Kill two birds with one stone – do some sightseeing and get all your shopping done at Kamigamo-jinja Shrine! It’s held on the fourth Sunday of every month.
The entrance to Kamigamo-jinja on a sunny day – image © Florentyna Leow
UNESCO World Heritage Site Shimogamo-jinja Shrine near Demachiyanagi Station is a famous and much-visited sightseeing spot. But fewer people tend to make the long journey up north to its sister institution, the equally venerable Kamigamo-jinja, which has also been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site – this is rather unfortunate, as Kamigamo-jinja is incredibly beautiful and worth visiting.
In terms of public transportation, Kamigamo-jinja is only accessible by bus and it’s situated around three and a half kilometers upriver from Shimogamo-jinja Shrine. It’s a long way to go if you have limited time to spend in Kyoto. However, if you can time your visit to coincide with the monthly handicraft market held on the shrine grounds, Kamigamo-jinja makes for a wonderful day trip where you can get your sightseeing and shopping done at the same time!
A square sign in Japanese reading “Kamigamo Tezukuri-ichi,” meaning “Kamigamo Handicraft Market.” – image © Florentyna Leow
The Kamigamo-jinja Handicraft Market takes place on the fourth Sunday of every month. Having started operations in 2006, it’s now mushroomed to a consistent 250+ stalls every month, mostly clustered to the east side of the shrine grounds.
Though the market takes place year round, I find May is a lovely month to visit – the ferocious summer heat has yet to appear, and this time of the year offers up blue skies, sunny weather and a distinct and welcome lack of humidity.
Stalls lined up along the perimeter of the field. – image © Florentyna Leow
It’s a Sunday market, so you’ll see many families with young children enjoying a day out here. The spacious shrine grounds offer an abundance of open field for playing. Towards lunchtime, many people set up tarpaulin mats under the trees to enjoy a picnic lunch – either homemade, or cobbled together from the many food stalls at the market.
Where the stalls begin. – image © Florentyna Leow
People often ask me where they should go in Kyoto to buy souvenirs, and I tend to be at a loss – but if you can time your visit to the ancient capital, a handicraft market is your best bet. There’s an extensive range of handmade goods available, and best of all, the people who made these items are usually right there. Here’s just a few examples of the items you can find at Kamigamo’s market: traditionally handbound notebooks, carved wooden bird whistles, lacquerware, T-shirts, postcards, calligraphy brushes, ceramics, granola, pickles, spice mixes.
Eating lunch next to running water is one of the great pleasures of life. – image © Florentyna Leow
If you’ve had enough of shopping at any point, there is, rather conveniently, a beautiful creek to park yourself at for a quick rest. I had wandered around most of the stalls at this point, picking up pastries and snacks here and there, which made a most delicious al fresco lunch. Kids tend to love playing in the stream as well.
A woman waits for her turn outside the reflexology stall. – image © Florentyna Leow
Here’s another brilliant idea at this market: a pop-up reflexology stall. Perfect for an impromptu massage when you’re a little overwhelmed by all the shopping.
One of the many stalls selling handmade accessories and scarves. – image © Florentyna Leow
Like most handicraft markets in Kyoto, artisans and entrepreneurs wanting to set up stall here must apply in advance each month. They’re selected through a lottery system, so there’s no guarantee you’ll see the same person every single time you visit. Nevertheless, that’s the fun of visiting these markets – discovering something or someone new each time!
I won’t go into an exhaustive breakdown of the 250+ stalls at the market, so here are just a few of the stalls which caught my eye at Kamigamo-jinja.
Free samples of granola for breakfast! – image © Florentyna Leow
Much like the food stalls at the basement of department stores in Japan, at the handicraft market you can spend quite a while walking around sampling all kinds of treats. There’s no shortage of stalls selling bread and pastries – I saw one which sold an unusual but delicious sake lees cheesecake – but if you’re hankering for something slightly healthier, granola might be a better choice. Iwakura Granola, whose main shop can be found near the Kyoto Botanic Gardens in Kitayama, sells a variety of flavored granolas including salted caramel, matcha, and chocolate, all of which you can sample right there. (On second thought, maybe it’s not that healthy.)
The display of delicious cookies and cakes at Colle Campo. – image © Florentyna Leow
Colle Campo is run by a mother-and-daughter team, and the name of their business is an Italian translation of their surname ‘Okada,’ meaning ‘Hill Field.’ I don’t have the biggest sweet tooth, but Colle Campo’s cookies were so delicious that I had one and immediately wished I had bought another. What I had that day was the marshmallow cocoa cookie for JPY110 – a chewy, flat cocoa-flavored cookie with a gooey marshmallow filling that reminded me of S’mores, but without the extreme tooth-decaying sugariness associated with most American confectionery. Sample one and see for yourself.
A selection of mikan-related products at Niji no Ne’s stall. – image © Florentyna Leow
Niji no Ne is a family farm run by the Matsumotos, and they claim that their produce is all naturally-grown with zero pesticides. I was unable to verify this, but I can say that their mikan orange juice is terribly refreshing and among some of the best juices I’ve had in Japan. You can buy a small cup for JPY300, or a large bottle for JPY1500. They also sell dried orange slices and orange tea. The mikan themselves are grown in Wakayama prefecture, and from May to June they begin harvesting ume plums. Incidentally, they’ll deliver anywhere within Japan, so if you’re looking to buy oranges or ume plums in bulk, this is where y
CaptionXXX – image © Florentyna Leow
This was a slightly unexpected sight at a handicraft market, but worth a few minutes stop. Matsubara Kimchi is a Korean food shop near Saiin, and on this day they’d set up shop at Kamigamo. Their kimchi and flavored miso pastes are tasty, but I was drawn to their seaweed, stacked in a large plastic container to the left of the display table. They roast their own nori seaweed in the Korean style with oil and salt. A pack of 8 large square sheets costs JPY350, and makes a perfect and utterly addictive mid-afternoon snack.
4th-generation owner Morii-san poses with his teas. – image © Florentyna Leow
One cannot leave Kyoto without sampling its teas. At Morii Farm’s stall, I particularly liked their hojicha. Hojicha refers to roasted tea, and the tea leaves used in this case are typically of a lower grade. However, Morii-san chose to roast a higher-quality tea in the manner of hojicha, resulting in an unusually delicate flavour for this style of tea. It’s especially suited to the cold-brewing method, and the subtle flavors really emerge after several hours of steeping these leaves in cold water.
Have you ever stopped to think about the work that goes into handmade baseball mitts? – image © Florentyna Leow
I feel like I’ve seen it all now. Shipado is a company which makes hand-stitched baseball mitts – it makes perfect sense in a country where the national sport is baseball and where craftsmanship is highly valued.
Multiple kinds of wood are used in the making of these sculptures, and polished till they shine. – image © Florentyna Leow
I’m not one for dust-collectors, but these wooden animal sculptures by Tsujimura-san would make such a beautiful conversation piece in one’s living room. They’re fashioned in such a way that they balance on the tip of pyramidical wooden stands, and they tilt and sway with the slightest breeze, all the while without losing their balance.
Mimi-chan, an unusually social cat who visits handicraft markets in Kyoto. – image © Florentyna Leow
Remember this cat? Mimi-chan and her owner made an appearance at Chion-ji Handicraft Market, and I found her again at Kamigamo-jinja. I’m perpetually amazed that Mimi-chan puts up with the rose-tinted goggles, and that she never seems to have a problem with attention.
The white horse here is a mascot of sorts for the god of Kamigamo-jinja. – image © Florentyna Leow
Of course, after you’re done shopping and eating, there is the entirety of Kamigamo-jinja to visit, if you still have the energy. Sundays during the summer months can be quite lively here too – there were two weddings taking place when I was there.
Many of the sellers above also have stalls at other handicraft markets in Kyoto. Some do make the trek from further-flung cities such as Osaka and Nara, so not all of them regularly attend. Overall, though, the Kamigamo-jinja Handicraft Market is a fantastic place to buy gifts and souvenirs – and it’s great to support your local small businesses!
Kamigamo-jinja Handicraft Market
Name in Japanese
339 Kamigamo-Motoyama, Kita-ku, Kyoto
9:00 – 16:00, 4th Sunday of every month.
City Bus Stop Kamigamo-jinja-mae
Official Website (Japanese)
About Florentyna Leow
Florentyna Leow is a writer and photographer based in Kyoto, who has written for outlets such as Silverkris, ZenVita and Lucky Peach. Her interests include food, doors, and Thomassons. Her blog is updated here. She Instagrams regularly at @furochan_eats.
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