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Japan 2010 Pontocho, Kyoto
Entering through the street of Pontochō

In the historical prefecture of Kyoto lie a narrow stone paved street running between Sanjō-dōri and Shijō-dōri Avenues and parallel to the Kamogawa river. Pontochō (先斗町) is a magical street in central Kyoto, exotic and dripping with atmosphere. The street name was said to be a blend of the Portuguese word "ponto" (meaning point), or possibly "ponte" (bridge), and the Japanese word "chō" (meaning town, street, or road).

Japan 2010 Pontocho, Kyoto

I particularly enjoyed the Pontochō street for its history and tradition. Kabuki (歌舞伎), the highly stylized classical Japanese dance-drama was started here. Built on a sandbar since the 1500s, chaya (geisha houses) and ryotei (restaurants) lined the streets. Geisha entertainment and seedier establishments brought in the illicit trade in prostitutes, male and female. Within the geisha hierarchy, Pontochō follows just behind Gion which is the top-ranked area.

Japan 2010 Pontocho, Kyoto

Today, the narrow laneways of Pontochō offer many bars and riverside dining. The beautiful street is decorated with lanterns at night and one can admire the many old buildings or savor a gastronomical treat in an expensive restaurant, bar or hostess clubs - the cheaper and modern alternative to geisha entertainment.

At the northern end of Pontochō, just south of Sanjo Dori, is the Pontochō Kaburenjo Theater. This theater is where the maiko (geisha apprentice) practice to perform the Kamogawa Odori, or Kamogawa river dancing.

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