Kotoshi – Dinner in the Ponto-cho

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:

Ponto-cho Kyoto Japan Hanamachi travel JaPlanning writer

Entrance to the Ponto-cho at the Shijo-dori

Pontocho Kyoto Japan Travel Japlanning writer

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[Mnq Nlsn Photograffiiti]
The Ponto-cho – Kyoto

Geisha poster Pontocho Kyoto Freelance Writer

A poster in the Ponto-cho

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

Kotoshi Kyoto Pontocho restaurant JaPlanning

Entrance to Kotoshi

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:

Kotoshi Monique Kyoto cuisine JaPlanning

Mon-Mon!

Kotoshi Kyoto Japan Travel JaPlanning freelance writer

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[Mnq Nlsn Photograffiti]

Kotoshi BBQ Pontocho fine dining kyoto japlanning writing freelance

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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:

Geiko Pontocho Kyoto JaPlanning

Isn’t she amazing?

Meiko Pontocho Kyoto Japan travel japlanning

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Captivated.

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:

Gion Kyoto music performs JaPlanning freelance

Happy face!

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:

ponto-cho access Kyoto Hanamachi Geiko Maiko JaPlanning maps travel

Ponto-cho access map.

Sources:

  1. Wikipedia

Image Credits:

[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!

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12 thoughts on “Kotoshi – Dinner in the Ponto-cho

  1. I loved my time in kyoto – and how beautiful all the geishas were. it was like having a little glimpse into a world far removed from ours as you see them going down the streets. we need more of that kind of beauty in our world.

    • I absolutely agree – they literally cause you to stop and wonder not only about what their world is like but all the history behind them too. Seeing a Geiko in the Ponto-cho was like being in another world.
      When did you visit Kyoto? Any particular stand-out experiences?

      Thanks for commenting too 🙂

      – Kally

      • I think I must have been in japan three–four years ago, and while I don’t remember the specifics of which shops/area we went too, I remember the graciousness of the japanese people, and eating freshly made crackers from those tiny shops along the kyoto streets.

        and our kaiseki meals were a revelation too – so pretty you really can’t bear to start eating.

      • I also found Japanese people to be incredibly hospitable and polite…and I know what you mean with the beautiful meals…it feels like eating a work of art! I guess it is really….

  2. Beautiful! The girl that you caught in the elaborate kimono is a Maiko, it looks like she still has a few years of her training left, judging by how high her hair is and the hair ornaments before she becomes a Geisha/Geiko. I’m not sure if the other woman in kimono is a Geiko/Geisha or not, sometimes it can be hard to tell when they aren’t wearing the full regalia ^^ Great catch!

    • Ahh she’s Maiko! I’ll change that small but important detail now – thanks for the heads up. I think the older lady was a Geiko, she seemed to be accompanying the girl and sort of taking care of her and her clients.

      Thanks for commenting – it really was a case of: right time, right place 🙂

      – Kally

      • Yuppers ^^ Though people usually confuse them for each other, Geiko and Maiko look completely different. As I said, it’s hard to tell when they’re not dressed in their wigs and make up because Geiko can choose not to have their natural hair worked into the complicated hair style, she could be a Geiko, sometimes they accompany Maiko and play the music as they dance, or she could be another patron that is in the group to watch her preform, she may even be a shikomi (a girl who is wanting to become a Maiko) though it’s hard to tell what her age is. Normally when a Maiko is at this stage, they don’t need much help, since the patrons would have to pay for the geisha/maiko accompanying them to assist, they normally know what they’re doing and how to get around. To me it looks like she’s probably in her second year of training. ^^ Don’t you love it when you’re in the right place at the right time? ^^

      • The woman with her was much older I’d say maybe in her 40’s? That’s interesting about the Maiko – how do you know so much about Maiko/Geiko? You sound very knowledgeable! 🙂

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