Monday, July 12, 2010

Pontocho is Kyoto for Nightlife

26th October, 2006 - Having left Fushimi Inari Taisha, we took a quick train ride up to Pontochō... the first sight we were greeted with was the Minami-za Kabuki theatre. We'd enjoyed Kabuki back in Tokyo (way back in 2003 at the now closed Kabuki-za) - but no time for that today.

Pontochō is one of the traditional areas of Kyōto... known for it's traditional side-streets, restaurants, nightlife and shopping. To get there however, we cross over the river Kamogawa - on which banks much history had lived, and died, in the 1200+ years of the city. Many a person was executed on the shores of this river... certainly the river would not win too many awards for beauty.

We were searching around the streets of Pontochō for something to eat.... and admiring the small shops that you find in the streets and arcades.

The smaller canals of Kyōto are much more picturesque than the nearby river.

During a coffee break, I bone up a little more on the city. At some point I'll write about the books that I used, both in the preparation for our trip, and the research (such as it is) for this blog. Hmmm... I am starting to think that this holiday life has been a little too "comfortable"... for all the walking that we're doing, my belly seems to be getting a bit bigger each day. I'll blame it on being with a pregnant woman... of course I had to provide companionship as she was eating for two.

This is not your normal Colonel Sanders... this is Shinsengumi Sanders. The shinsengumi were made famous recently in an NHK drama series (each year NHK shows a long running historical Taiga drama)... they were an historical force predominantly made up of ronin samurai that had come together to form a protective force for the Shogunate at the end of the Edo Period. In the end they came to a gloriously grisly end - in fact, their final act (at least of one of the leaders, Hijikata Toshizo) was the stand-off with pro-Meiji restoration army in Hakodate, Hokkaido.

Whilst Kyōto is a modern Japanese city, one of the great things about it is that even in the midst of the shopping district, you can find small pockets of traditional Japan. We stumbled upon such a small shrine, Nishiki Tenmangu, snuggled in a little enclave of history in the popular Shinkyōgoku arcade.

It's a strange shrine... perhaps fitting for the area, there's a lot of fortunes to be found here. Including from mechanised fortune-telling machines (on the far left of this shot). There's a sense of light-hearted seriousness about this shrine.

I'm not even sure we should be down here... but...we found another little surprise down the side of the shrine...

A mini-mini-shrine. It's very cute really... but to be honest I don't know the significance (and T-chan didn't know either). If any one can provide some more information, it would be much appreciated.

We hadn't made specific plans for the evening meal, but instead enjoyed walking around the little streets... many of the restaurants were frankly too expensive for our already light wallets/purses. Also many restaurants in this area are also only by "invitation only"... someone needs to have recommended you to the restaurant.. thus politely excluding us dubious travellers from entering.

Another wonder of Kyōto is that whilst you're walking around at night, you see moments as fleeting as they are incongruous. Here two geisha head out for a night of entertainment. Kyōto is certainly famous for it's geisha, though there are only around a few hundred in all of Japan these days.

These were the first geisha that we had seen during our stay, and I have to say that it had an amazing effect on me... standing in front of me was a living, breathing part of history... part of the wonder that in Kyōto.

The canals also took on an extra attractive feel at night time. It's reasonably cool at night now as winter slowly approaches, and walking around the streets had that extra feeling of expectation.

T-chan and I find a small restaurant in Pontochō (also in the Lonely Planet guide)... called Fujino-ya... which is one of the more tourist friendly restaurants in the exclusive Pontochō area; it has the advantage of having a very nice view of the Kamogawa and the Minima-za down the river. The service could have been better for the price - and don't go in expecting a big meal. It was a fun night out however... and this is, after all, the home of kaiseki. The meal is simple and austere. It was a good end to the day (which had been fairly easy)... It was however going to be a busy day tomorrow...

But that's another day.
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  1. Excellent photos. You were lucky to have caught the maiko on camera. And you can tell they are authentic maiko due the the context and the type of car they are getting into.

  2. Ah... now you're pre-empting a later post... ?:n)

  3. Wow, I didn't know Pontocho was so posh! I'd be so sad getting turned away at the restaurants 'by invite only'.

    Were you able to take a picture with any Geishas?

  4. It's easy to forget this as a tourist - but Kyoto is a very traditional city. It's history is not just the shrines, temples and gardens - but the culture of the city itself. In that respect, you're not really considered someone from Kyoto (by Kyotoites themselves) unless you've been there many (many) generations.

    In that respect it's a pretty snobby city... however, they're also realistic in the sense that it's a city that lives now almost solely on the income of tourism (both Japanese and foreign). That's not to say it's a "tourist trap" - just that they know also how to be inviting and share some of the magic.