Many of the old merchant houses have been turned into restaurants and shops (Photo: Lee Tan)

Kawasaki in Ise

Explore Ise town's old merchant quarter

Many of the old merchant houses have been turned into restaurants and shops (Photo: Lee Tan)
Lee Tan   - 3 min read

During the Edo period, the Kawasaki quarter of Ise town was known as "The Kitchen of Ise" where pilgrims to the Ise Shrine would come for food and entertainment. It was also developed into a market for wholesale goods. Traces of the traditional merchant buildings can still be seen today. The area stretches along the Seta River, and is easily covered on foot. If you are interested in Edo-style architecture, this atmospheric neighbourhood is a great place to spend an afternoon. 

As you walk around, you'll find the traditional merchant houses tucked in here and there between contemporary dwelling. Many of them have been converted into cafes, restaurants and shops. I dropped by a converted warehouse cafe where I had a simple breakfast of bread, hard-boiled egg and a strong cup of drip coffee. It had the feel of a cafe and a bar, with jazz playing in the background and neighbours dropping in just to have a chat with the owner.

Modern eateries have also made their way here, such as a modern-day izakaya, as well as a Japanese-French restaurant run by a former hotel chef. At Monna-lisa, you will find a cafe as well as a shop full of cute things to buy. Further along the river, you will come across Coffee Nakamura, which sells the best coffee beans in town. Apparently there is a secret sushi restaurant around these parts that I did not manage to find.

Some of the tourist attractions here are the Ise Kawasaki Merchant Hall and the Ise Shunkei Design Workshop. The former is a 300-year-old sake house that belonged to a sake wholesaler. It is now a highly recommended museum housing traditional cider-making equipment and an interior that harks back to old Japan. You can view the garden, the front room and tea ceremony room, as well as a nice collection of antiques, photos and books. Admission is ¥300 for adults.

The Ise Shunkei Design Workshop houses a small museum displaying and selling Ise Shunkei lacquerware that has been manufactured since the Edo period. There is also a demonstration so visitors can see the coating process of the lacquerware. Admission here is free.

The Kawasaki area is a 15-minute walk from the JR/Kintetsu Ise-shi Station and Kintetsu Ujiyamada Station. You can also rent a bike to better explore this historic area.

Lee Tan

Lee Tan @lee.tan

Writer, photographer and traveller.