The Ponto-cho is a giddyingly magical pedestrian-only Hanamachi in Kyoto. It’s famous for it’s preservation of traditional forms of entertainment and architecture and has existed since at least the 16th Century if not earlier.
Running from the Shijo-dori to the Sanjo-dori along the Kamo-gawa, the Ponto-cho features some of Kyoto’s finest restaurants, tea houses, Geiko houses, bars, and yes even brothels.
So basically if you’re in Kyoto ya gotta go there!
So what’s it like?
The Ponto-cho Hanamachi is incredible.
It’s pedestrian-only because it’s too narrow for cars and it’s narrowness, combined with all of the buildings and businesses jumbled together on either side, gives it an extremely cosy and other-wordly feeling. Although the entrance is at the busy Shijo-dori, even five metres in the Ponto-cho makes you believe that the modern world no longer exists.
It’s astonishingly clean and just beautiful:
We decided we wanted to have dinner in the Ponto-cho but were a little apprehensive. I’d read on forums that the Ponto-cho was extremely exclusive and that even Japanese customers who weren’t locals had been refused entry on occasion.
We were mentally preparing ourselves for rejection.
Well, I don’t know what sort of place that reviewer visited, but we experienced nothing of the sort. We ate at a lovely little restaurant called ‘Kotoshi’ that was, according to it’s menu, French. Although the last time I saw French cuisine that involved liquid tofu, baby octopus, sashimi, or seaweed was probably never.
Maybe it was French fusion? Let’s just say it was.
Kotoshi is a wonderful little French fusion restaurant that’s located on the right side of the Ponto-cho just before the park. We chose it because it offered vegetarian food and Monique was pretty keen on that. Walking through the little door we were immediately greeted with blissful warmth, mouth-watering smells, a slick all black facade and immediate friendly service.
We were invited to remove our shoes and walk upstairs to a large room that overlooked the Kamo-gawa. The room was dominated by a large stone table that boasted six individual BBQ plates. The room (still black) was accented with white lattice and cherry blossoms.
It. Was. Divine.
I ordered a set menu for 5,500 JPY (which is around $58 AUD). I think this was supposed to be quite an expensive meal but, coming from Perth, I thought this was cheap especially for the incredible food I ate. This probably says more about Perth’s ridiculously inflated prices than it does about Japan. Monique ordered food that was more on the ‘French’ side: ratatouille and roast root vegetables.
Although Kotoshi was (again) a BBQ restaurant it was much classier than Tiger Renbo:My meal included no less than eight separate courses!
It was epic.
If I remember correctly I received a salad, sashimi, a rice dish, miso, some sort of creamy thing wrapped in vine leaves, roast vegetables, ALL the meats (and I really do mean all: beef, pork, chicken, and seafood) and the most delicious dessert – a freshly made sherbet.
Absolutely everything was delicious and the service was attentive. I think our waitresses was working her first day because she was very nervous but totally sweet. She actually complimented us on our Japanese pronunciation so, ya know, she’s kind of in the good books.
We were both drinking cocktails and our final bill came to 11,000 JPY or $117 AUD. Again, I really don’t find this expensive, especially as we were drinking cocktails – not just beer or wine. I thought this was an exceptionally good price for such a wonderful meal in a quality restaurant that offered spectacular river views.
As we’d bothered to do our homework on Japanese etiquette, and had been taught the regional version of ‘thank you,’ (it’s Okini) as we were leaving our hosts asked us if we were Japanese cultural students. That was a pretty damned awesome moment. We thanked our hosts and stepped outside full of food and warmth.
Then the universe tossed us a total bone.
A glimpse into Ukiyo
Just outside Kotoshi was a real-life, bonafide Maiko accompanying some businessmen. She was so beautiful:I really love the last picture. You only get the slightest hint of her slender neck but look at that guy’s expression. He’s enchanted by her and this was the expression that absolutely everyone around her wore.
It was a dream come true to see her. Although we didn’t take pictures (we felt rude) we did see her from the front too and she was just so beautiful, poised, and graceful. I’m eternally thankful I was around at just that moment.
Leaving the Ponto-cho on a high we walked, briefly, down the Shijo-dori and by accident came across a band that was playing on one of the main street corners.
They were very cute (kawaaaiiiiii) and we took some video but, unfortunately, it’s ruined because I tipped my phone to landscape but the video didn’t adjust. I did manage to get a picture out of it though:
This was such a fabulously non-traditional end to a full and lovely evening steeped in the history of Kyoto.
Next post: Using Onsen. That’s right – getting nakey and wet with strangers. And not in a sexy way!
Until next time,
Kally & Mon.
Visiting the Ponto-cho
There are two entrances to the Ponto-cho: one is on the Shijo-dori, the other on the Sanjo-dori.
Both entrances are just across a bridge from the local train stations – Gion-Shijo station on the Keihan line and Sanjo station on the Keihan, Oto and Tozai lines.
The Shijo entrance is on the same street as Gion-Kobu Hanamachi so there’s a few major landmarks that you can use to find it.
This map shows the location of the Ponto-cho and the two entrances:
[Feature Image Credit: Monique Nielsen]
[Image Credit (1-4): Monique Nielsen]
Have you visited the Ponto-cho? Was your experience magical or morose? Leave a comment!