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Ayabe Gunze Square: Here Is The Must-See Spot On a Kyoto Trek!

Ayabe Gunze Square: Here Is The Must-See Spot On a Kyoto Trek!

Date published: 9 December 2019
Last updated: 21 October 2020

Gunze, one of Japan's leading textile manufacturers, was founded in Ayabe, a city in the middle of Kyoto Prefecture, in 1896. Ayabe Gunze Square is the perfect spot to take a break, with a museum about the history of Gunze, souvenir shops with specialty products, and a cafe where you can try Ayabe tea.

Here we’ll introduce this charming place—the perfect spot to stop by during a drive around the prefecture!

Table of Contents
  1. Ayabe City Tourist Spot: About 80 min from Kyoto City
  2. A taste of Gyokuro and matcha sweets at Ayabe Cafe
  3. Experience 120 Years of History at the Gunze Museum
  4. Ayabe Tokubetsukan: Get Your Ayabe Souvenirs Here!
  5. 3 Director-Recommended Ayabe Souvenirs

Ayabe City Tourist Spot: About 80 min from Kyoto City

Amanohashidate and Ine-no-funaya are tourist spots in the Kyotango area, the northern part of Kyoto. Since the opening of Kyoto-Jukando Road in 2015, many tourists are now able to visit due to ease of access. It takes about 80 minutes from Kyoto City to Kyotango by car. Among the idyllic countryscape spread throughout the town of Ayabe is the Ayabe Gunze Square.

▲Map of inside the park

Ayabe City is known as the place where Gunze Limited, famous for their undergarments and stockings, was founded. There are establishments such as cafes and souvenir shops in Ayabe Gunze Square, and the Gunze Museum, which was renewed in commemoration of the 120th anniversary of Gunze's foundation.

And now, let's take a look at all the establishments!

A taste of Gyokuro and matcha sweets at Ayabe Cafe

A taste of Gyokuro and matcha sweets at Ayabe Cafe

Surrounded by mountains, the town of Ayabe is known for its temperature difference between morning and evening. It is also known for its tea. Ayabe tea is gaining recognition nationwide and has even continuously won awards for local production at the National Tea Competition.

At this Ayacha Cafe, you can have a taste of such prize-winning tea. It is located in the building 'Ayabe Tokubetsu-kan' in Gunze Square.

▲In a bright, sunny shop, a large table and chairs are placed in an open space.

There are various menu items, such as Ayabe sencha and matcha, as well as sweets made from those teas. The most popular item is the Gyokuro Set (¥800, tax included). You can taste the delicious chiffon cake, rich in the luxurious taste of Ayabe's gyokuro and matcha teas.

There are many green gyokuro tea leaves inside the teapot. Gyokuro is a type of green tea, but it is grown differently. By covering the leaves with black cloth for about three weeks during cultivation and blocking out the sunlight, the bitterness is suppressed, and flavor, sweetness, and scent are all drawn out.

After the water has been boiled and cooled to the appropriate temperature (around 60 degrees), pour carefully into the teapot. Place the lid and let it steep for about 1~2 minutes to draw out the flavor. The taste remains until the very end, so when pouring it into your teacup, make sure to get out every last drop.

After the water has been boiled and cooled to the appropriate temperature (around 60 degrees), pour carefully into the teapot. Place the lid and let it steep for about 1~2 minutes to draw out the flavor. The taste remains until the very end, so when pouring it into your teacup, make sure to get out every last drop.

The matcha and rice flour chiffon cake pairs well with this luxurious gyokuro tea. The tea's refreshing bitterness and the natural sweetness of the rice flour make the perfect combination.

After you finish drinking the tea, you can even eat the gyokuro leaves. As mentioned before, they are grown without being directly hit by the sun, and do not stiffen. The slightly bitter taste and crispy texture also tastes good with ponzu. It seems to be eaten by the locals in tsukudani, a simmered dish.

▲This popular item is the elegantly sweet Matcha Parfait (¥800, tax included).

The matcha ice cream with matcha cake and matcha flour dumplings in this spacious cafe is just what you need after a long drive. You may want to plan a slightly longer break time when visiting.

  • Ayacha Cafe
    綾茶cafe
    • Address 1-2 Kamenashi, Aono-cho, Ayabe-shi, Kyoto-fu
    • Phone Number 0773-43-0835
    • Hours: 9AM~5PM
      Holidays: Tuesdays (in case of national holidays, following day will be closed)

Experience 120 Years of History at the Gunze Museum

Experience 120 Years of History at the Gunze Museum

Next is the Gunze Museum, renewed in November of 2016 to mark the 120th anniversary of its foundation. Valuable items are on display for each of its three themes, "Sogyogura," "Gendaigura," and "Miraigura" (respectively "Establishment," "Present," and "Future" of Gunze).

Sericulture has been popular since ancient times, and Gunze was born as a company run through the silkworm business. At that time, the company was called "Ikarugagun," and to promote the silkworm industry to develop the city further, it became known as "Gunze."

In Sogyogura, you can see exhibits of the machines used in the silk industry as well as the progress made since the time of establishment.

▲The first floor houses many displays of sericulture machines. In the photo you can see a Gunze automatic reeling machine. Silkworm cocoons are boiled and softened to be made into a single thread.
▲This machine is called 'agegaeshiki' and takes the raw silk wrapped around a small frame that was made with the reeling machine, and wraps it around a large frame while drying it.
▲On the second floor you can learn about the life of Hatano Tsurukichi and the history of the company, along with its modern history after the Meiji Restoration.

Next is 'Gendaigura,' or the modern-day warehouse. There are displays of products developed in the textile industry utilizing the expertise cultivated from the silkworm industry, such as the apparel business's main undergarment products.

▲The 'Gunze Original Knitting Machine,' a machine that automatically sews items such as stockings, and can produce up to 1,500 pieces per day.

The second-floor exhibit shows the development of the main products, stockings, and undergarments. From their familiar, modern-day items to items on the more retro side, there are a variety of products displayed.

▲Men's inner wear exhibit, a familiar brand as also seen in commercials

Last is the "Miraigura," or future warehouse. Here they introduce Gunze's future items, such as their latest products and technologies.

▲The "Cloth Piano" is woven from conductive fibers, and you can hear the sound of the electric currents flowing through it when touched.
▲A cord woven with conductive fibers

"Conductive Knit Materials" in which conductive fibers are kitted, such as thin metal wires and metal-plated thread, are flexible, stretchy, and easy to carry, and therefore likely to be used in various products in the future.

When the exhibition tour was over, I took a rest at Dokoan, across from the Ayabe Tokubetsukan. Part of the house in which the founder Hatano Tsurukichi lived has been reconstructed into a rest area. There is also a coffee vending machine. With coffee for ¥100 per cup, it's a great place to relax.

▲The room in which Mr. Tsurukichi lived. Not one to pursue luxury, he seems to have lived in a company house with many other employees.
▲Rest area decorated with retro tables and chairs. In the small garden are bonsai trees, which have carefully looked after and developed together with the people of Ayabe, another progress by Gunze. The little-known history and latest information of these familiar products were very interesting, and so I spent a lot of time there.
  • Gunze Museum
    グンゼ博物苑
    • Address Ayabe Gunze Square, Aono-cho, Ayabe-shi, Kyoto-fu
    • Phone Number 0773-42-3181
    • Hours: Exhibition Collection (Sogyogura, Gendaigura, Miraigura) 10AM~4PM
      Dokoan 11AM~4PM *Thurs, Fri, Sat only
      Closed: Tuesdays (in case of national holidays, following day will be closed)
      Monday~Friday
      0773-42-3181 (Gunze Limited Human Resources General Affairs)
      Sat, Sun, Holidays: 0773-43-1050 (Gunze Museum)

Ayabe Tokubetsukan: Get Your Ayabe Souvenirs Here!

Ayabe Tokubetsukan: Get Your Ayabe Souvenirs Here!

Lastly, let's take a look at the Ayabe Tokubutsukan, or "specialty museum." Here you can buy all kinds of specialty Ayabe products such as locally grown vegetables, agricultural processed goods, local wine and rice, and sweets. It seems to be a popular shopping spot with locals as well as tourists.

▲Many fruits and vegetables are richly and naturally grown.

3 Director-Recommended Ayabe Souvenirs

3 Director-Recommended Ayabe Souvenirs

Out of the many available souvenirs, the ones shown here are recommendations by the Tokubutsukan Director, Mr. Otsuki.

First is the Ayabe tea, as introduced earlier. It is the same tea that is served at Ayacha Cafe. It seems many people come here to buy it after trying it in the cafe.
Gyokuro (50g, ¥1,100), Matcha (100g, ¥1,000), Green Tea (Aoyagi/300g, ¥550) seem to be the popular choices. *Prices include tax.

Next is Japanese sake from Wakamiya Shuzo, which also happens to be near Ayabe Gunze Square. The brand Aya Komachi seems to be fashioned based on a beautiful woman with a weaving machine, from when Ayabe prospered as a silk-producing city. The easy to carry 300mL size is recommended as a souvenir. The most popular items are as seen in the photo, from the left: Junmai Daiginjo (¥712), Ayane (¥712), Junmaishu (¥518). *Prices include tax.

Lastly is Ayabe City's 'yuru-kyara,' or mascot character, Mayupi, an adorable silkworm cocoon that has become a theme here. From the left, plush doll (¥2,160), clear file (¥216), plush phone strap (¥594), rubber phone strap (¥378). These make great souvenirs for kids! *Prices include tax.

There is also the Ayabe Rose Garden in front of the Tokubutsukan. It is organized, managed, and maintained by over 500 volunteer citizens. There are about 1,200 roses in about 120 varieties. *Best time to view is mid-May to mid-June, and the latter part of October.

▲There is a rose arch at the entrance of the garden. It is said to bring happiness if you take a photo here.
  • Ayabe Tokubutsukan
    あやべ特産館
    • Address 1-2 Kamenashi, Aono-cho, Ayabe-shi, Kyoto-fu
    • Phone Number 0773-43-0811
    • Hours: 9AM~5PM
      Closed: Tuesdays (in case of national holiday, following day will be closed)
      *Direct any inquiries regarding the Rose Garden to Ayabe Tokubutsukan

Ayabe Gunze Square is filled with plenty of interesting little places and things, including delicious teas and sweets, a historical center showing the precious history of Gunze, and a beautiful rose garden. If you happen to find yourself driving through the Kyotango area, by all means, please try to drop by.

Text by:Myogaya Nobuhisa

*This information is from the time of this article's publication.
*Prices and options mentioned are subject to change.
*Unless stated otherwise, all prices include tax.

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