The city plan of Kyoto follows grid pattern including its Eastern area which was added later as the city developed eastwards. However, when we cross Higashi-oji-dori eastward and enter the hilly area, grid pattern is given up and substituted with narrow alleys with natural windings.
Kyoto was destroyed during the turbulent time in the 1860s, specifically at the Hamaguri rebellion in 1864. Then, after the Meiji restoration (1868) Emperor and court nobles moved to Tokyo. Kyoto was deserted and became desolate during the Meiji period (1868-1912). The construction of Lake Biwa Canal (1890) and the establishment of University of Kyoto (1897) at the end of the 19th century gradually revived the city.
The Higashiyama area took the present shape at the beginning of the Taisho period (1912-1926). Fortunately this area could survive the lapse of time without much change. Though the townscape did not originate in the feudal time, smaller houses were at the time still constructed by and large with the traditional method and material. For most Japanese people the image of Kyoto is associated with these narrow alleys and in particular the view of Yasaka-no-to (Yasaka pagoda) seen from Yasaka-dori.
Let me start with the southern end, namely Kiyomizu-dera. As Kiytomizu-dera is a must-destination for high-school students on their school trip to Tokyo, Kiyomizu-zaka is always crowded with young students and many shops along the street are specialized in souvenirs for those young students.
Sannen-zaka, Ninen-zaka and their much shorter sister-alley Ichinen-zaka have partly stone steps and nowadays crowded with tourists. There are more newly opened shops than those with tradition and their targets are obviously young women who have time and pocket money most abundantly.
Ishibe-koji is not crowded, as there are no shops. Restaurants and hotels are located in the alley and make a very quiet atmosphere. It is worth trying to order a table in one of those restaurants or stay one night in a Japanese style guesthouse.
It's no use to continue lengthy explanations. Please click the thumnails to see bigger photos. "Seeing is more convincing than hearing 100 times" says a Japanese saying.