Pontocho (先斗町)

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We’re heading back to Japan in October, and one of the places I want to explore more thoroughly is Pontocho in Kyoto.

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We’ve wandered along its narrow alley on a couple of visits, usually at the end of a long day of sight seeing, but never really paid much attention to it as a destination. It’s often been an afterthought. A place we’ve slipped into as we were passing along Shijo-dori on our way somewhere else, or on our way home. It’s usually crowded with people and we haven’t eaten at any of the restaurants or tried to go into any of the bars that line it. We did once see a small Tetsujin 28-go sitting in a basket of charcoal, though, which was cute.

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Pontocho is one of Kyoto’s Hanamachi, but we’ve never timed it quite right to see a Geiko or a Maiko making her way to an appointment at one of the exclusive tea houses in the area. The Pontocho tea houses are beautiful from the outside, but without an introduction we know we’ll never get to see inside one.

We’ve admired the exterior of the restaurant Takara (多から) a couple of times, but haven’t ventured inside there, either. Mainly because we’re vegetarian and traditional Japanese restaurants are generally off limits to us.

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Peering down the alleyways that run off at tangents to the main street is intriguing. I usually feel too gauche and lacking in adequate Japanese to venture down them and see where we end up. They are pretty to look at, though, and I think that is part of the charm of Pontocho. You don’t have to spend money and visit the bars and restaurants to feel like you’ve spent time there.

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I do fancy popping into the Hello Dolly Jazz & Whisky Bar, mainly because of the Doris Day picture in the window, but also because other people’s photos on Trip Advisor make it look great.

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I want to try Vodka Bar Nakanishi as well, since vodka is one of my favourite things in life, and it has a corking display of matryoshka dolls in the window. Maybe this year will be the year we pass through its doors.

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I also like looking at the signs outside the restaurants and bars that try to tempt passersby with their creativity. I only eat fish in extreme circumstances and Mr Hicks doesn’t eat it at all, but I love the hand drawn images that we saw outside one sushi restaurant we passed.

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Almost everywhere you look there are traditional lanterns featuring the chidori, or plover, which is the symbol of Pontocho.

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Perhaps this year will be the year we make time to visit Pontocho on purpose and have a few drinks alongside the Kamogawa.

If you’ve been to Pontocho and have any hints and tips, please make suggestions for where we might go in the comments!

10 responses to this post.

  1. This place looks so beautiful. Are bars specific to a certain kind of a liquor a common thing? I don’t think I’ve ever seen one, but I like the idea. I love both vodka and whiskey, and both of those bars look lovely.

    Reply

    • Usually you can get all sorts of spirits in bars. There’s another whisky bar in Kyoto that we’ve been to, but they serve other drinks as well. We’ve been to pubs and izakaya as well, which serve beers and food.

      Reply

  2. Posted by Janet Heineck on 06/08/2016 at 8:20 pm

    No hints or tips since I have never been there. Very much looking forward to photos and descriptions of your Pontocho adventures.

    Reply

  3. Those photos have kindled a yearning to go back to Japan. Will you just be around Kyoto or are you doing Osaka and Tokyo too?

    Reply

    • This year we’re doing Kyoto, Nagoya and Kobe. Haven’t been to Nagoya or Kobe before. I want to do a day trip to Hikone on Lake Biwa as well, while we’re in Kyoto.

      Reply

      • I spent 6 weeks in Nagoya as a home stay student when I was 16. It totally blew my mind. It was most definitely one of those life changing experiences.

      • I’m really looking forward to it. I have a friend who works for a Japanese company in the UK and his Japanese office is in Nagoya. He’s given me lots of tips about where to go. My main reason for wanting to go is because I am current custodian of my grandparents’ Noritake vases. They married in the 1920s and the vases were a wedding gift. I don’t know where mill workers would get hold of imported Japanese porcelain in Oldham, so I want to go to the museum to see if I can discover anything.

      • Can’t think of a better reason….

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