Pontocho in Kyoto has removed the power lines to restore its traditional charm

The historical geisha district moved all the hanging wires underground to also protect its traditional buildings

Tabea Greuner
Written by
Tabea Greuner
Pontocho alley
Photo: Bogdan Lazar/DreamstimeA stock photo of Pontocho-dori in 2012

A trip to Kyoto is not complete without a visit to Pontocho, a 490m-long alleyway between the city’s main Shijo-dori and Sanjo-dori streets. Stroll down this densely packed strip and you'll find an overwhelming variety of restaurants, tea houses and okiya geisha houses. It's beautifully atmospheric, but what seemed out of place in this traditional setting were the mess of electrical wires zigzagging overhead. They stuck out like a sore thumb and totally ruined the nostalgic vibe of the alley.

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The good news is, the city council and local residents have been working hard to restore Pontocho to its former glory. According to the Sankei Shimbun (in Japanese only), all 17 utility poles and the countless electrical wires along the main Pontocho-dori alley have been removed.

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The move isn’t just about aesthetics, though. The goal is to protect the area’s historic buildings from damage during storms and other natural disasters.

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The electrical cables were placed in small boxes underground, which have been installed on both sides of the alleyway.

They’re well hidden, but if you take a closer look at the image above, you can see the panels on the road blending in with the tile pattern. 

Pontocho’s compact size meant burying the wires was no easy feat. The street measures only 1.6m at its narrowest point, so conventional construction methods couldn’t be used. 

The project took five years to complete, with the final poles and wires removed in October. On November 10, the city held a ceremony to mark the occasion.

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As you can see, Japanese social media users have been flocking to Pontocho to enjoy the street’s new look. The scenery has changed for the better and the alley now looks like it's well preserved in time.

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