Backstreets and Alleys, Kyoto

A very narrow alley, barely wide enough for two pedestrians side-by-side, running from Shijo-dori to Sanjo-dori, one block west of the Kayo River, Pontocho Alley is one of Kyoto’s most atmospheric dining streets. It offers a wide variety of dining options, from inexpensive yakitori to exclusive establishments requiring the right connections and a very fat wallet. Especially for those traveling on a budget to Kyoto, who want to eat like a local, this is where to end your day.

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I loved this yakitori, achingly hip young dudes cooking up some awesome nose-to-tail without any macho posturing. I think it’s called Yakitori Torijin. Signage in Japan can be very confusing. Just look for the blue sign with a chicken on it.

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This exquisitely beautiful woman makes equally exquisite tofu in her small shop on Pontocho Alley. The ice cream is soy-based, without dairy, making it a great treat for vegans though it can be enjoyed by anyone unless you have an allergy to soy. Sorry, the photo is crooked but it’s hard to shoot straight when you’re face-down in a bowl of ice cream.

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The banks of the Kayo River are full of birds, including Love Birds. It’s a great stroll before and after dinner on Pontocho Alley.

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There’s so much creative energy and openness to global influences, all over Japan. This is especially true in music and food. Even Kyoto, emblematic of traditional Japan, is no exception. There’s great food from all over the world. Of course, there is always a little interpretive twist.

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After a night of drinking sake and eating stuff on sticks, a Japanese breakfast at the Hyatt Regency was a welcome and very civilized respite.

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Some of the best and most enjoyable dining, all over Japan, is to be experienced below ground in subway and train stations. You get to order from ticket machines and slurp noodles, elbow to elbow, with working men and women who are happy just to be off their feet with a cold beer and warm food in their bellies.

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The Kyoto train station is full of restaurants, from fine dining to izakaya. It is also not far from the gut of Kyoto, Nishiki Market, with it’s many dining establishments, purveyors of regional specialties, and a Cat CafĂ© where you can have a light meal or hot drink – with a cat on your lap in case you are homesick for Fluffy.

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Despite the hordes of tourists descending, year round, on this fabled city, Kyoto-ites are warm and friendly if you make a small effort to get past their customary politeness and reserve.

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