Pontocho, Kyoto

I was cycling back from Gion, when I paused at the bridge and look at the Kamogawa River.  I had been doing shrine-hopping since I came to Kyoto, and it was about time I put some attention on the neighbourhood which I’m staying in Kyoto.

This is a long river; at least that’s how I felt when I was cycling on the track that ran parallel with the river.  I checked some trivia about the Kamogawa.  According to Wikipedia, it has its source in the mountains of Mount Sajikigatake in the northern ward of Kyoto, ……………………<such a long description of where it bends southeast and flows northwest, joins this and that river..>.….and finally, becomes a tributary of the Yodo River.

Frankly, I should have just skipped the whole river info-trivia thing.  It’s not that I have a clue where Mount Sajikigatake nor Yodo River are in Japan.

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It’s about 30km in length.  I saw locals sauntering or running by the river.  Anglers would stand by the bank of the river with their long rods.  And across the river, where Gion is, it was also common to see geishas sitting by the river in a small group, and walking back together when dusk arrived.

One morning, I woke up early and cycled to the river.  It was quieter in the morning; there were lesser people, and occasionally a runner or two breaking the solitude.  I came to this bridge and sat under this historical artifact.

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This is the ancient Shijo Ohashi Bridge; first built in 1142, but had a few re-constructions to what it is right now.

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It was peaceful sitting under the bridge, by the river.  The air was cooling and the the sound of the rushing water masked the sound of vehicles that were crossing the bridge above me.  The rapid and constant flow of the water sounded meditative, and I felt a sense of serenity as I closed my eyes.  And then, I started to get worried that I would get too comfortable that I would fall asleep on the sloping embankment.  And what if I rolled into the water..?  As much as I’m almost an Olympic swimmer (hardly), I was pretty sure I could not compete with the strong currents.  I fretted about falling asleep that I ended up not relaxing (retrospectively, how dumb..!).  Anyway, the whole river-to-myself moment was short-lived.  This elderly man came to collect rubbish by the river.

I hardly saw any rubbish, save for some ciggie butts.  This is one of the highly admirable traits of the Japanese.  The cynics would call them OCDs, but I’d rather look at them as people who show their appreciation for their country by looking after their country.  This elderly man put one leg into the drain to pick up whatever he deemed should belong in a dustbin.  And I thought of my own country, where we have beautiful streams and waterfalls, but the locals lack basic civic duty to pick up trash after their berkelah (picnic).

After almost saluting this elderly trash picker, I continued cycling.

These are restaurants that overlook the Kamogawa River.  The restaurants built platform on stilts above a narrow strip of flowing water.  I thought they looked utterly cool..and also expensive.

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Anyway this is Pontocho after all,and it would be laughable to think that one can get cheap food there.

This was what they looked like on the other side of the building.  Traditional Japanese buildings were built close to one another, and a long narrow alley running through.  The photos below were taken at about 8am+ and it was quiet.  Pontocho’s patrons had all gone home and 8am would have been too early for most of them who had spend the evening into the night.  I had spent an evening eating sashimi and sushi in one of the restaurants, and walked across this alley to a whiskey/sake bar.  Weekdays were relatively quiet but Pontocho would become all raucous on Friday evenings and weekends, becos locals come out to play too.

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Mah steady steed

Pontocho at night.

The pictures are rather misleading; it wasn’t devoid of people; I stood long and patient for those moments where there was lesser human traffic.  There were restaurants, bars, teahouses and “gentlemen clubs”.  Pontocho comes very much alive at night.

I surveyed the shops and establishments from the road.  Some of them looked rather dodgy….  But I wasn’t afraid of no yakuza kidnapping me to do unsavoury activities.  I was more worried the yakuza saying, “Gomen-nasai, we kidnap you wrong.  You too old for customer”.  That would be depressing.

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Cycling back to the apartment..yes, Pontocho is really a lovely place.  I’d love to own a small piece of property there.

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