Pontocho & the Kamo Riverside

April 16, 2005

by Aiko Yoshiba; Ique Kawasaki; Yuka Keitoku


Pontocho & the Kamo Riverside



If you enjoy colorful nightlife, you’ll love Kyoto’s Pontocho Street near the eastern banks of the Kamo River. Lying along a narrow path no wider than two meters are adjoining restaurants, bars and chaya (“teahouses” owned by women known as okami-san.) Every night, waves of people sweep through Pontocho. It has a reputation as a lively, elegant and tasteful street.
Pontocho changes with the seasons. In May, Japanese paper lanterns begin to appear in the front entrances of establishments. From late June, the restaurants provide customers with outdoor seating on balcony platforms suspended over the banks of the Kamo River, where they can dine while watching the flowing river and its surrounding scenery. Pontocho is a mysterious space that mixes new tastes and traditional atmosphere: there are many Western-style bars and Japanese restaurants built in machiya-style houses.

Hanamachi & Kaburenjo

Pontocho is one of Kyoto’s hanamachi, which literally means “flower town,” a term probably derived from the geiko (geisha) and maiko found here, who are dressed like colorful, fragrant flowers. You can see these women coming and going on Pontocho Street. You will feel as if you have slipped back in time to the Edo period. If you’d like to see maiko and geiko perform at an affordable price, you can to go to the Kaburenjo Theater, located in the northern part of Pontocho Street. This is where they practice their traditional dances and music. In May you can enjoy the Kamogawa Odori dance show, which has been performed here since 1872.

History & Symbol

The Pontocho district was established in 1670, when the Edo government carried out a riverbank reinforcement project on the Kamo River. The reclaimed land between the Takase and Kamo rivers became the Pontocho area, which soon flourished with inns and chaya. The origin of the name “Pontocho” is actually Portuguese. It means “point,” “tip” or “tap.”In fact, it is difficult for us Japanese to read the Chinese character used for “Ponto.” Pontocho’s symbol is the chidori or plover, a common wading bird. You can see plovers and other birds in the Kamo River, especially in winter when many birds migrate here from Russia.
The nearest bus stop to Pontocho on Shijo-dori is Shijo Kawaramachi. Ten bus lines stop here, including numbers 17 and 205 from Kyoto Station. By train, the closest stations are Keihan Shijo Station and Hankyu Kawaramachi Station.

More About the Kamo River

Walking east along Shijo Street and approaching Shijo Bridge, you will hear the joyous melodies of a river current. It’s the Kamo River. In the daytime, there are couples sitting and talking, families going for strolls, people walking their dogs, and children playing by the river. The charms of the Kamo have long attracted a widespread popularity among residents and tourists alike.The river runs through the center of the city, from north to south,joining the Katsura River in Fushimi.At night, in the area between the Sanjo and Shijo bridges, you will almost always find couples sitting by the river, spaced equally apart, enjoying the night time quiet. Their numbers naturally rise in summer.
The river is clean, and sweetfish swim in the water. It is said that people commonly fished here a long time ago. There was also was the saying “wash your face with water of the Kamo River,” so some people even say that the river helped create “beautiful Kyoto women.”Kyoto city lies in a natural basin between mountain ranges, so it is very hot and humid in summer. As mentioned above, during that sultry season lots of people enjoy having dinner on the yuka balconies which restaurants set up above the riverside. The riverside in summer is most colorful due to the many lights on these balconies, and there is even live jazz sometimes. How romantic! You can delight in this dreamlike world…

Two Riverside Favorites



When you enter this luxurious restaurant, you can feel an exotic mood as if you were somewhere like Bali, because of its decor and music. Formerly known as Funatsuru, The River Oriental has a long history: it was established as a Japanese-style restaurant about 130 years ago. Though it changed five years ago, it has kept much of the original interior and atmosphere. Here you can enjoy delicious Eurasian fusion food based on French and Italian styles with Kyoto vegetables.English menu. Open 17:00-23:00, last order 22:00. Extra 800 yen per person yuka balcony charge. Address: Matsubara agaru Kiyamachi dori, Shimogyo-ku, Kyoto, 600-8015. Tel: 075-351-8541.


Have you ever eaten mochi, the Japanese rice cake? Whether your answer is yes or no, we recommend that you go to Kitamura. This specialty restaurant serves a wide variety of fine mochi cuisine, from unpretentious dishes to posh ones, and you enjoy interesting and tasty ones that even most Japanese have never eaten. There are about 40 kinds of dishes that are each original, such as rice cake with a cod roe sauce and egg yolk, which, by the way, is the most popular menu item.Owner Kitamura Yasunao and his chefs aim to express the heart of Kyoto through their dishes; they use artistic techniques in creating their rice cakes. You will enjoy dishes served with warm hospitality in a traditional Japanese air. Kitamura’s use of freshly-pounded rice cake shows their dedication to serving the finest dishes. You will spend a comfortable time here, feeling the true spirit of Kyoto.Open for lunch 12:30-14:00 (May & Sept. only), dinner 17:00-23:00 year-round. Located south of Shijo; Tel: 075-351-7871.

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