あじき路地Ajiki Roji is an alley of Kyoto machiya in 東山Higashiyama that date back at least 100 years to the 大正時代Taisho Period. After a long period of vacancy, in 2004 the landlady decided to rent out the machiya as homes to young (up to 35 years in age) struggling artisans (everyone must be of different trades); once the tenants become successful in their trade, they move out and yet other young aspiring artisans have their turn. The roji is now quite well-known and the weekends when most of the shops are open are full of visitors as well as locals who come to purchase the unique goods and services offered as well as bask in the almost surreal environment where one may feel transported back in time. There’s even a manga (Japanese comic), “路地恋花Roji Koibana (Love Flower Alley)” by 麻生 みことMikoto Asou, modeled after the roji.
My first encounter with information on Ajiki Roji was the February 11, 2012, airing of 住人十色Juunin-Tohiro, a pun off the phrase “十人十色juunin-tohiro” which basically means “different strokes for different folks”, replacing “十人” with “住人” (meaning “resident”). The show introduced Mari Itou, a young woman originally from Osaka who teaches おばんざいo-banzai, or Kyoto homestyle cuisine, in a cooking class in her Ajiki Roji machiya; her first encounter with the roji was through “Roji Koibana” and it was her dream to open a cooking class in Ajiki Roji one day. However, before any young artisan is approved as a tenant, he has to go through an お見合いo-miai, in most cases except here “a formal marriage interview”, with the landlady who looks for well-mannered and gentle-spoken youth who will take good care of the machiya. The show also introduced other artisans who live in the roji All the tenants seemed to get on like one big happy family with the landlady as their おかあさんokaasan, or “mother”.
I’ve had an amateur interest in Kyoto 長屋nagaya (row house) and machiya for about a decade now, finding them so irresistibly quaint, especially when the upkeep is meticulous; the machiya found at Ajiki Roji were no exception, many of which have been renovated to fit the lifestyle of each tenant (shops and workshops usually on the first floor and personal living space on the second). After watching the show, I longed to immediately go experience for myself that simple and serene alley, wishing I’d known about it sooner.
Finally over a month after watching the Juunin-Tohiro on Ajiki Roji, I convinced Yuri to go with me after lunch at CAFE HERON when we met in mid-March. Although we got a little lost trying to find the roji at first, we eventually found it.
the water pump at the entrance
There was no one around which made it harder for us to recognize the roji; later, we wondered if it had anything to do with it being a national holiday…anyway, I was still glad to have come because nothing changed the fact that the scene was still charming.
“あなたのすみれAnata no sumire smile”, Itou-san’s cooking class…the display outside was the one that I saw on Juunin-Tohiro (I ended up taking a flier for the cooking class home).
I was a bit bummed because plans to buy bread at the bakery and have tea at “月あかりTsuki-akari”, an atelier for Japanese-style lighting, mainly made from Japanese paper and cloth, since 2001 and also started serving tea as a teahouse in the last few years to visitors so they could stay a little longer and enjoy the ambience of Ajiki Roji were foiled. However, I didn’t get to go back until over a year later in mid-October last year when I asked Yuri to go again with me…this time, it didn’t take us too long to find it.
大黒湯Daikoku-yu, the local public bath, is the best landmark but this sign for bread (it says “パンpan” at the entrance to the roji was also a good hint.☺
Not too much had changed except this time, there were shops open.☺
First stop, “にちようびのパン屋さんNichiyohbi no Panya-san (Sunday’s Bakery)”, open only, you guessed it, Sunday…L’AMI DU PAIN, a bakery run by a French baker in 北山Kitayama, shares this machiya with four other artisans.
Take your shoes off before going up (that’s the rule for the shops at Ajiki Roji)!
There were so many breads from which to choose and they all looked so good! After much debate, I chose チーズフォカッチャcheese focaccia, ￥250 and クランベリー＆チョコcranberry & chocolate (baguette), ￥200, reasonable prices considering how big the bread was!
I had them for dinner later that night: both breads were delicious with perfect textures…can’t wait to get some more again!☺
We went in to the end and worked our way out checking out each machiya.
“Anata no sumire smile”…some changes to the exterior since we were last there, plus I heard voices inside (class in progress?).
“プセットPOUSETTE: LE BUREAU de DESSIN”, the shop and atelier for がまぐちgamaguchi (purses with a metal clasp) since 2001
If you can see further in, there’s Ogawa-san at work.
“タカトモハンコTakatomo Hanko”, a はんこhanko, or stamp shop with unique stamps (one can also order original ones)
“月あかりTsuki-akari…unfortunately we went during the period that it was closed (it was back on schedule not too long after our Ajiki Roji visit). Oh, well, will try again sometime.
“Maison de Kuuu”, a baked sweets shop…more eats? Of course we had to go in.☺
a sophisticated sign most likely designed by “だるま商店Daruma Shohten”, an illustrating unit at Ajiki Roji that uses graphic design as well as manual brushes for their work
The interior was simple yet sophisticated…
(a closer look at the goodies on the windowsill)
…as was the presentation of the baked goods.
Since I had bought bread, I just bought the シュトロイゼル・アン・ノアStreusel Ann Noix, ￥220, this time.
I had it the next day: with an interesting and tasty combination of textures I was convinced to try it and more next time!
Actually, when I think about it, Ajiki Roji isn’t so far from where I work (now that I’m sure of the location☺); I can easily walk there but each shop is only open certain days and times (rightfully so, for them to work on the objects of consumers’ interests). It’s hard to go when every machiya is accessible but probably a Saturday or Sunday afternoon would be anyone’s best bet.☺
Update: Over a year and three months later, I decided on the spur of the moment to show Jennifer あじき路地Ajiki Roji when we were in the area on our way to 祇園Gion NITI…this outstanding and charming sign for L’AMI DU PAIN out on the street before entering the roji was new for me.
Besides Sunday’s Bakery, it seemed quiet with no visitors.When we walked in, the pretty, young non-Japanese vendor who was manning the shop the last time I came was immersed in conversation with a female Japanese customer. She spoke English as beautifully as she spoke Japanese…I couldn’t guess what country she was from, all I know is that her accent wasn’t that of an American, but decided not to inquire, especially because there were quite a bit of customers by the time we paid.
Although I’m not a fan of メレンゲmeringue, I couldn’t resist buying such a big one (it was almost as big as my hand!) at ￥50! The ベーコンエピbacon epi, ￥250, also bigger than what one would find normally in Japan, looked good, too, so I purchased that as well.
When I had them later at home, it was no surprise that I was pleased with my buys…the chewy texture of the bread and the subtly sweet bacon in each strand of the braid of bread made for a satisfyingly delicious experience. The meringue was crispy on the outside but the middle was soft like taffy allowing me to have two different experiences in one.
I was sad to see that the cooking school, あなたのすみれAnata no sumire smile, moved at the end of 2014 but like anyone who moves out in the end, Itou-san was ready to take the next step in pursuing her dream; プセットPOUSETTE: LE BUREAU de DESSIN was also gone, moved out earlier in December 2014 (it’s a shame I never went in). It appeared they were taking applicants for these machiya…I have no doubt applicants will pop up soon.
ギャラリーあじきGallery Ajiki, the reformed former abode of the former landlady, was new for me, too…not only does it serve as the headquarters of the roji but I believe artisans, etc. can rent this space to feature their work and wares as well.
This visit and all the changes that I saw since the last time I went convinced me I need to go more often.