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Pontocho

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  • Established: 1670
  • Japanese: 先斗町 (pontochou)

Pontochô is a major geisha district in Kyoto. It is roughly 500 meters long and 50 meters wide, and consists chiefly of a single narrow street running between (and parallel with) Kiyamachi-dôri and the banks of the Kamo River.

The area was previously a sandbar in the river, but the land was reclaimed, and houses began to be built along it in 1670. Sometime later, it came to be called "Pontochô," though the etymology of this term is unclear. It is believed to perhaps derive from the Portuguese word ponto, or the English "point," as the first buildings went up at the far end (or point) of the sandbar.

Beginning in 1712, the area was permitted to begin to include inns and teahouses (i.e. geisha houses or brothels), and it quickly developed into a very vibrant and prosperous pleasure district.

Pontochô remains today an active geisha district, and the home of the Kamogawa Odori, one of the most famous geisha dance performances in the country; it is performed twice annually, in the spring and in the autumn.

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