Discover the Historic District of Pontocho, Kyoto

As the number two Geisha district in Japan, Pontocho is home to traditional Kyoto nightlife that has spanned for more than 400 years. Like the district of Gion and Higashiyama, Pontocho only allows Edo-era style buildings, keeping up with the traditional feel of the area. In this article we’ll discuss some of the aspects of this gorgeous area.

Wander Down Pontocho Alley

The name of the area, Pontocho, is said to be a combination of the Portuguese word “ponte” meaning bridge and the Japanese word “cho” meaning town, making it difficult for Japanese people to read its Kanji as it’s an uncommon reading.

The main highlight of the area is Pontocho Alley, a narrow alleyway situated one block to the west of Kamogawa River between the Shijo-dori and Sanjo-dori streets. This narrow street doesn’t allow any cars, trucks or motorbikes down it, so it must be traversed by foot.

On each side of the alley are exotic looking houses that contain restaurants, tea-houses, bars and other establishments, some that are invite only and off limits to the regular traveler. During the daytime, the alley is unassuming, but when the clock strikes 5 PM, the red and yellow lanterns illuminate, and the alley is open for business into the dark hours of the night.

Looking back at Pontocho Kyoto

The long history of Pontocho Kyoto goes back over 400 years. The district was established in 1670 when the Edo government reinforced the riverbank on the Kamo River, creating new land which became the Pontocho district.

Geisha moved into the area and it was christened as one of the five “hanamachi” areas of Kyoto, translated literally as ‘flower town”. Due to the nature of geisha work, the district was, and still is, known for its nightlife, consisting of brothels and more.

These days you can watch Geisha perform at the Kaburenjo Theatre, which has trained up Geisha since 1870 and is one of the only places in Japan where you can see real professional Geisha perform. This only happens twice a year at the Kamogawa Odori and is an experience not to be missed.

Dine at Pontocho Restaurants

Even if there are some “invite-only” Pontocho Restaurants, only available to those who know the right people, there are still eateries available for anyone to enjoy. While you’re on one of the most traditional streets in Kyoto, a traditional “Kaiseki” Japanese multi-course dinner is the way to go.

Nagame Pontocho Hana

Served up at Nagame Pontocho Hana, the chef prides himself on his original dishes that change according to the season. The restaurant has numerous locally brewed sake from Kyoto’s famous sake production area, Fushimi. You’re able to try the reasonably priced lunch set, or the more exquisite dinner set, which has the full offering. Operating Hours are from 11:30am to 2:00pm and dinner from 5:00pm to 9:00pm.

Spot information

  • Spot name: Nagame Pontocho Hana
  • Street address: 232-10 Nabeyacho, Nakagyo-ku, Kyoto, Kyoto 604-8016
  • Access: A 5-minute walk from Kawaramachi Station Exit A1 or Gion-Shijo Station Exit 4

Yamatomi

On the other side of the alley, you can grab a place from Yamatomi, an a-la-carte restaurant that serves over 100 dishes! At 500 yen a pop for any of their dishes, Yamatomi is an easy place to relax after a hard day's walk around Pontocho. Hours are from 12:00pm to 2:00pm for lunch and from 4:00pm to 11:30pm for dinner.

Spot information

  • Spot name: Yamatomi
  • Street address: 226 Nabeyacho, Nakagyo-ku, Kyoto, Kyoto 604-8015
  • Access: A 5-minute walk from Kawaramachi Station Exit A1 or Gion-Shijo Station Exit 4

The Most Traditional Ryokan Pontocho Kyoto Has to Offer

Only the most traditional Ryokan Pontocho Kyoto has to offer would be the best for a traveler looking to stay in Kyoto’s most traditional area. While most Ryokan can be pretty pricey, the Guest House Yoshinoya lets you stay in an authentic renovated Japanese machiya-type house, with the comforts of having all the amenities you need at a reasonable price.

Only a few minutes away from Pontocho, you can enjoy all the nightlife the district has to offer, while not having to worry about how you’re going to get back to where you’re staying. Book quickly though, there are only a limited amount of rooms in the ryokan, so book your dates well in advance.

Spot information

  • Spot name: Guest House Yoshinoya
  • Street address: 357 Kamiya-Cho, Shijo-Agaru, Takasegawa-Suji, Nakagyo-Ku, Kyoto, Kyoto 604-8024
  • Access: A 7-minute walk from Kawaramachi Station Exit A1 or Gion-Shijo Station Exit 4

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