Regular Feature

Greetings from the Outskirts of Kyoto vol.23

INOUE Shōichi (Director-General)
August 30, 2022

The street bisecting between the Kamo River and Kiyamachi is known as Pontochō street. Both sides of it have become familiar to us as Pontochō. However, there is no way that the character, 先, which gives meaning to the place name, can be read as pon. How on earth did the name come into being?

The tip of a needle or a sword is ponta in Portuguese. A promontory, too, is ponta. In the sixteenth century, the bank of the Kamo River that now runs along Pontochō protruded as a promontory. There is a possibility that the Portuguese who came to Japan at that time referred to this section of the bank as a ponta. The Japanese perhaps then applied to the word the two characters, 先 and 斗. The idea being that ponta is a tip… Presumably the second character, 斗, was added for its sound.

This explanation for the origin of the place name is not proven. It is known, however, as an authoritative theory, worthy of consideration. The theory that the Portuguese obrigato generated arigatō has not a leg to stand on … as the younger me would point out to disappointed Brazilians. However, Pontochō may well have Portuguese origins. I now think that I should have mentioned this example in order to be a more agreeable conversationalist.