When it comes to eating in Japan, dining doesn’t only happen in the open, wide streets. It happens in the alley, too! One of the most atmospheric dining places can be found in Kyoto. It is popularly called “Pontocho” (先斗町) which is a narrow alley lined with traditional-looking entrances. It is also home to many of Japan’s homemade dishes.
Pontocho is a narrow alley that runs from Shijo-dori (四条通) to Sanjo-dori (三条通). It is packed with competing restaurants from side to side. You’ll be able to notice red lanterns hanging on each of the restaurant’s entrances. This is the reason why the alley has also been called a red-light district. It features finest restaurants, tea houses, bars, Geiko houses, and the like. Dining options may range from cheap to expensive foods. Some cuisines are very traditional while others are foreign ones. Along the way, you may be greeted by some chefs in their white coats walking up and down or tracking some deliveries. The place is also astonishingly clean and beautiful which transports you to the old Kyoto.
The narrowness of the alley gives it an extremely cozy atmosphere. Many of its restaurants on the east overlook the beautiful Kamogawa River (鴨川). Some of them have wooden decks jutting over the canal which makes it quite old-fashioned yet a wonderful sight to see. Some of these are built temporarily during those months when the river is overflowing with water. It gives diners a chance to be out in the open air to enjoy the view. A proper term for this in Japanese is “kawayuka (川床)” which is a way of beating the summer heat in the country. Due to its popularity, it is recommended to make advance reservations, especially during weekends when everybody just wants to dine out.
The business hours in Pontocho highly depends on the restaurant. Many of them open at 5 a.m. and closes at 11 p.m. If you have a hard time understanding Japanese, then it is your luck as most of the establishments there are offering English menus. So if you want to spend some time alone or with friends while dreaming away near the river, Pontocho is definitely the place for you.
Pontocho’s Website *Japanese only