Yuka Balcony Dining by the Kamo River
Every year from May 1st through till the end of September around one hundred restaurants along the Kamo River erect yuka balconies so that their customers may enjoy the cool air off the river as they eat their meals. The sight of all those balconies on a summer night with all their cheerful lanterns swinging in a light breeze and the sound of happy chatter from their patrons is one of the most enticing scenes in Kyoto.
Looking forward to our meal. When we arrived it was still light outside but the yuka was packed!
A few days ago, Mewby and I visited one such yuka restaurant, 四季 よし菜, to celebrate my birthday. Though it comes during the rainy season here in Japan, the weather always seems to be just right on my birthday and once again this year we were blessed with sunshine and a cloudless sky – perfect yuka dining weather!
Yoshina’s menu changes with the seasons so every time you visit they have something new, but basically you can always count on having some fine Kyoryori (or Kyoto cusine), using the freshest seasonal ingredients.
Here’s what we had. First up, sashimi. There’s a lot of fresh fish and seafood on this menu…. Continue reading
John Dougill writes…
Charlie Chaplin loved it, and so have thousands of others. The Kamogawa Odori is simply irresistible and a rare chance to see geisha perform in public. It helps make May the merriest month of the year.
Kyoto has five geisha areas in all, popularly known as ‘hanamachi’ or flower districts. Gion is the biggest and best-known; Pontocho which stages the Kamogawa Odori is the second biggest. The name is thought to derive from the Portuguese term for ‘point’ in reference to a prominent spur of land once visible in the Kamo River. The geisha first catered to businesses along the Takase Canal, and when the area was made safe from flooding in 1670 teashops sprang up in a narrow passageway between the canal and the Kamo River. It’s said that the well-known term ‘the water trade’ arose here from the geisha’s custom of attracting passing boatmen. The district was given formal recognition in 1813 and became one of the city’s most popular entertainment spots. Set in tiny alleyways, it still retains a distinctive feel even today. Continue reading
October 2009 update: Sadly Shougetsu-An has now closed. However, further up the street (towards Sanjo) you can find its sister restaurant Shiki-Yoshina. It also has a yuka balcony in the summer season and a very similar menu. Another branch of the same group is the restaurant Hamacho just north of Sanjo on Kiyamachi, however this restaurant does not have a riverside balcony.
A year ago I wrote about dining on the yuka balcony of Pontocho retsaurant Shougetsu-an. Last night I celebrated my birthday there and it was so nice! Wonderful food, great service and situated half-way twixt Shijo and Sanjo we had a wonderful twilight view over the Kamo river.
Unfortunately, I’ve learned that Shougetsu-an is moving next October to Gion, so this summer is your last chance to enjoy yuka dining there. Continue reading
Old, quiet memories in a wild, new world
The Takasegawa Canal
Ian Ropke writes…
This month, if you have the time, consider strolling down the Takegawa Canal along the lively, yet always interesting, world of Kiyamachi and Pontocho. Though the Takasegawa is called a river in Japanese, it is actually a canal, built with thousands of laborers. This is quite amazing, when you consider that the canal runs from Nijo all the way down to the Yodo River in Fushimi/Chushojima, a distance of some 15 kilometers. The water in the river was siphoned off from the Kamogawa River, and the canal ran parallel to the river until Jujo Street, at which point it crossed the river and continued in a southeasterly direction until it merged with the Ujigawa River.
The giant Takasegawa Canal was the brilliant idea of one man: Suminokura Ryoi (1554-1614), a prominent 16th/17th-century Kyoto merchant and overseas trader, who was responsible for a number of visionary projects in Kyoto. A colorful figure of great confidence, Suminokura boldly proposed and funded the construction of the canal, which had a huge impact on Kyoto commerce and also greatly facilitated his own business activities. He was born in Kyoto, to a family of physicians and money lenders. In the 1590s, he obtained an official license to engage in overseas trade from Toyotomi Hideyoshi and quickly built up a fortune trading with Annam and Tonkin (both located in present-day Vietnam). Continue reading
The stuff of miracles & legend
On April 27, 1978, fire broke out in the early morning hours along the narrow street of Pontocho, the heart of one of Kyoto’s oldest entertainment quarters. Before anything could be done several of the quarter’s old wooden teahouses had been destroyed and a young geiko (the Kyoto word for a geisha) was dead. However, when the raging blaze reached the narrow alleyway known as # 15, it suddenly stopped. Mysteriously, the fire went out just after it had engulfed a ceramic tanuki statue that stood in the alleyway—these jovial badger figures often marks the entrance to a drinking establishment. In honor of their savior, neighborhood residents built a shrine to house the spirit of their protector. If you toss a coin into the offering box, a tanuki oracle will repay you with wise words. There are a total of five messages: #1: You have too many desires, and you can’t make up your mind. Don’t vacillate. Decide on one. #2: Be patient and work hard. Perseverance and effort are all you need. #3: Good fortune comes to those who smile. Be thankful and true, and your wishes will be granted. #4: The Silk Road is long. You might encounter hardship along the way, but be patient and persevere. That’s all you can do. #5: Beware of fire, beware of fire. Neighbors must take care of each other. Fire is dreadful. It will help if you pray to O-Tanuki san. Thank you. Thank you very much. Come again to Ponto-cho. Thank you.
Alleyway #15 (jugo-ban roji) is located between Kiyamachi and Pontocho (running parallel to the Kamogawa river between Shijo and Sanjo), three streets south of Pontocho park.
Words by Ian Ropke. Image by Michael Lambe.
Ian Ropke is the author of the Historical Dictionary of Osaka and Kyoto, editor of Kyoto Visitors Guide, and director of Your Japan Private Tours. He posts regularly for Deep Kyoto on the 15th of each month.
My apologies to Ian for the delay in posting this article!
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