There is a back alley smack bang in the middle of Kyoto’s shopping and entertainment district which has gradually become the centre of a new fashion movement. While this alley does not seem to have an official name, it is becoming known as ‘Sou-Sou’s street’ by fashionable types, with as many as 7 different of Sou-Sou’s funky little shops in a 100 meter area. Though Tokyo and Osaka are Japan’s major fashion centres, Sou-Sou has created a fashion style which draws fans from both the bigger cities and across the world by having a uniquely Kyoto approach and mixing Japanese, Eastern and Western styles in a way that is experimental but still adapted to modern life and fashions.
Sou-Sou: ‘Creating modern design based on Japanese tradition.’
Sou-Sou started business in 2003/4, and is now celebrating its 10th year. They started out by selling what is still one of their biggest sellers and most recognizable items, ‘jikatabi’ or ‘tabi’ shoes (地下足袋). Jikatabi were originally worn by construction-site labourers, gardeners, farmers and others, and are split between the big toe and other toes. Because they are split like this, they provide improved grip to the ground, and therefore better balance. Sou-Sou have given this traditional shoe a make-over, by thickening the sole and using modern and colourful designs made by the company. These have since been a hit in Paris, New York and California, and have even been spotted in my city, Melbourne Australia!
From 2005 this single shop was expanded, and other shops were added, including shops selling men’s and women’s clothes, sports apparel (through a partnership with the French company Le Coq Sportif), a shop for tenugui (traditional Japanese hand-towels), kids clothes, fabrics, and even recently a cafe and Japanese sweets shop! Each of these shops stick to the forming ideas of the company; modern and interesting designs, a Japanese traditional base, high quality, supporting traditional Japanese textile and other industries and craftsmen, and Japanese made.
SOU-SOU Shop Shitsurai (しつらい）
Sou-Sou’s Shitsurai can be found in the middle of the Sou-Sou area on the second floor above the Sou-Sou Kikoromo women’s shop. The building is on a corner and is a traditional wooden building that has been beautifully redesigned and modernized. The shop has a textile section (all of which are Sou-Sou designed) and a small counter-cafe. This cafe however, is just as experimental as the shoes and clothes on offer!
While some cafes in Kyoto offer a tea ceremony using powdered green tea, this cafe also offers a coffee ceremony designed of course by the Sou-Sou team! Not only this, but the Japanese sweets on offer are also designed in cooperation between the Sou-Sou designers and a local sweets craftsman based on a seasonal theme. You can either order green tea or coffee, and then sit and watch them make it- as an art in itself. Also, unlike tea ceremony, the cafe has proper seating, which will save your legs from going numb! This is a great place to relax and experience a bit of modern-traditional Kyoto culture.
The Sou-Sou area can be found by entering Shinkyogoku arcade (one of the major shopping arcades in the city and well worth a stroll in itself) from Shijo street and taking the second small street right. The shops will be a little further up on your right. This area is in the centre of the shopping district in the city, so there is a high chance that you will find some other interesting shops, galleries and cafes.
Inside each Sou-Sou shop you should find a map showing where the different Sou-Sou shops are. Please ask the staff if you need help or directions, as most of them speak some English.
They also have an online shop in English:
Cafe: Powdered green tea or coffee 450Y. Set with Sou-Sou designed Japanese sweet, about 850Y.
View SouSou in a larger map