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The Back-Alley Aquarium of Kyoto's Pontocho: Video Introduction

This video, titled "The Back Alley Aquarium of Pontocho" (先斗町 路地裏水族館), was uploaded by "KETO room."

The most famous aquarium in Kyoto is Kyoto Aquarium located in Umekoji Park in Shimogyo, Kyoto, but did you know that there's actually an aquarium tucked away in Pontocho, one of Kyoto's famous geisha districts? The name of the aquarium is Roji Suizokukan (路地水族館, lit. Alley Aquarium).
In this article, we'll introduce the unique aquarium, a popular tourist attraction in Kyoto, along with the streets of Pontocho.

Pontocho, a Geisha District of Kyoto and Home to the Back-Alley Aquarium

Image of Pontocho, Kyoto
Photo:Pontocho, Kyoto

Pontocho is an entertainment district located in Nakagyo, Kyoto, famous as a historic "hanamachi" (a district where geisha live and work) that has existed since Japan's Edo period (1603-1868 A.D.) Along its 550-meter-long street, there are many long-established traditional Japanese restaurants, establishments where geisha offer entertainment to guests, and a wide variety of other restaurants.

The name Pontocho (先斗町) is actually said to originate from the Portuguese word "ponto," meaning "bridge," and the Japanese word "cho," meaning "town."

Despite "cho" meaning "town" in Japanese, Pontocho is not a town at all, but rather a long, narrow street along Kyoto's Kamo River.

Pontocho is a 5-minute walk from Kawaramachi Station on the Hankyu Line, or a 3-minute walk from Gion-Shijo Station on the Keihan Line. If you take the Tozai Subway Line and get off at Keihan Sanjo Station, you can reach Pontocho in 5 minutes on foot.

Highlights of the Alley Aquarium in Pontocho, Kyoto

Image of oryzias

The entrance to Pontocho is to your right, just after crossing Shijo Ohashi Bridge and passing a police box, but it's a narrow street, so it's easy to miss if you're not careful.

In a corner of an alleyway in Pontocho is the Alley Aquarium, a unique spot in Kyoto where you can see goldfish, oryzias, and koi swimming leisurely in tanks and bowls of various sizes along an alleyway less than one meter wide.

Because it's located in an alley, the aquarium can be viewed in the morning or at night without having to worry about business hours, which is another attraction of the back-alley aquarium. When the sun begins to set, the aquarium is lit up and becomes a photogenic space. The fantastic atmosphere is great for taking Instagram photos.

Another great point is that admission is free. A donation box to help pay for food, which has an illustration of the aquarium's director, Rakko san (Mr. Sea Otter), is located at the entrance of the Alley Aquarium, so if you want to help out, feel free to drop him a donation.

The Alley Aquarium grew in popularity after being posted on Japanese social media, and since then it has become a unique thing to do in Kyoto. The director's cute signboard can be seen in various spots throughout the Alley Aquarium.
[Video] 0:53 - Donation Box
[Video] 1:04 - Sea Otter Director's Cute Sign

Pyon Pyoko Pyon – A Cute Trinket Shop in Pontocho For Souvenirs

Image of goldfish

The couple behind the alley aquarium is the owner and operator of Usagi no Atorie Pyon Pyoko Pyon.

Pyon Pyoko Pyon is a store in an alley in Pontocho that sells rabbit-themed goods, and the store is filled with rabbit tableware, chopstick rests, and other trinkets.

The mascots of the store are Usakichi and Chibikichi, two Shigaraki-ware bunnies dressed in seasonal costumes, which help visitors feel relaxed and at home. You can also check the store's information on Instagram @pontocho.usagiya.

After enjoying the old-fashioned atmosphere and ambience of Pontocho and relaxing with the colorful fish swimming in the alley aquarium, be sure to stop by Pyon Pyoko Pyon to get some souvenirs of your travels to Kyoto.
[Video] 0:58 - Goldfish Swimming in an Aquarium
[Video] 2:32 - The Elegant Atmosphere of Pontocho

The Best Restaurants in Pontocho

Image of Kamogawa Noryodoko, Kyoto
Photo:Kamogawa Noryodoko, Kyoto

Kamogawa Noryodoko, a row of kawadoko (elevated platforms that sit above a reiver) along the Kamogawa River, is a summer tradition in Kyoto. Although many of the kawadoko that line Kyoto's Kamogawa River are expensive, there are actually a number of restaurants where you can enjoy the kawadoko for a reasonable price.

One such place is "mag," a relaxing café tucked away in an alley, that's popular for its cute latte art. It's the perfect place to take a breather.

After savoring a delicious cup of coffee at "mag," located inside an alley between Kiyamachi and Pontocho, you can enjoy a casual kawadoko experience at Ponto-cho Robin. Although a more casual experience, the restaurant is reasonably priced and is a great way to experience the Kyoto summer tradition.

While the number of terrace-type restaurants has been increasing in recent years, the traditional kawadoko style at Pontocho Robin, where you can relax and stretch your legs, has great reviews. The kawadoko lunch at Pontocho Robin is available until the end of September.
[Video] 2:46 - Kamogawa River Kawadoko, a Summer Tradition in Kyoto

Appearing at the end of the video is the popular Kyoto Sanjo Ohashi Starbucks Coffee, which also offers kawadoko seating. You can enjoy the starry skies from Kyoto and the sound of the river while relaxing at night here.
[Video] 3:03 - Kyoto Sanjo Ohashi Starbucks

Other popular restaurants in Pontocho are the izakaya Pontocho Sakaba, and the Michelin Guide restaurant Pontocho Masuda, but there are many more places to grab a bite to eat, so don't be afraid to look around.

In 2023, Kyoto's kawadoko are scheduled to be set up from May to September. Be sure to check them out if you're visiting Kyoto!

Things to Do Near Pontocho

There are a number exciting things to do near Pontocho, but our personal recommendation is the stretch between Pontocho and Maruyama Park, as the area has many things to do, making it an efficient way to spend your time.

Maruyama Park
Maruyama Park is located 10-15 minutes from Pontocho and is home to the beautiful Yasaka Shrine, as well as Chionin Temple and Shorenin Temple, two temples with breathtaking gardens. The park is famous for its cherry blossoms during the spring, so if you're visiting when they're in bloom, definitely check them out.
Additionally, the walk to Maruyama Park will take you across the famous Shijo Ohashi Bridge, and along Shijo Dori, a street full of restaurants, souvenir shops, and tons of other interesting places. Here, you'll also find Hanamikoji Street, another popular geisha district in Kyoto with historic buildings and an atmosphere that seems to have been frozen in time.

Minamiza Kakubi Theatre
Minamiza Kakubi Theatre, located just across Shijo Ohashi Bridge, between Pontocho and Maruyama Park, is the last of 7 kabuki theatres that once existed in Kyoto. The theatre dates back 400 years, and kabuki performances are still held at the theatre regularly. If you're interested in Japanese performing arts, or just want to see what a Japanese play is like, definitely check it out. The theatre does have English headsets available for non-Japanese audiences, but not for all performances, so be sure to check the official website for more information.

Summary of the Alley Aquarium in Kyoto's Pontocho

Located in Pontocho, the Alley Aquarium is a unique tourist attraction in Kyoto, tucked away in the elegant streets of the town. You can see a variety of colorful fish swimming in aquariums and pots of all sizes, and at night the aquarium is lit up, giving it a fantastic atmosphere.

The couple behind the alley aquarium is the same couple who run the trinket shop Pyon Pyoko Pyon, and their cute rabbit-themed goods make great souvenirs.

There are also a number of restaurants in Pontocho where you can enjoy kawadoko along the Kamo River.
If you're traveling in Kyoto and looking for things to do, consider checking out the Alley Aquarium in Pontocho. It's also great for dates!
For the latest information, be sure to check out the Alley Aquarium on Instagram @rakko_aqua_pontocho.


Written By
Last Updated : Jul. 26, 2023
泉沢 明里(Akari)
I'm a writer born and raised in Hokkaido who loves animals and nature.
A Unique Hole-In-The-Wall Spot in Kyoto's Geisha District?! Check Out the Charming Back-Alley Aquarium in Pontocho!
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