Kamishichiken, pronounced locally as Kamihichiken, is a district of northwest Kyoto, Japan. It is the oldest hanamachi (geiko district) in Kyoto, and is located just east of the Kitano Tenman-gū Shrine. The name Kamishichiken literally means “Seven Upper Houses.” These refer to the seven teahouses built for warlord Hideyoshi Toyotomi as part of his plan for an extravagant public tea party at the Kitano Tenman Shrine in 1589. Earlier, in 1444, a terrific fire had destroyed the shrine, but many pieces of valuable timber were saved. There was enough wood, so the legend goes, to construct the seven o-chayas.
Kamishichiken is located in Kyoto’s Nishijin area, which is known for traditional hand-woven textiles. The quiet streets of Kamigyō-ku are made up of dark, wooden buildings, mainly o-chaya (teahouses) and o-kiya (geiko houses).
Unlike the other remaining districts, which are located close to the city center, Kamishichiken is further away, and accordingly significantly quieter and attracts fewer tourists. The geiko of this district are known for being subtle and demure, few in number but each highly accomplished dancers and musicians. There are approximately 25 maiko and geiko in Kamishichiken, along with 11 teahouses.
The district crest is a ring of skewered dango (sweet dumplings). On lanterns they appear as red circles on white paper (as opposed to Gion, which uses a similar design, but with the reverse colors – white dango on a red background).
I enjoyed walking this district and having lunch in one of the former o-chaya, Kurosuke. You will recognize it by the hanging Meiji-style lantern mounted on the lower eaves. In the entrance, you will find an old well covered with a bamboo top. Above the well are red and white fans inscribed with the names of the maiko who patronize the o-chaya.
The lunch bento offers several versions on the bean curd made daily at the nearby famous Toyoke tofu shop, but vegetable and fish dishes also form a generous portion of this restaurant’s fine cuisine.
Hours: 11:30 – 2:30 (LO) / 5:00 – 9:30 (LO)