Most Exciting: Kyoto Museum of Traditional Crafts ふれあい館
(Screen-capped from Google Maps, 15/5/2020. These beautiful kimono hang in an area often visited by performing Geisha.)
Of all the places I would recommend someone visit in Kyoto once the Covid-19 lockdowns are over, The Kyoto Museum of Traditional Crafts and Design is probably the most essential. Many people think Museums have to be boring and quiet. But the Fureaikan is not boring at all. It's easily the least boring Museum I ever visited. In this post, I will explain why and how you can most the most of your visit. If you have even a vague interest in Traditional Japanese Culture. Even if all you want to do is be able to devote a portion of one day to the concept, The Kyoto Museum of Traditional Crafts and Design or Fureaikan is the most efficient and effective place to do it. Even if you stroll about it's many halls for a while and find nothing tickling your fancy, it is sufficiently close to many other wonderful landmarks that you could easily go on to see many things in one day. In fact, the path I took to get to the museum was so full of interesting and beautiful things that I got there much later than I meant to. I was so detracted. I didn't see it at the time, but it's also just across the road from Okazaki Koen, a beautiful park where a flea market, cultural festivals and sports events are sometimes held. Heian Jingu is just behind it, which all looks absolutely amazing during sakura season in April. So if you would like to squeeze this in with your visit, you may wish to research park events and plan ahead well.
(A view of Okazaki Park via Google Maps.) For an additiona 410JPY you can visit the Murin-An, a beautifully manacured Japanese garden. The museum also has Nijo Dori on one side, so a short bus ride can take you towards Kiyomizu-Dera or Gion, two other Kyoto landmarks I would call essential.
All in one building, everything we would personally associate with traditional Japanese culture is on display. In fact, often it is more than on display. You can actually interact with it. They don't just show you rows of obijime kimono cords on display. They have an old man sitting with the traditional weaving equipment right there showing you how they are made. As I squatted, watching the old fellow, he actually pointed at the cord on my kimono outfit and told me I was wearing what he was making. If your Japanese is good enough you might be able to ask these people questions about it all.
Perhaps more excitingly, at regular intervals throughout most days, true Geisha will come and do performances in an area not far from the entrance. As far as I know, this is the only place where you can get to see real Geisha performing for free. Yes, free! Not only that, but once she is done dancing, you can ask her questions about her work, herself and her life. So, it is another thing that is both educational and performative.
When I visited, I was lucky enough that there was a kimono exhibition happening at the time. But this meant much more than just beautiful kimono on purpose built racks to admire from afar. In one hall there was a loom, where a weaver would show you how to make a small patch of fabric you were allowed to take home for free. There was another area where you could learn about how to use traditional dyes. This was popular with children. And there was an area where they had true kimono irons and a troup from a kimono tailoring school, and they were teaching people how to do some of the techniques. If you scroll through the photos in my Instagram posts, you can see what I learned there. And I got to see and do all this for free! I managed to be there on the last day of the kimono exhibition. But the museum held a special sake tasting exhibit at another time! If you would like some omiyage or souvenirs of your visit, the gift shop is almost overflowing with beauty and traditional Japanese style. Since photographs aren't permitted in some parts of the museum, I was unable to document every little thing in my visit. But much of it has been professionally photographed for display on Google Maps.
Can't wait to visit? Google Maps has actually explored the building quite thoroughly. While some areas are somewhat threadbare, you can still find corners with treasures if you look.
(This is an embedded Google map, so you can explore right here!)
While I was there, I got hungry, and there was a small restaurant in one corner of the Museum. As you might expect, the menu was full of popular and traditional Japanese dishes, all for fairly reasonable prices. I went for a set menu. It included various vegetable dishes, rice, some tea and some chicken curry. It was, needless to say, delicious, and I wonderful way to end the day.
To make sure that you are there on the correct day, I recommend viewing the official Kyoto Museum of Traditional Crafts ふれあい館 Website fairly early into your trip planning. This is partly because it is an enormous and complex building with multiple floors. But also, they tend to public comprehensive schedules about activities and events, so you can make sure you're there in time for exactly what you want to see. In fact, for this reason, I recommend arriving very early in the day. This means you can visit the museum in a leisurely manner without worrying too much about loss of time. But it also means you are less likely to miss out on activities, and you can still visit other things in the area once you are done there. The museum schedule currently claims that they will reopen on the 31st of May. But given that even Disneyland expected to reopen by now, such a date should be considered tentative, and an open eye should be kept on the schedule.
(A screen-print of the Kyoto Museum of Crafts and Design website. This image is deceptively prosaic. The inside is actually much more exciting than this. You'll find that out if you go. 15/5/2020.)