Kyoto Crafts

Temples, shrines, and gardens can't be taken home with you. You can, however, pack up a few omiyage (mementos) for which this city is famous. The ancient craftspeople of Kyoto served the Imperial Court for more than 1,000 years, and the prefix kyo before a craft is synonymous with fine craftsmanship.


Kyo-ningyo, exquisite display dolls, have been made in Kyoto since the 9th century. Constructed of wood coated with white shell paste and clothed in elaborate, miniature patterned-silk brocades, Kyoto dolls are considered the finest in Japan. Kyoto is also known for fine ceramic dolls and kyo-gangu, its local varieties of folk toys.


Kyo-sensu are embellished folding fans used as accoutrements in Noh theater, tea ceremonies, and Japanese dance. They also have a practical use—to keep you cool. Unlike other Japanese crafts, which have their origin in Tang Dynasty China, the folding fan originated in Kyoto.


Kyo-shikki refers to Kyoto lacquerware, which also has its roots in the 9th century. The making of lacquerware, adopted from the Chinese, is a delicate process requiring patience and skill. Finished lacquerware products range from furniture to spoons and bowls, which are carved from cypress, cedar, or horse-chestnut wood. These pieces have a brilliant luster; some designs are decorated with gold leaf and inlaid mother-of-pearl.


Kyo-yaki is the general term applied to ceramics made in local kilns; the most popular ware is from Kyoto's Kiyomizu district. Often colorfully hand-painted in blue, red, and green on white, these elegantly shaped teacups, bowls, and vases are thrown on potters' wheels located in the Kiyomizu district and in Kiyomizu-danchi in Yamashina. Streets leading up to Kiyomizu-dera—Chawan-zaka, Sannen-zaka, and Ninen-zaka—are sprinkled with kyo-yaki shops.


Nishijin-ori is the weaving of silk. Nishijin refers to a Kyoto district producing the best silk textiles in all Japan, which are used to make kimonos. Walk along the narrow backstreets of Nishijin and listen to the persistently rhythmic looms. Kyo-yuzen is a paste-resist silk-dyeing technique developed by 17th-century dyer Yuzen Miyazaki. Fantastic designs are created on plain white silk pieces through the process of either tegaki yuzen (hand-painting) or kata yuzen (stenciling).

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