In the evening we had a quick stroll through the Gion area of the city. It was pretty with its wooden buildings and lamps. However, I do not feel we really did the area justice as we were exhausted, hungry and cold by the time we got here.
Gion is Kyoto's most famous geisha district. It is located around Shijo Avenue between Yasaka Shrine in the east and the Kamo River in the west. It has shops, restaurants and teahouses. Geisha are known as geiko in Kyoto dialect.
I am cheating with the photo. I don't think it was taken in Gion, but as my camera was no good at night time shots, I don't have any Gion photos.
For the most part our “Essential Honshu” tour, booked through Inside Japan, didn’t include any extras, leaving us free to explore with the group or alone. But an exception to this was the Walking Tour of Gion that had been arranged for us in Kyoto.
Gion is one of the main Geisha districts in Kyoto, and arguably its most famous. Our tour was led by a Canadian ex-pat who had previously been married to a Geisha. He showed us some of the main sights and told us a lot about the lives of present-day maiko and geiko, as geisha are known in Kyoto.
Let us start by debunking a common misconception – geisha are not prostitutes. Some may chose to prostitute themselves, but it is not “in the job description” and is not normal practice. No – a geisha is an entertainer of men, a skilled performer, an expert in Japanese traditions and, probably, an accomplished flirt and conversationalist. To become a geisha a girl must study for some years and will usually start as an apprentice or maiko. The term maiko means dancing girl, while geisha means “art doer”, i.e. performer. These days, girls will probably not decide to study as a geisha until their teens – the days when a girl could be apprenticed as young as three or four are long gone. In the geisha school apprentices learn to play traditional instruments such as the shamisen, to dance in the traditional way, and to perform the tea ceremony. They study literature, poetry and calligraphy. They also learn by following and observing experienced geisha, especially the “older sister” who mentors them. At each stage of her development a maiko will wear the appropriate dress, hairstyle and make-up, and an expert could tell at a glance how long she had been working from this.
We saw several geiko and maiko on our walk around Gion but they move very quickly and, understandably, don’t choose to spend their valuable time posing for photos for tourists! I was lucky to be able to grab this photo of a maiko as she dived into a nearby doorway. To see more of my geisha photos check out my Geisha tip on my Japan page.
We also saw the geisha school where all geisha go to study music and dance (regardless of age and how long they have been working), and a number of ochaya (tea-houses) where the geisha entertain. We passed several spots that featured in "Memoirs of a Geisha", although our guide told us that the film was almost completely shot on a lot in California as the Kyoto authorities weren't keen to have it made here. One of the most picturesque of these was around the Shirakawa Canal (photo three) and in particular by the bridge, Tatsumi Bashi, and the nearby Tatsumi Daimyojin Shrine (photo four) where traditionally geiko and maiko come to pray for help in improving their skills. It was dusk by the time we arrived here and the lights were coming on in the houses overlooking the canal, giving it a special atmosphere – a lovely place to end our walk.
Although we didn’t have time to go inside while on this tour, we also walked through the grounds of the Kenninji Temple, the subject of my next tip.
Shirakawa Canal lies north of Shijo-dori in Gion. This a a beautiful-and much less touristy area of Gion--that features many nice restaurants and a willow-lined cobblestone lane along a small waterway. The restaurants here are expensive, and many offer fantastic tables overlooking the canal.
This is a great area for a romantic stroll along the water as you seek out that perfect dinner. The peaceful trees and the canal create the perfect ambiance.
Shirakawa means "white river" in Japanese due to the sand in the river before it gets to Kyoto.
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.