Elegance returns to Kyoto's Pontocho street

Elegance returns to Kyoto's Pontocho street
Pontocho in Nakagyo Ward, Kyoto.

KYOTO - Pontocho street in Kyoto is gradually regaining its charm as an elegant entertainment area in the heart of the ancient city.

The resurrected landscape of Pontocho has been made possible through the enforcement of rules created by lo-cal residents, known as cho-shikimoku. The regulations have done much to remove showy advertising signboards put up by local shops, bars, restaurants and other establishments-a change that has made it possible for visitors to see both sides of the street when they look down the road.

Cho-shikimoku date back to the Edo period (1603-1867). During that time, business people and leaders in Kyoto laid down a set of rules on such matters as fire prevention and person-to-person relations in their neighborhood. In 2010, Pontocho residents enforced new cho-shikimoku regulations that included a ban on smoking on the street.

Pontocho, one of Kyoto's five entertainment areas, is a 500-meter-long alley stretching north from Shijo-dori street in the city. The road, two meters wide, is lined with many Japanese-style luxury restaurants. In recent years, however, Pontocho has seen a number of reasonably priced bars set up, with flashy signboards hanging from the buildings.

In 2007, the Kyoto city government imposed a total ban on the installation ment of rooftop signboards and blinking light fixtures. Pontocho residents combined this regulation with their own 10 rules regarding the instalment of signboards. They include regulations such as:

- Protruding signboards are banned.

- Flags and banners are banned.

- Signboards must be painted in colors befitting the area's landscape, and only incandescent lights may be used.

- Signboards must not exceed two square meters.

The owners of local restaurants and others were asked to follow these rules. As a result, there has been a gradual reduction in the number of protruding signboards, a change contributing to the gradual return of erstwhile elegance particular to the Pontocho street.

"One of my customers said to me, 'Did you close your bar?' But I cooperated [in following the rules] because I wanted every visitor to feel good," a 41-year-old bar owner said. He removed a signboard from his bar two years ago.

His sentiment has been echoed by Yuichi Kaneda, 47, who runs a Kyoto-style restaurant in Pontocho.

"I want to keep an eye on our street, where geisha entertainers and maiko apprentices do not look out of place," he said.

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