chidori2Pontocho is one of Kyoto’s most beautiful geisha districts. With traditional tea houses, restaurants and bars all crowded together along atmospheric, stone-paved narrow lanes, this area breathes the air of an old, timeless Kyoto. Within its maze of weaving, intersecting alleyways, there are plenty of secrets to discover and hidden areas to explore. Walking through Pontocho, you might notice one of its many mysteries: the area is dotted with Japanese paper lanterns, all bearing the mark of the chidori, the plover bird. They’re incredibly beautiful, but why would a cute chidori design come to be on such traditional products?

Well it has to do with the region of Pontocho itself. It sits in Kyoto’s Gokagai district (lit. five kagai, or five geisha districts), which incorporates the areas of Gion Koubu, Gion Higashi, Miyagawacho, Kamishichiken, and Pontocho. Each district has a distinctive logo, or crest, and Pontocho’s logo is the plover.

▼  Chidori design on a Japanese paper lantern in Pontocho.


We discovered a unique, precious little plover during our last visit to the area. Known as “Wasanbon Chidori,” this little bird comes in the form of a traditional, dried sweet. Wasanbon is a type of wagashi (fine Japanese confectionery) made with a special sugar cane cultivated in Japan and refined using unique methods.


The colourful flock looked too delicious to eat but we couldn’t resist! When we tasted the first one, it melted so smoothly on the tongue; the high quality sweetness spread out and penetrated all our taste buds. It was pure bliss. This would be the perfect accompaniment to a cup of hot green tea.


These Wasanbon Chidori are manufactured and sold by Pontocho Surugaya, a small confectionery store in Pontocho. The crystallised plovers from this store are made from the highest quality Japanese sugar and they come in a range of five colours: white, violet, yellow, green, and pink. There’s very little information about them in English on the Internet, so this store is truly an insider’s find. Established in 1898, Pontocho Surugaya still uses time-honoured methods to manufacture their products, giving them a traditional, handmade warmth. They sell other famous products too: Hitokuchi Warabi (bite-sized bracken jellies, made from bracken fern starch) and Chidori Yaki (baked sweets with a chidori design stamp). Beautifully packaged, these make perfect souvenirs.


▼  The Wasanbon Chidori are sold in packs of five for 450 yen (US$4.58), or ten for 940 yen (US$9.57).


▼  The store interior has a beautiful ambience; the gorgeous maiko (apprentice geisha) fan decorations remind us that we’re making a purchase in one of Japan’s most famous geisha quarters.


▼  Even the shopping bag is adorned with Pontocho’s cute plover birds!


▼  We purchased two of the five-pack sets, and the packaging was every bit as gorgeous as the cute plovers inside.





Thank you Pontocho! We hope to return soon to discover more of your hidden mysteries.


Store Information: 

Pontocho Surugaya
Address: San-jo Kudaru, Pontocho-dōri, Chūkyou-ku, Kyoto-shi, Kyoto
Opening hours: 10am – 6pm. Closed Tuesdays.

Photos © SoraNews24 
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