When I lived in New York City one of my favorite weekend activities was hitting whatever street market was happening around the city. Many Saturdays were spent strolling past stalls, buying and enjoying a variety of bites, and taking in the wares of vendors. After a few they become redundant, the same vendors popping up on different blocks and by the end of summer market-fatigue had set in. I had forgotten how much I love street food and the energy of markets until this trip to Korea and Japan. One of my favorite memories of our time in Korea is when we went to Kwangjang market and seat-hopped stall to stall eating foods I never dared eat before. We were wrapping up a day of site-seeing in Kyoto when Anthony mentioned there was a food market nearby. We didn’t realize the food, wares and history Nishiki Market held and how enthralled we would be by the colors and energy. Vacation serendipity.
The Gion District was established in the early 1600s to accommodate the needs of travelers visiting Yasaka Shrine. It evolved to become one of the most exclusive and well-known geisha districts in all of Japan.
Hanami-koji is a wide street bordered on both sides by traditional teahouses called ochaya. On the corner sits Ichiriki Chaya, easily spotted by its vibrant orange walls. Ichiriki Chaya is over 300 years old and is known as one of the most high-end establishments in Gion, offering geisha entertainment to powerful business and political figures – but strictly by invitation only. This teahouse is as famous for its history as its exclusivity. During the 19th century, revolutionary samurai warriors would meet here to plot the downfall of the shogun’s government.
Before I knew the name I knew of the gates. The thousands of vermilion torii gates, their imagery used in films and photos. Those gates belong to Fushimi Inari Shrine. One of the oldest and most important of shrines dedicated to Inari, the Shinto god of rice, Fushimi Inari has ancient origins dating back to 711. The torii gates line trails that lead into the wooded forest of the sacred Mount Inari which stands 233 meters above sea level.