Secret Kyoto Gion Hideaway : Step Inside HAKU ハク


 Plant one seed, and behold a hundred blooms.By savoring a single happiness, one becomes aware of ninety-nine more.

Insider Pick of Gion

In October, Kyoto’s Gion district, particularly the Hanami Koji street, exhibits a serene rhythm distinctly different from the bustling Gion Matsuri festival in summer.

The area, with its century-old wooden shrines, houses, and traditional shops, reveals its rich history more vividly. A striking contrast to the main streets, the quiet alleys of Hanami Koji house quaint, often overlooked shops reminiscent of the mysterious spaces described in Haruki Murakami‘s novels.

Amidst this blend of the ancient and the modern, one discovers a hidden spot, a Wagashi (Japanese sweets) shop named “Haku” This shop, embodying pure Japanese aesthetics, offers a variety of unique traditional Kyoto delicacies for takeaway.

A gallery like Wagashi Shop in Hanami Koji

This white two-story building shares similarities with traditional Japanese architecture on the upper floor. Its welcoming front courtyard on the first floor, adorned with naturally pruned plants and trees that seem to grow freely.

The landscape architect has artfully placed crushed stones along the boundary and laid stepping stones at irregular intervals around the building.

After walking around the structure once or twice and returning to the starting point. Without speaking, our expressions conveyed awe and curiosity:

where exactly is the entrance to this magical shop?

About “White” : Japanese aesthetics 

Japanese aesthetics are known for their simplicity and subtle balance, particularly in their unique perspective on the color white. This concept is encapsulated in the avant-garde Japanese poet Kitasono Katue‘s work from his 1929 poetry collection “White Album.”

The poem describes the sensation of white through a series of nested white squares, each appearing whiter than the last. While initially seeming like a tongue-twister, this poem reveals a deeper understanding of traditional Japanese architectural beauty, especially when physically experiencing these spaces in Kyoto.

Finding the correct entrance to a traditional building and standing before its white, layered squares can suddenly enlighten one to the profound depths of Japanese aesthetic principles.

Entering “Haku” through its shadow-covered passageway, careful of the hidden steps, one is greeted by a spacious, brightly lit space upon opening the wooden door. The large floor-to-ceiling windows offer views of the courtyard, trees, rocks, and the alleys of Hanami-Koji, creating a layered landscape.

The interior’s atmosphere is calm and serene, with walls painted in soft hues, and a light brown wooden coffee table adding a warm texture. The items displayed inside, resting quietly on the wooden cabinets by the window, appear not just as simple food items but as art pieces in a gallery, bringing a sense of tranquility.

The Art of Wagashi and food

The store offers a variety of Dessert and food , savory items, and teas, all neatly displayed on a wooden cabinet. Despite the cabinet’s small surface area, browsing feels spacious and comfortable.

As customers view the products, they face the courtyard, linking the indoor view with the outdoor elements of trees, bushes, and rocks. This setup creates changing sceneries with different viewing angles, evoking varying emotions and feelings towards the products with each step. This clever arrangement emphasizes the Japanese aesthetic of ‘sensibility,’ making each viewing experience therapeutic.

With the changing seasons, “Haku” offers seasonal foods. A representative Wagashi, ‘Yuzu Mitsu Kan,’ (柚子みつ羹) is replaced by ‘Kabosu'(枸円) in autumn. The introduction card, handwritten, details the origins of the fresh, pesticide-free lemons from Ikuchi Island in the Seto Inland Sea.

The attractive, translucent yellow of the lemon catches the eye. The whole lemon, with its top cut off, reveals a fragrant, jelly-like interior made of kanten (agar). Holding this delicately crafted treat is a soothing experience, prompting an irresistible urge to buy a whole box.

“Shinshu”(真朱) a unique treat at the store, features small tomatoes that have been pickled and then coated in chocolate. The cocoa aroma is evenly distributed, and the treat is delicately wrapped in fine, translucent white paper, visually enticing the taste buds. The combination of sweet and natural tartness makes it a highly recommended dessert, perfect as a small souvenir. From ingredients to presentation and naming, the store’s Wagashi maintain a simple, natural flavor profile.

“Haku” offers a variety of unique savory dishes. One such dish is “Heshiko Sushi,” wrapped in fresh persimmon leaves, featuring mackerel from Tango, fermented in rice bran, offering a mild acidity and texture. Another specialty is “Sandai Itchi” (sea bream sandwich), which includes pickled fish, seasonal vegetables, sesame, chili, and fresh pepper.

These traditional Kyoto delicacies, highly sought after, often sell out by midday due to their popularity. They are made fresh daily, and some seasonal ingredients require a 2-hour advance reservation.

 Tea Ceremony and Pottery – Kenya Hara and Shiro Tsujimura

“White” is not just a color but a sensibility. Kenya Hara emphasizes the importance of seeking a way to ‘feel’ white rather than just finding it.

While waiting for our purchases, the staff invited us to stay for a pot of hand-brewed hot tea, a gesture deeply rooted in Japanese aesthetics. Enjoying the tea in Kyoto felt like a special privilege. The shop’s minimalist decor, with its use of negative space and a small, simple painting, provided a serene backdrop for the tea ceremony.

The tea served was Taiwanese Alishan Oolong, and the tea bowl used was a creation by renowned Japanese potter Shiro Tsujimura. The unadorned, curved structure of the bowl, its rough texture, and natural color of the clay made it feel like holding nature in our hands – simple yet profound.

At “Haku” in Kyoto’s Gion Hanami-Koji alley, we spent a leisurely morning. The shop offers seasonally changing Japanese Wagashi and unique traditional savory dishes. An unexpected highlight was the tea ceremony experience. Surrounded by the aesthetics of Kenya Hara, and savoring Alishan Oolong tea in a bowl crafted by Shiro Tsujimura, time seemed to pass serenely. This autumn visit to the alleys of Gion Hanami-Koji, experiencing “Haku,” reflected the Japanese concept of ‘white’ equating to ‘fulfillment’ in the beautiful autumnal Kyoto.

570-210 Gionmachi Minamigawa, Higashiyama Ward, Kyoto MAP

 Every Monday & 2nd Tuesday Closed

Insider Tips for Visiting GION Kyoto:

  • Respect Local Culture and Historic Sites: Adhere to no photography or filming rules in Gion Hanami-Koji. Many walls have signs indicating this restriction.
  • Bring Your Own Eco-friendly Bag: Japan has implemented a plastic bag charging system, so it’s advisable to carry your own reusable bag.
  • Do Not Litter: Trash bins are scarce on Japanese streets. Locals typically carry their trash until they find a disposal area. You can look for bins near parks or vending machines.
  • Learn About the Culture: Understanding and respecting local customs enhances your experience and shows respect for the community.

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