Last week, a lovely client has raised a very interesting question about why Kyoto’s roads and maps. I thought this is the platform to have a nerdy chat about this city I love…
Most non-Kyotonians struggle with the names of roads and areas in Kyoto. That’s completely normal because Kyoto locations are mostly preserved to be called in the old way, where characters/kanji are pronounced according to their meaning in old Chinese. This system hasn’t changed much since Prince Shoutoku created Japanese kana, you can easily find it in earlier literature.
In Kyoto, some famous examples are:
Karasuma is close to Shijo and Gion. It is a long road that takes you to shopping streets and many delicious lunch places… I get asked the most about this one. “Doesn’t Torimaru make more sense?” “I get that 鳥 (bird) can be カラス/Karasu (crow), but shouldn’t 丸 be Maru?”… Short answer is: it’s made this way;)
Even dictionaries get this wrong. It’s not Miyukimachi, or Gokoumachi. It’s a short “ko”: Gokomachi. I like Gokomachi Road for its girl fashion stores. If you’re looking for cute cafes, there is nowhere better to than there!
糺の森（ただすのもり）：Tadasu no Mori
This one is a small forest inside Shimogamo Shrine. It looks a little like a mini Hyde Park (Sydney) with tall trees one the sides and a pedestrian road in the middle… Lovely spot for sakura at night or a lazy afternoon date…
Let’s not forget this (one of the five) Geisha district. Most people, even native Japanese, have problems guessing its pronunciation from the characters… That’s because when Pontochou was the pointy corner of the capital, it was called in Portuguese, “pont（ポント）”. There is one heavenly delicious grill bar hidden in there… One of my secret weapon to host friends from outside of Kyoto♡
A LOT OF PEOPLE pronounce it as “Unmo-zaka” or “Unbo-zaka”…. Kirara is the old Japanese translation of the mica stone. It’s scientific name is Unmo. I believe the Kyotonian who named this place loved the romantic ring to the old name;)
【For High-Level Japanese Speakers】Songs to Remember Places
Let me take this chance to introduce you one of the many children songs we sang to remember the bizarre roads in Kyoto… This song includes major roads from east to west:
My version was slightly different because I was taught the version that sings the roads in the actual orders.
ひっちょう さんてつ とおりすぎ
I’ll sing to you in person if you want to know how it sounds;)
It’s one of my biggest joy is to teach my gentleman about the real Kyoto culture…
Until we meet…♡