Kyoto by night: Gion and Ponto-Cho

Being exhausted from my day in Kyoto, I decided to have a fairly relaxing evening strolling the streets of Gion, Kyoto’s district famous for entertainment and Geishas. It would probably be easiest to get there by bus from my hostel, but seeing as I already had my subway pass I took the subway to Senjo Kejhan station and headed out on foot.

Despite heading in the wrong direction for 10 minutes, I was very impressed with my navigation skills tonight. I was on a mission to find one street in particular, Hanamikoji-dori street, which is home to the Kyoto theatre and is a very traditional street lit by lanterns the whole way down.

On my way I found this beautiful little canal which had cherry blossoms lining the banks and bridges that looked like they were out of a fairy tale. Although this was off track, I kept my brother’s leaving message in mind “don’t forget to walk the unbeaten streets, not just the tourist areas’.

What a little gem this street was. Not only was it amazing for its fairytale atmosphere but it led me straight to a dimly lit window at the top of a two story building where a Geisha was doing a performance to a group of people inside. I stood there taking in this unfamiliar setting, watching closely as the Geisha moved back and forwards, turned around, bent down, moved her hands and so on. It was mesmerising. My stream of concentration only broken when another observer nearby tried to take a photo and the flash went off startling me.

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By now I started to get a bit peckish so headed off again on my pursuit to find the street. I stopped in at a restaurant called Issen Yoshoku on Nowate-dori Street which served only one thing … Kyoto’s version of Okonomiyaki. The atmosphere of the restaurant was pretty weird, it was kind of like you were at camp sitting on big wooden tables and stools all together waiting for your pile of mushy okonomiyaki (it definitely wasn’t as good as in Osaka!) But it was an interesting experience… The thing I liked best about it is you can see the food being made at the front of the restaurant.

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Not far from here was the street I had been in search of. The dark alley was lit with red lanterns the whole way with restaurants filling both sides. Towards the end of the street was the Kyoto theatre, it was closed by the time I arrived but it still looked really nice all lit up with spotlights and lanterns.

The only other thing I wanted to fit in tonight was Ponto-cho, a traditional nightlife district and one of Kyoto’s 6 Geisha districts. I crossed the Shijo Ohashi Bridge and it was pretty much there on my right. But before wandering up this street which would take me back to the subway, I decided to have a look along the streets of the more modern part of Kyoto. There were too many street performers, mainly singers, in this part of town to count. I stopped and watched one for about 15 minutes talking to a girl from Singapore travelling to Japan with her mum.

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Ponto- cho was definitely traditional, I liked looking into the windows of the restaurants watching as they carried on their routine not knowing I was there. One side of the street was the traditional side, whereas the other side had a lot of lady bars. But definitely worth a walk down.

Gion and Ponto-Cho were both like nothing I’ve experienced before in Japan. I haven’t been to them during the day time, but definitely recommend going at night so you can see everything lit up with the traditional lanterns, and if you’re lucky you might spot some Geishas!

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