If you are a traveler from overseas on a tour group, tour guides might skip this part of Kyoto and head straight to the busy hub of Gion (祇園) for shopping and food. Dubbed by locals as Kyoto’s most beautiful street, Shirakawa (白川) is a few minutes’ walk from central Gion and the Hanamichi (花道小路) area. It is off the beaten path, and there seemed to be no sight of other tourists when we visited it.
The street runs into a Y-shape, with a little shrine situated at the intersection. This little red shrine, like the Yasaka Shrine, was frequented by geishas living in that area. And by our lucky stars, we caught a happy couple taking their wedding photos at this picturesque place just when we reached it.
A babbling stream runs through this street with shops, restaurants and tea houses lining one side of it. On the other side, you see willow trees, cherry blossom trees, and Japanese maple trees. The majestic willow trees were indeed a sight. Their long strings of leaves danced and swayed whenever a breeze blew through.
There are a few Japanese maple trees along the stream, and they were in their magnificent reds when we visited that autumn. What makes this place poetic is how the trees hang their branches and leaves low over the peaceful stream, which strummed a sweet melody into the air.
It was quiet, but not eerily quiet; peaceful, but not because there wasn’t anything going on; looked abandoned but all inhabited. It was indeed the strangest feeling of being there, and yet not being there. pling thinks…Kyoto has this special power of transporting you across time zones, transversing between the magical and the mundane, and conversing between the ancient arts and the modern cultures.
An old, small and very quaint stone-and-wood bridge crosses the canal towards the living quarters and is the perfect spot to take pictures. Whether donned in kimonos or modern wear, it provides the perfect setting for nostalgia with its dark wood houses, overhanging branches, and a softly babbling brook. We caught a couple doing their wedding shoot and a group of Tokyo girls touring Kyoto.
There are about 3-4 bridges scattered along the stretch of this stream. They lead to shops and restaurants on one bank. We walked along the opposite bank and took in the scenery, both upstream and downstream, on those bridges.
Be sure to loiter all the way along the red fences to take in the variety of trees and blooms.
We even spotted a heron! It was so still that we thought it was a statue placed by the owner.
Walk across the tiny bridges sprinkled along the length of Shirakawa, and surrender to the mind travel this little place can bring you, even if it’s for a brief moment.
And when you are done exploring this little street, those restaurants across the bridge and along Shirakawa might have piqued your curiosity, especially when it hits close to dinnertime. This backstreet of Gion is a gourmand’s heaven but it can also be a little intimating to head into some restaurants where doors are kept closed for privacy and to keep out the draft. If you want to try a variety of gorgeous Kyoto food and drinks while getting new insights into the unique culture and history of Kyoto, you might like to join this Kyoto Night Foodie Tour offered by Magical Trip and go on a food adventure with a friendly English-speaking local guide.
How to get to Shirakawa 白川
You need to be really good with reading maps. Click here for the map or the link below.
It is quite a walk from Hanamichi 花道小路, and we heard that travelers seldom get to this area. If you managed to find it, give yourself a pat on the back, and take in the quiet beauty of this place.
- From Kyoto Station Bus terminal, take bus number 100 and alight at Gion 祇園.
- You will see Yasaka Shrine 八坂神社 (also known as Gion Shrine). Walk in the opposite direction toward Hanamichi 花道小路通 along Shijo-dori 四条通.
- Cross the road over to Yōjiya (よーじや). Walk past Hanamichi and the next little street.
- Turn right into Yamato Oji-dori 大和大路通 and walk straight.
- Take the Keihan Main Line and alight at Gion Shijo.
- Leave the station by Exit 2.
- Walk along Kawabata-dori 川端通 and before long, you will see a stream running on your right. Turn right into Shirakawa Minami-dori