Kyoto - the ancient capital of Japan and still a fabulous place to catch a glimpse of the old Japan. Admiring the intricately-made handicrafts of this fascinating city is fun - but trying your hand at making some simple objects can really give you an insight into local traditions. A number of shops in Kyoto offer the chance to see and experience Japanese crafts including paper making, Japanese woodblock printing and shibori tie dye.
Short on time? Kyoto Handicraft Centre is a terrific spot to see a large number of handicrafts under one roof. They offer a wide range of craft workshops - but you'll probably need to book ahead as they seem popular. After seeing all three floors of this centre, you might be peckish. Check out their restaurant - looks delicious!
Interested in making your own washi paper? At Motoshiro, you can take a 30-minute workshop and make your own paper. They also sell many kinds of handicrafts too.
Over 120 years of being in business must mean something and Suzuki Shofudo is well-known for carrying all kinds of beautiful paper. I particularly love washi wrapped canisters. You can never have too many as storage containers for tea, snacks or to give away as presents.
As a university intern, I enjoyed trying to make woodblock printed decorative papers at a wonderful paper printing company 'Kira Karacho'. Established in 1624, Karacho prints washi paper for interior screens, wallpaper and more recently, a wide range of stationary items. They have a shop located right downtown - an absolute must-see if you are into Japanese paper.
Textiles is one handicraft you shouldn't miss in Kyoto. You can experience making your own shibori tie-dyed fabric at the Kyoto Shibori Museum. You can make a small handkerchief but also a larger shawl - all in silk!
Now onto woven textiles, Orinasu Kan is the go-to place to learn about the Nishijin district's long history with textiles. They offer classes in weaving, and even tours of their workshop where you can see how traditional fabrics are made for the yearly temple parades. I think the classes and tours are only in Japanese, but you could still have a try. There's a lovely display of finished kimono to admire too.
Jcraft has a long list of places where you can take workshops around Japan. They also sell many handicrafts directly online. I saw handmade baskets, fabric bags and even gorgeous Edo era glass ring! On Jcraft, I found a pace where you can learn to make green tea! Cool! Nah - i like my green tea hot unless its matccha icecream. There's also shophouses in Kyoto where you can dress in kimono and learn to play the Japanese violin - the koto. I remember my Japanese host mother trying to teach me when I was in high school! A bit too elegant an instrument for a fidgety teenager :)
And back to my favourite subject of food - Yoshida Sanso offers a mouthwatering lineup of traditional kaiseki cuisine. And you can even stay there. I heard it from the horse's mouth - my old mate from university works there occasionally and says the food is first-rate!
There's never enough time to explore Kyoto. Next time I'd like to look up how to stay in a Machiya, or traditional shophouse!