Gion (祇園) is a famous area of eastern Kyoto, most famous as a traditional geisha district. Gion is located in a large are along Shijo Avenue between Yasaka Shrine and the Kamo River, centered mostly along Hanami-koji Street. This section of town draws throngs of tourists to see the wooden machiya merchant houses, all hoping to catch a glimpse of the ubiquitous white-faced geisha, or geiko, as they are known in Kyoto.
While the area does have its share of shops, restaurants and tea houses, I found Gion to be overly touristy and rather boring. A better area to see the traditional architecture is Higashiyama, just a short stroll to the east.
It's not a long walk but it really holds a historical look. building looks new but in the old japanese style. Restaurants there are little above the average price wise. at the end of the road you will find the goin corner were you can watch their performance for 2000 en per person I think. Goin just lies near to shijo dori, a very famous shopping street.
I am a guy, and most would agree that there are more things on offer for ladies to take home than for the men, when visiting Kyoto. I was therefore excited to discover a unique t-shirt store in the middle of Gion with fabulous Japan designs and Western sizes. The store is called "Green-T".
Designs are tasteful - nothing like the standard fare you would find in a souvenir shop (which this store is not). Think cool Japan. I ended up buying three shirts as I couldn't decide on only one.
A wonderful thing to do in Kyoto is attend Gion Corner. On display is a taste of seven kinds of cultural delights - Fower Arrangement, Kyo-Mai Dance, Tea Ceremony, Koto Zither, Gagaku Court music, Kyogen Theatre and Banraku Puppet Theatre.
The only painful thing is having to queue up for the tickets. Refer to the website for pricing and times.
The Gion area is located between Shijo-dori and Kenninji Temple and extends south to the Kamo River. It is where the famous geisha and maiko reside and entertain, and visitors usually crowd Hanami-koji Street in hopes of seeing one. The buildings are all traditional and there are cherry blossoms in some areas to make it pleasant regardless.
Typically, the best time to see them is after 6 PM when they begin to go out to wherever it is they are going to entertain for the evening. There are no guarantees that you will see any, and they typically try to avoid the tourists. If you do see one, don't get so excited that you forget your manners; while they are cultural icons, they are also people, and some tourists seem to forget that and start pulling on their clothes, stopping them, surrounding them, and behaving in all sorts of terrible manners. Geisha and maiko have complained more and more in recent years about aggressive tourists harassing them. Don't be one of these!
In many instances, they will walk and disappear into a building or taxi so quickly that have to appreciate them with your eyes rather than your camera. If that's the case, don't be disappointed! Most visitors will never see any, so if you are able to see one, you've done well!
Gion is the city area of Kyoto known as the geisha area. In the middle age this area developed in front of the sanctuary of Yasaka in order to host the pelegrems.
Later it became the area of geishas, today, it's really hard to see one of the few left.
This is probably the best area of the town to see the old typical houses (machiya) and the ones of them that became tea houses (ochiya) where the geishas used to entertain the customers.
Gion has become famous to foreigners after the movie "Memoirs of a Geisha". This district achieves combining the past and present entertainment options, from the pleasure houses of ancient Japan to bars and restaurants of today. You can see both the modern architecture and historical spots as you walk around Gion. Hanami-koji is a famous street hosting 17th century traditional restaurants and teahouses. You may see a geisha or maiko around this area if you are lucky. Shinmonzen-dori is a street with old houses, art galleries and antique shops. Shirakawa Mianami-dori is another street in Gion by the waterside with historic buildings.
If you would like to have a closer look at the traditional art and performances, Gion Corner provides an interesting show for foreigners. The show consists of performances for Tea Ceremony, Japanese Harp (Koto), Flower Arrangement (Ikebana), Court Music (Gagaku), Traditional Comic Play (Kyogen), Kyoto Style Dance (Kyomai) and Puppet Play (Bunraku). The whole show lasts about an hour and it costs 3150 JPY per person. There are 2 evening shows at 7 and 8 pm everyday.
Gion is Kyoto's most famous geisha district, and one of the city's most popular attractions. The district filled with ochaya (teahouses where geisha entertain), theaters, shops and restaurants.
Kyoto's other geisha districts are Pontocho and the Kamishichiken district.
The most popular area of Gion is along Hanami-koji street. A nice place to dine, the street is lined with preserved merchant houses which now serve as high-end restaurants.
Many people visit Gion hoping to catch a glimpse of a geisha or geisha apprentice (referred to as geiko and maiko respectively in Kyoto), and if you are lucky you may be able to see one in the evenings on their way to or from an engagement at an ochaya teahouse.
There's also cultural show held everyday at Gion Corner, an art center at the end of Hanami-koji. Aimed at foreign tourists, the show is a highly concentrated introduction to several traditional Japanese arts and include short performances of a tea ceremony, ikebana, bunraku, Kyogen comic plays and dances performed by real maiko. Alternatively, check out the Miyako Odori, held in April, featuring daily dance performances by maiko.
When you walk in Gion quite likely you will encounter geisha and maiko (apprentice geisha ). Modern Kyoto geisha often still live in traditional geisha houses called okiya. A geisha's appearance evolves throughout her career, from heavily made up maiko, to the more subtle look of an older, more established geisha. The colorful kimonos and obi are fascinating, along with the extravagant makeup. What goes into making and choosing and putting on the attire and makeup is complex, and described at length in web sites devoted to that.
Depending on where they are walking in public, they can draw a lot of attention. It may seem a little weird, with so many people trying to take photos, but hopefully no offense is taken by the subjects. At the Nishijin Textile Center you can see models showing different types of dress in frequent shows. The web link below has information on it.
The GION District of Kyoto is the most exclusive geisha district in Japan.
This is where you go to try and get a glimpse of a Geisha or Maiko ( a Geisha in training).
Even if you do not succed in spotting a Geisha a walk through the GION is a must.
Best time is from 5:00 pm to 6:00 pm on a sunny day. Geisha's come out later.
A tripod for your camera would help and wide angle lenses are a benefit.
Gion is one of the most surreal places I have visited. The best time to see any Geisha and Mako is around and just after sunset. Get there a little bit early and you can watch the crowds gathering with their cameras. At stages you feel a bit like a member of the Papparatzi. There is a sighting and everybody rushes to take photographs. Walk through some of the back alleys and you can see some Okiya. Later in the evening sit on the river bank near Shi jo staion. If you look in the buildings on the otherside of the river you can actually see Geisha at work serving tea.
A great experience and an awesome souviner is to have a geisha / maiko makeover. You get dress up in traditonal kimino and geisha makeup. They take professional photos of you outside of the Kyoto Temples or in an old style Japanese street, inside in a traditional Japanese style room or outside in a Japanese garden. You can also use your own camera too. Allow yourself a few hours for this as it can take quiet a while to get the whole costume and make up on. I recommending eating first and make sure you dont need to use the toilet as once in full dress its very hard to do either of these. Its a little expensive but an awesome souviner and experience. I highly recommend it.
Don't do what all the other tourists do, and that's to crowd around the entrance of the street of the teahouses to wait for a geisha to pass, it won't work that way. Walk further down, and wait beside a teahouse, look out for any cars that pull up beside a teahouse, it may be a geisha getting dropped off for work. We managed to see 2 geishas this way during the evening.
People watching, or just soak in the atmosphere of the tradtional houses along your walk to the Kiyomizu temple. As you make your way up the rickety steps, and pop in to the tourist souvenir shops lining the path now and then, look around you and feel the old culture.
About evening time, around 6pm, people start queuing up to see the Kiyomizu temple lighgted up at night. There's a different admission fee charged for you to see the lights. Me? I cn't stand the queue. Too much like those kiasu Singaporean queues..
The Gion street area's a small road leading from the main street somewhere in the middle of Shijo street. There's a horse betting shop along that small street. From there, you can reach the hilly area to Kiyomizu temple after crossing the road.