Local Knowledge: Kyoto’s most magical spaces, with Music Promoter Vaughan

Melbourne’s legendary songwriter Grand Salvo is making his way around Japan this week, and is teaming up with Tokyo-based music promoter Vaughan as part of part of his ongoing campaign to introduce some of Australia’s greatest talents to his adopted home.

With Vaughan a frequent presence in Japan’s music scene, the multi-disciplinarian, and music promoter will certainly be waving the flag mighty high for the famously enthusiastic crowds in Kyoto, Kobe and Tokyo, but highlighting Australia to Japan isn’t the only thing he wants to do. Given his knowledge of the country’s most secretive, magical and elusive spaces, Vaughan has kindly shared some insider tips with The AU Review, keen to get the exclusive word out to travellers so they have a better idea of the creative scene flowing through a culturally rich city like Kyoto.

“I’ve always found it hard to shake off the spell of Kyoto’s space-time warp,” says Vaughan. “It’s the sense of history when you walk down the streets, no matter the season you visit”.

“Kyoto is now home to many of the world’s best coffee shops, restaurants, retailers, and music venues. Here’s a list of my favorites and a bit on what they once were back in the heyday. Add them to your list, and get ready to be left deep in thought”.

We’ve kept the below in Vaughn’s exact words. Read through it all below, and if you happen to be in Japan this week make sure you don’t miss Grand Salvo between 8th and 14th October (dates and venues listed at the end of this article). You can check out his latest album HERE.

Kinse Ryokan Inn

 

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Once upon a time, about 250 years ago, in fact, Kinse Ryokan Inn was once an “ageya”, or high-class Edo-period pleasure house, at the time when Shimabara was still an active pleasure district.

About 100 years ago when (current owner) Kojiro-san’s family purchased the building, they turned it into a ryokan. It was operated by his great grandparents and grandparents until about 30 years ago, when he took over.

Nowadays, the elegant upper rooms are only available to reserve to one group at a time, allowing you to really relax and experience it properly (book via Airbnb). A cafe/bar is open to the public on the main floor. Coffee is roasted in-house. Intimate music events are also held from time to time. On October 8, I am excited to present esteemed Melbourne artist Grand Salvo, with local artists YeYe and Tayutau. Check Facebook event page for details.

kinseinn.com

Sarasa Nishijin

 

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At the very beginning of its history, in the late 1920s, Sarasa Nishijin was a popular “Sento,” or a public bathhouse. In 2000 it was transformed into a cafe, keeping the original sento’s gorgeous tiles on the walls and ceiling.

The homely Japanese cafe features classic soul food fare like karaage (fried chicken), miso-soup, omurice, and excellent coffee. If you’re in Kyoto on the third Monday of the month, you’ll be able to witness an unforgettable night of live music by local band Zahatorte. The Kyoto genre-defying trio has been playing this spot at this time for 17 years, without missing a beat. Arrive at 6pm.

cafe-sarasa.com

UrBanguild

 

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Dates are a bit unclear with this one, but what we do know was that UrBanguild was once a hallway with 10 individual Sunakku, or Snack bars, five on each side. When the current owners took over, it was very obvious that the Snack bars had been abandoned suddenly, whiskey still on shelves, for reasons mysterious. All the adjoining walls of the snack bars were demolished by a large group of volunteers to make the UrBanguild we now know.

With a trace of time in the floors, walls, and atmosphere of this space, UrBanguild has become one of Kyoto’s most respected underground live music venues. You’ll usually find experimental and indie bands, sometimes world music on the lineup. But on other nights you may also witness contemporary or butoh dance performances. There’s an excellent sound system, and there is clear mutual respect in the air here between artists and customers. Everyone is listening intently while the performance is on, and everyone is talking deeply straight after.

urbanguild.net

Roaster Daughter & Gallery Son (by Wife and Husband)

 

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Wife and Husband’s new establishment was originally built in 1963. The first floor was initially a travel agency, and the upper level was used as a residence. That business changed hands and was made into an inn; the upper floor remained Japanese tatami style to act as a dormitory, before becoming “Roastery DAUGHTER / Gallery SON.”

Owners Ikumi-san (wife) and Kyoichi-san (husband) liked the aged appearance of the building. When renovating, they tried to preserve as much of the traces of the building’s history – for example, leaving the stairs unpainted. There was no choice but to strip back the walls, ceiling, and floor, but the textures they discovered underneath, have been resurfaced and has given the interior a new (but old!) atmosphere.

Today, it doubles as a coffee roastery (beans available to purchase). It’s also home to an exquisitely curated antique shop – where you can immerse yourself in perfectly imperfect items.

wifeandhusband.jp

Monk

 

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Along Philosopher’s Path, restaurant Monk’s building is an old house, dating back almost a century. It was once one house separated into three, with three entrances, just like a three-room apartment would be. Back in the day, it would be the home of students and professors of Kyoto University, both Japanese and foreigners alike, due to its proximity to the university.

Imai-san (owner, chef) has now transformed the space into an intimate restaurant. He’s regarded as a champion of a new generation of Japanese chefs, known for foraging fresh and seasonal food while creating a simple yet inventive menu. The owner often invites chefs from overseas to work and collaborate in the beautiful kitchen – and reservations are a must. There is also a space on the second floor where private yoga classes run.

When I spoke with Imai-san about the old house, he told me that there was an old sticker at the entrance of the back room, which had something written in Hebrew. When an Israeli chef stayed and worked at Monk, Imai-san soon discovered that it read: “Only love brings love.” The story goes on that the visiting chef had an Israeli friend who used to live in Kyoto a long time ago. When they started digging deeper they found out that the place where he lived was the restaurant Monk itself, and that that sticker was his doing! A beautiful story, indeed.

restaurant-monk.com

Nijo Koya

 

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Around a nondescript corner by a parking lot, Nijo Koya, was once 6-tatami-mat wide rustic house, some 70-years back. When renovating, owner Nishiki-san purposely tried to leave the space in its original form. A less-is-more approach, wanting to enable us to feel the place as a passage of time. Which you resolutely can.

Today Nijo Koya is widely considered one of Kyoto’s most loved coffee stands. Your heart seems to beat differently as you make your approach to the cafe, almost the same as when you approach a shrine or temple. It looks as though it has appeared just for you; it hums with welcoming magic. You stand at the counter inside, and the practice of pour-over coffee takes place, directly in front of you, as a kind of ceremonial gesture. All completely uncontrived, while soft jazz music plays. Nijo Koya certainly keeps its own time.

Stardust

 

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Stardust is about 90 years old and was one of four almost identical Japanese townhouses nestled in a weaving town. The owner, Kana-san recalls a very lonely atmosphere at the beginning. However, in her own words: “When I started talking to this building, we started learning how to have fun together… and bit by bit, this house started to become alive, and shine happily.”

Kana-san talks about the memory of falling in love with the beauty of the old walls of the cafe space at the back, saying that it felt like “a universe.” The concrete floors had a chilly feel, so timber flooring was set, and old timber that was found in the townhouse was reused to make the counter boards for the kitchen and register. The wall in the front part is now a patchwork of Japanese paper, reminiscent of Japanese boro.

Now, inside Stardust, there is an almost miraculous calm. You’ll find a carefully curated boutique at the front where everything has an excellent feel to it- jewelry, tableware, clothing, and a book demands attention. There is a vegetarian cafe at the back. Intimate music events are sometimes held here too. There is an eclectic beauty and reverence to everything – surely making it one of Kyoto’s most beautiful places to visit. The closest thing I can come up with to describe Stardust is magic.

facebook.com/nijokoya/

GRAND SALVO JAPAN TOUR DATES

Tues Oct 8 | Kinse Ryokan, Kyoto. With special guests YeYe and Tayutau
Fri Oct 11 | Guggenheim House, Kobe With special guests sumahama?, modae, rakkasei.
Sun Oct 13 | Lete, Tokyo. – SOLD OUT
Mon Oct 14 | Nanahari, Tokyo with special guests Muffin and TBA

Tickets: vaughan.tokyo

Feature image: Vaughn by Naoya Awagawa

Chris Singh

Chris Singh is the Deputy Editor of the AU review and a freelance travel writer. You can reach him on Instagram by following @chrisdsingh.

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