Ninenzaka and Sannenzaka
Traditional Pedestrian Shopping Streets in Higashiyama
Ninenzaka and Sannenzaka are Japanese traditional streets located in the historical district of Higashiyama in eastern Kyoto. The cobbled pedestrian alleys connect the neighborhoods’ temples, and restaurants and souvenir shops line along their large stone stairways. It is also the ideal place to encounter Japanese people dressed up in kimono or yukata.
Most travelers discover Ninenzaka and Sannenzaka slopes, two 400-meters long streets, when they walk from Kodai-ji to Kiyomizu-dera temple. The course also includes Kiyomizu-zaka, even more crowded, in a shopping area with a traditional feel. It is often a chance exploration, but the two streets nonetheless offer wonderful sceneries.
Ninenzaka and Sannenzaka literally mean "slope of two / three years" and according to the legend, the one who slips and falls in one of these two streets will die in the next two to three years. But don’t let this deter you from visiting the place! The paved streets and stone stairs on relatively steep slopes prevent any car 🚙 traffic and preserve the quaint and charming atmosphere of this part of Higashiyama.
A preserved historical area
The traditional vibe is reinforced by the quasi absence of power poles and wires that usually clutter the view in Kyoto’s streets, and it is possible to frequently meet Japanese people dressed in yukata 👘 and tourists in Geisha attire. Some visitors may recognize the setting for the movie Memoirs of a Geisha, which is indeed very similar.
But the heart of Ninenzaka and Sannenzaka lies in the traditional wooden houses lining along the alleys. Some shelter ryokan inns, allowing for a quieter experience in the evening, and small typical cafés and restaurants, that can satisfy any sweet tooth. There are of course many shops selling:
- Traditional crafts such as fans, etchings, tableware, or masks;
- Food and drinks such as Japanese pastries (with sample available to test in the street), tea, etc.
One of the houses is renowned as the former residence of Yumeji Takehisa (1884-1934), a famous Japanese painter and poet.
The two streets are ideal to find souvenirs, however with the affluence of tourists over the last years, prices tend to rise, as well as the number of rickshaws.
Ninenzaka and Sannenzaka are nonetheless picturesque and their visit enjoyable.