It was early evening and dusk had set in. We headed to a popular Kyōto entertainment area, Pontochō, located in an atmospheric area between Shijo- dori and Sanjo-dori, west of Kamogawa River. Off the main road, we entered an inconspicuous narrow alleyway with a few lanterns hung on an overhead signpost. Upon entering, a different world seems to exist here. This pedestrian only street of well- preserved traditional 16th century dark wooden houses is packed with restaurants offering inexpensive yakitori to modern and traditional cuisine. Western- style restaurants and pubs are conveniently located here as well. On the flip side, there are the expensive geisha houses and “Chaya”, tea houses. Pontochō is located in Kyōto’s “Hanamachi”, geisha district. Working geisha and “maiko” can be seen in this area. Many Kyōto residents and visitors suggest this to be the most beautiful street in the city. I may have to agree.
With soft light from road side lanterns and dimly lit street lights, this street oozed charm and a feeling of stepping back in time of the Edo Period. Although narrow and crowded, the paved street was pleasant enough to stroll. With numerous choices of eateries, we were careful to read the menu, some in English, and check out the prices before venturing inside. High end tea houses entertained by geisha are also intermingled here. Samples of dishes in plastic and interestingly displays of fresh vegetable were laid at the entrances. Sake bottles lay at the doors to entice and welcome visitors. Everything is neat, tidy and certainly inviting.
We choose Mimasuya Restaurant located in a restored old merchant house. With the usual loud mass gesture of “irasshaimase”, welcome, from the kitchen staff, we were ushered into a cosy room over- looking the Kamogawa River. City lights twinkled across the river. The staff spoke little English. The dishes, however, were beautifully presented and were delicious as all our meals had been so far.
We had “sushi”, tuna “sashimi” platter, salmon and tempura platter accompanied with the usual “tsukemono”, pickled vegetables and miso soup. The ambiance and setting of the interior together with a polite and friendly service, it was indeed a dinner to remember. I looked forward to saying “sumimasen, okanjo o kudasai”, excuse me, the bill please. The response is received with delight. The bill tonight was ¥8000. As we walked past the open kitchen to the exit door, again, en-mass, the kitchen staff thanked us. We felt welcomed and appreciated. It was a good feeling.
We continued our stroll down the wonderful street. Little streets branched off leading to various establishments including karaoke and bars. We entered a main street with a canal lined with weeping willows. Soon, we were back in the din of Kyōto City. Pontochō is essentially a must see sight in Kyōto both for ambiance, old world charm and delicious food. This is our last night in Kyōto before we head to the first ancient capital of Feudal Japan, Nara. Today, unfortunately, there was no encounter with the beautiful geisha.