A completely revised version of the classic guidebook to Kyoto, with a foreword by Donald Richie. Down the cobbled paths and behind the tranquil noren curtains of Kyoto, the old way of life goes on, nurtured in the restrained furnishings of the traditional inns and in the old shops where fine handmade items still add a touch of quality to life. Since the first edition appeared in 1986, this lovingly written travelogue-cum-guidebook has become de rigueur for knowledgeable travelers seeking to find "the real Kyoto" behind the modern face of the city's constantly changing boulevards. Old Kyoto focuses on the family establishments that have been in business for at least a hundred years, and in some cases for over ten generations. Astonishingly, many of the old shops and inns of Kyoto can still be found on narrow backstreets, under the heavy, tiled rooftops of traditional machiya dwellings. Here, the adventurous traveler will uncover treasures: the way in which a hand-crafted calligraphy brush is bound, a miniature garden tended, a bamboo basket woven. For critics and travelers alike, Old Kyoto has long been regarded the essential guidebook to Japan's most cherished city. This second edition of Old Kyoto is completely updated. Shops have been added, and maps, prices, directions, descriptions, and general information have all been thoroughly revised.
Two days with this book in Kyoto was clearly, CLEARLY not enough. Especially after you are "temple-ed" out after one day, as those of you who have been to Kyoto very well know. It is a treasure-trove of traditional shops that make everything from artisan paper and paints, noodles, soy sauce, baskets, buckets, combs, tea, and beautiful Japanese textiles. It also includes guides to a few of the ryokans (traditional Japanese inns) and eateries (noodle shops, ramen shops, soba shops - most have a speciality that they focus on) There was even a traditional tofu shop, but I just didn't' have time to find it!
I absolutely loved this book. It was as much fun reading about the different shops, restaurants, and inns as it was planning and finding them in Kyoto. It became a treasure hunt and a great way to really see the city as it's very walkable. It's what I want every travel guide book to be, but usually never is.
Side note: One of the places, I managed to track down and visit was the paint shop, Saiun-Do (Painted Clouds) owned by Fujimoto family (page 69-70 in the book). Tsukio Fujimoto was the original shop's founder in the 1800's. I had the very wonderful privilege of meeting his great grandson, who helped me find the brushes and lush colored paints I wanted to purchase (at very reasonable, affordable prices for paints that are custom mixed by their family's secret formulas and high quality brushes made the traditional way).
For everyone who visits, they have a guest book that he kindly insisted me to sign as an artist even though I laughingly assured him I was an amateur hobbyist at best. This guest book includes artists from past decades and from all over the world, famous or enthusiast alike.
It is tiny, literally one room with a low ceiling and raised tatami mat platforms inside. My poor brother and I walked up and down the side street it is located on several times before we found it.
A wonderful travel guide, in the same vein as 'A Time of Gifts', but more about the people. It's a unique story of shinise, shops which have been carried on for at least three generations and one hundred years, normal in a culture rife with specialization. I can't wait to experience a glimpse of the culture, whether it be the youdofu or sweet mochi. When you get to the story of one of the last traditional wooden bucket makers in Kyoto, you will be saddened this is a place you will never be able to visit- he had no apprentices, and him, and his shop, now exist only in the past.
Many consider Kyoto the cradle of Japanese culture and crafts. While much of Japanese culture was created outside Kyoto, there can be no doubt that the “ancient capital” of Japan has much to offer even today. Diane Durston fell in love with Kyoto and lived there for sixteen years. She learned to navigate the demanding rituals and win the trust of the locals.
Even in her day, vast swatches of the traditional neighborhoods were falling to modernization. Durston struck upon the idea of introducing the city through its vintage craft shops, restaurants, and Japanese inns, where time-honored traditions have been lovingly nurtured for centuries—often by the tenth generation or higher. What emerges is a loving portrait of a city, its people, and its culture. Beautifully written and heartfelt.
Coupled with the enchanting opening pages, this book rises above the level of guide to that of travel literature, weaving an elegant tapestry of one of Japan’s most beloved cities. Look for the revised edition, though either will suffice since the parts of Kyoto introduced in these pages have remained mostly unchanged for generations. Excellent black-and-white photography by Lucy Birmingham, now also a journalist and author, adds delicate visuals to complete this treasure of a book.
DISCLAIMER: The manuscript had been completed and the photography shot by the time I joined this publishing house. When the original editor departed, the project fell into my hands for completion. I had no complaints.
I have one serious complaint about this book: it frustrated me! I wished I'd had months, no years to follow Durston's recommendations of places to go. I did manage just a few of them, and her observations were spot on. I couldn't help but be saddened, though, at how fast these traditional establishments are disappearing. Lots of history and cultural background to help the visitor appreciate the city more fully. One thing's for sure: by following Durston's recommendations, you won't be on the beaten tourist path.
When you go to a place as special as Kyoto following the standard guidebooks just feels empty. Yeah the palaces, gardens, and temples are gorgeous and worth seeing, but the soul of the place lies in wandering around, getting lost, and seeing where the people live and work. With this book I came away from Kyoto feeling like I had a much more special experience than if I had just gone to the sights (which are amazing as well by the way, don't miss the Philosopher's Path). In short buy this book!
Given the average age of the craftspeople in the photos of this book, the traditional "special things" are almost dead. Which is probably just as well, since the Japanese aesthetic from Day One has been about the eroticism of loss, death, and decay... But if you visit Kyoto soon, you might be able to grab up an indigo-dyed banner, a set of combs, or some traditional pickles using this guidebook.
Whether you are traveling to Kyoto or just want to read about the old capital, Diane Durston's book evokes a palatable sense of what and where the old places are. Kyoto is very special but sometimes you have to dig beneath the busy modern surface to see what makes it so. Wander off the boulevards and glimpses of centuries past are still possible. This book will help put you on that path.
Old Kyoto: A Guide to Traditional Shops, Restaurants and Inns served as a handy companion on my two-week exploration of the city. I visited many of the shops listed in the book, including fun finds such and the fu (wheat gluten) factory and a traditional tofu stall.