Ponto-chō (先斗町) is a hanamachi district in Kyoto, Japan, known for its geisha and maiko, and is home to many of the city's okiya and traditional tea houses. Like Gion, Ponto-chō is famous for the preservation of forms of traditional architecture and entertainment.
Ponto-chō as a district is for the most part constructed around a long, narrow alleyway, running from Shijō-dōri to Sanjō-dōri, one block west of the Kamo River. This location is also known as the traditional location for the beginning of kabuki as an art form, and a statue of kabuki's founder, Izumo no Okuni, stands on the opposite side of the river. The district's crest is a stylized water plover, or chidori.
Geisha (known locally as geiko) and maiko have existed in Ponto-chō since at least the 16th century, as have prostitution and other forms of entertainment. Today, the area, lit by traditional lanterns at night, contains a mix of exclusive restaurants — often featuring outdoor riverside dining on wooden patios — geisha houses and tea houses, brothels, bars, and cheap eateries.
The area is also home to the Ponto-chō Kaburenjō Theatre at the Sanjō-dōri end of the street. This theatre functions as a practice hall for geisha and maiko, and has functioned as the location for the annual Kamogawa Odori — a combination performance of traditional dance, kabuki-like theatre, singing and the playing of traditional instruments — since the 1870s.
In the 1970s, American anthropologist Liza Dalby visited Kyoto for a year as part of her doctoral studies into the institution of geisha in modern Japanese society, eventually unofficially becoming a geisha as part of her research. Dalby later wrote a well-received book, Geisha, about the experience.
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