Numbered alleys in Ponto-cho

“Something like the alley has”, which connects streets and people.

Text : Kenji Tsuchihashi / Photo : Takahiro Mitsukawa

  One of the five Hanamachi (red light districts), Ponto-cho has alleys with number tags just like Gion area has. Some don’t have any numbers, but we confirm that they have alleys from No.2 to No.25 and it appears that most of them connects Ponto-cho Dori and Kiyamachi Dori.

  A number of areas in Kyoto needed to be reconstructed because of a massive fire, ‘DonDon-yake’ in 1864, but fortunately the area that Ponto-cho locates didn’t have damages a lot, so that it remains as it was in Edo era with old zoning and buildings and still they exist now. In a history book called ‘Kyotofu-kayukaku-yuisho’ (a history of Kyoto red light districts) made in 1872 to 1873 tells us that there are more alleys than it is now.

  You will wonder why they use a plover design on each number tags and lanterns on Ponto-cho Dori. This is a Hanamachi symbol design that was made in early years of Meiji era for establishment of ‘Kamogawa Odori’ (a traditional dance performance by Maiko and Geiko). On the other hand, people talk about the reason why it’s plover design in a funny way saying that people who get drunk walk with tipsy steps like a plover does. It looks like just a design so far, but it has a job telling people that if you can ‘go through’ or ‘not’.

  There are also historical places such as an alley with a sword cut by patriots of the late Tokugawa period. For example, there is ‘Fifteen Daimyojin’ on No.15 alley. When a fire occurred in 1977, the fire stopped right in front of No.15 alley and there was a pottery raccoon statue which was split up into two pieces. The hostess of ‘Masuda’ thought and appreciated that this raccoon statue sacrificed himself in order to stop the fire and she started worshiping this statue as ‘Fifteen Daimyojin’. Why don’t you stop by here to get rid of troubles around you.

  I personally step into No.13 alley. If you go inside from Kiyamachi Dori, you will see a blue white wall going down and it seems like you are walking deep in the water. ’Ishimaru Shoten’ is the reason why I come here often. This is the bar that people gather around late at night and the owner likes not to make an effort to anything, so that his loose atmosphere will let all us calm and chill. People who works around the alley come to this bar after they close theirs, but at the same time, you will see a lot of foreign tourists as well and locals and tourists all get along each other really well. I think this bar has ‘something like the alley has’, which connects streets and people locating itself right between Kiyamachi supporting locals’ everyday lives and Ponto-cho being loved by tourists. I want you to visit this place for your last drink on your alley tour. It opens everyday till late at night.


ADDRESS : 13 ban-roji, Higashi-iru Kitagawa, Kiyamachi Dori Shijo-agaru, Nakagyo-ku, Kyoto City (MAP)

PHONE : +81(0)75-213-0966

HOURS : 6:00 p.m. ~ 6:00 a.m.

CLOSED : No holiday