Elegance returns to an entertainment area in Kyoto
Pontocho street in Kyoto is gradually regaining its charm as an elegant entertainment area in the heart of the city.
The resurrected landscape of Pontocho has been made possible through the enforcement of rules created by local 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 neighbourhood. 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 an alley stretching north from Shijo-dori street in the city. The two-metre-wide road, 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 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, along with flags and banners.
_ Signboards must be painted in colours befitting the area’s landscape, and only incandescent lights may be used.
_ Signboards must not exceed two square metres.
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 elegance to 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,” says a 41-year-old bar owner who removed a signboard from his bar two years ago.