I originally wrote about Kisui on this blog in 2007. Two months ago I sat down with Setsuko for a proper interview and took some fresh pictures for this month’s edition of Kyoto Visitors Guide. As always and inevitably, quite a lot got left by the wayside during the editing process. However, this time I somehow felt more than a little dissatisfied with what finally went to press. I understand fully why those cuts were made. But the edited article seemed so average, and as this is one of my favorite places in Kyoto, I want to do it justice. Here for your reading pleasure are my original words, complete and uncut, and a few extra piccies too.
Here’s an idea for a pleasant afternoon in deep Kyoto. Take a stroll through the Gion district to Kenninji; Kyoto’s oldest Zen temple. Walk about the beautiful gardens and view the gorgeous artworks on display. Feel your jaw drop at the awesome beauty of the Junsaku Koizumi’s Twin Dragons installation. Then head south to Ebisu shrine. Say a prayer here to the guardian spirit of business and prosperity. Camera in hand, walk back up through Miyagawa-cho. This charming machiya lined street will give you a flavor of old Kyoto and is prime territory for Maiko spotting. Around six in the evening you will see many of the beautiful apprentice geisha hurrying off to their various engagements. By now it is evening, dusk has fallen, and your feet are tired after all that walking. Perhaps you fancy a bite to eat or maybe just a drink? I know just the place for you! This month Deep Kyoto recommends the bar Kisui and the izakaya style casual restaurant Mamoriya.
Kisui & Mamoriya
The name Kisui (器酔) could be translated as “vessel intoxication”. For what’s intoxicating about this bar is not just the booze. Every drink here is served in a beautifully decorated earthenware cup, hand-painted by the bar-keeper Setsuko Ogawa’s own fair hand. These are Kyoyaki; traditional Kyoto ceramics, and in addition to the cups there are other wares on display that you can buy if you take a fancy to them. Kyoyaki or Kiyomizu-yaki is a long-established style of Kyoto pottery known for its delicacy, lightness and vivid colors. Setsuko trained for four years in a traditional Kyoyaki pottery before setting up her bar on the ground floor of her family’s restaurant. I’m a big admirer of her industry, for in addition to running the bar six nights a week, she spends three hours a day painting her works. Meanwhile, upstairs in the restaurant Mamoriya, her elder brother Shinji Ogawa works his magic in the kitchen. From the age of 15 until he was 23 he studied Japanese cuisine in a Tokyo Ryoutei (a traditional style of luxury restaurant) before returning to Kyoto and the family business. Sadly three years ago the Ogawas’ parents passed away and then Shinji decided to change the restaurant name to Mamoriya. Mamoru is the Japanese verb meaning to protect or preserve and Shinji was signaling his intention to protect and preserve his family and their traditions. Now upstairs his restaurant does a thriving trade, as Setsuko charms her customers in the bar below. The restaurant Mamoriya is spacious and so caters largely for groups and parties. In contrast the bar Kisui is small and cozy and is popular with couples and also single visitors of both genders and all ages. It’s possible to order and eat in the bar if you want to and there’s an English menu too. Popular dishes include yakisoba (fried noodles), chilled tofu, sashimi and cream croquettes.
In addition to the usual cocktails the bar is stocked with a wide range of Japanese drinks such as Nihonshu (sake), Shochu (a liquor similar to vodka) and Umeshu (plum liqueur). Also Setsuko recently acquired her Beer Master’s license, so why not enjoy some delicious draft beer in a Kyoyaki cup? And in addition to the handicrafts, and the flowing beer, there is also Setsuko’s friendly smile and happy conversation. Who could resist?
Gegege no Kitaro
One highly notable feature of Kisui, in addition to the Kyoyaki cups, and the Polaroid snaps of happy customers decking the walls, is Setsuko’s collection of figurines from the popular manga comics series Gegege no Kitaro. Setsuko has quite a collection and so I asked her “Why?” “Well,” says she, “I’ve always loved Japanese youkai.” (Youkai are the monsters and spirits unique to Japanese folk tradition, often of incredibly bizarre appearance.) “Each youkai has its own meaning,” she continues, “in order to scare children from doing bad things. For example, if you don’t clean the bath-tub properly and it get’s dirty, then a monster will come to lick away the dirt, or if you don’t go to bed at the right time the pillow-turning monster will come! So I’ve always liked these monsters and of course Gegege no Kitaro comics are very famous. But also I’m a huge fan of the comics artist Shigeru Mizuki, the writer of Gegege no Kitaro. His youkai characters are to put it simply, very cute! And he apparently saw some youkai himself when he was a child!” Many of Setsuko’s regular customers have added to her collection by bringing her Gegege no Kitaro souvenirs from all over Japan. And on one wall of the bar is a map of Japan decorated with these mementos. Take a moment to admire it. Out of Japan’s 47 prefectures Setsuko now has unique youkai souvenirs from 38.
Kenninji Temple is open from 10:00 – 16:00 most days of the year. Entry costs 500 yen.
Information in English and a handy map are viewable here.
Ebisu Shrine is open from 9:00 – 17:00. Entry is free.
You can find a map here.
Mamoriya and Kisui are located at the top of Miyagawa-cho by a tiny little park. Approached from the north it’s a short walk from Gion-shijo station down Kawabata.
Mamoriya is open from 17:00 – 3:00 Monday to Saturday (Closed on Sundays). Last orders are at 2:30 am.
Kisui is open from 18:00 – 24:00 Monday to Saturday (Closed on Sundays).
There’s a map of the location viewable at http://www.mamoriya-kisui.com.