 2023
Near: Kiyomizudera Temple (2 minutes)

The gateway to Gokago.

Source: Morgan Awyong

There’s no shortage of matcha cafes in Kyoto, but no one does it like Gokago. Finely ground green tea – in all drinks, donuts and ice cream – is whipped right in front of guests.

Tea ceremonies are a wonderful Japanese tradition, said company director Kazuaki Nakanishi. “As experiencing the traditional tea ceremony can be a barrier, we thought it was important to offer it in a relaxed style to make it accessible to as many people as possible,” he said.

Certainly, the experience here is no substitute for the real thing, but it’s still a great stop for an authentic matcha beer en route to Kiyomizudera, one of Kyoto’s most famous temples. And visitors can see the precise movements and formal presentation of the ingredients, which is part of the ritual grace of a formal ceremony.

Kaji Kyoto – for Peruvian and Japanese gastronomy

Opened in May 2023
Closest to: Nishiki Market (11 minutes)

Food at Kaji Kyoto Peruvian Japanese Restaurant.

Source: Morgan Awyong

Traditional restaurants are everywhere in Kyoto, but Kaji Kyoto is not one of them.

“I want guests to leave Kaji and see how Japanese people who left Japan had to adapt because the ingredients they had were different and were equally delicious,” said head chef Keone Koki.

Koki brings his Peruvian heritage to Japanese cuisine, for example using Okinawan passion fruit as a marinade for a tiradito, an onion-free ceviche. “It’s also a little different since most sashimi is eaten with shoyu only,” he said.

With only eight seats, the restaurant is set in a traditional merchant’s house, with seating separated by a small kitchen in between. The effect is very much like a performance, with Koki and his team of five endearing themselves to guests with light banter.

Fuku Coffee Roastery – for specialty coffee

Opened in March 2023
Near: Kennin-ji Temple (4 minutes)

Fuku Coffee Roastery is located in a machiya, or traditional wooden townhouse, that Morio Ajiki inherited from his grandmother.

At first I thought it was a coffee shop, but I found out from Morio Ajiki that his company supplies high quality coffee beans to businesses.

Luckily, visitors can still come and have a cuppa.

“There were customers passing by my store and wanting to try my coffee,” Ajiki said. “So I decided to serve them.”

It’s easy to strike up a conversation with the shy but affable Ajiki, who will likely pass through a series of sliding doors leading to his house. You might even spot his cat, who gave his name to the store.

Cups of coffee are meant to be consumed on the go, but there are two benches – one inside and one out front – for those who wish to stay.

The roastery displays products made by artists from the neighboring alley. This level of mutual respect among Kyoto artisans makes such discoveries well worth the walk.



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