Attractions

Gion

Gion

Travel Guide

Gion is Kyoto's most famous geisha district, located around Shijo-dori (Shijo Avenue) between Yasaka Shrine in the east and the Kamo River in the west. It is filled with restaurants of all types, bars, clubs, pachinko, off-track betting, a very large number of tourist-oriented establishments, machiya (traditional Kyoto residence) and ochaya (teahouses) where geisha (or geisha) and maiko (geisha apprentices) entertain.

The district was built to accommodate the needs of travelers and visitors to the shrine. It eventually evolved to become one of the most exclusive and well-known geisha districts in all of Japan. Now a days, there are also many modern entertainment establishments in Gion. The area from Sinbashi-dori (Shinbashi Avenue) to Shira River has been declared a national historical preservation district.

There are five hanamachi (geisha community), pronounced as kagai in Gion, in Kyoto which are Kamishichiken, Bontocho, Miyagawacho, Gion Kobu and Gion Higashi. Gion Kobu and Gion Higashi are located in Gion but when people mention the Gion, usually it refers to Gion Kobu. Gion Kobu is larger, occupying most of the district, while Gion Higashi is smaller and occupies the northeast corner, centered around its rehearsal hall. Each hanamachi is unique in customers. For example, Kamishichiken is close to Nishizin, most of the customers are from management. Bontocho is near the Kabuki Theater Nanza, therefore many actors visit here. Of all the hanamachi, Gion is the only one area that celebrities in politics, business, religion or entertainment visit.

The most popular area of Gion is Hanami-koji Street from Shijo-dori to Kenninji Temple. A nice (and expensive) place to dine, the street and its side alleys are lined with preserved machiya houses many of which now function as restaurants, serving Kyoto style kaiseki ryori (Japanese haute cuisine) and other types of local and international meals. Shijo-dor is a popular shopping area with stores selling local products including sweets, pickles and crafts.

A more accessible experience is the cultural show held everyday at Gion Corner 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. If you are in Kyoto in April, check out the Miyako Odori with daily dance performances by maiko.

Another scenic part of Gion is the Shirakawa Area which runs along the Shirakawa Canal parallel to Shijo-dori. The canal is lined by willow trees, high class restaurants and ochaya, many of which have rooms overlooking the canal. As it is a little off the beaten path, the Shirakawa Area is typically somewhat quieter than Hanami-koji Street.

Gion - Street view Gion - geisha Gion - Night view
Street view geisha Night view
 
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Travel Advice

Ochaya (teahouses)

These are traditional establishments where the patrons of Gion—from the samurai of old to modern-day businessmen—have been entertained by geisha in an exclusive manner for centuries. Inside the ochaya, or tea houses, is a private and closed world where the evening's entertainment may include cocktails, conversation, and games as well as traditional Japanese music, singing and dancing. To this day, geisha and maiko in full regalia can still be seen in the evenings as they move about through the streets of Gion to and from their various engagements at the ochaya. They dance and sing and they entertain for everyone.

Ochaya experience

The ultimate experience is being entertained by a maiko or geisha while dining at an ochaya. As expert hostesses, maiko and geisha ensure everyone's enjoyment by engaging in light conversation, serving drinks, leading drinking games and performing traditional music and dance.

The services of geisha are expensive and exclusive, traditionally requiring an introduction from an existing customer. In recent years, however, some travel agencies and hotels have started to offer lunch or dinner packages with a maiko to any tourist with a sufficient budget. There are even a few companies which target foreign tourists without Japanese language skills.

The manner of shooting geisha

geisha visitors see are usually on their way to work and not being paid by the tourism board as some local mascot. geisha are aware that they are a special and unique aspect of the Japanese culture and subject to interest so it is a part of their lives, but people need to respect them too. This means visitors shouldn't block their way by standing in front of them when they're walking. Take photos from the side or back, but leave their path open. It would be nice to ask if you can take a photo and not just go crazy, shooting photos as visitors run after geisha, as has happened to geisha many times.

Traditional rule in Gion

There is a popular misconception that Gion was a red-light district. It was a geisha district, and as geisha are entertainers, not prostitutes, Gion is not, and never was, a red-light district. Till now the false impression has not been changed. The reason is that traditionally anything happened here are not allowed to be known by the public. Actually, there is nothing must be strictly kept secret, people just follow the traditional rule.

Maiko

Maiko is an apprentice geisha in western Japan, especially Kyoto, Osaka, Nara. In Kanto area, person in training is called hangyoku. Their jobs consist of performing songs, dances, and playing the shamisen (three-stringed Japanese instrument) for visitors during feasts. Maiko are usually aged 15 to 20 years old and become geisha after learning how to dance (a kind of Japanese traditional dance), play the shamisen, and learning Kyo-kotoba (dialect of Kyoto), regardless of their origins.

When to see geisha more easily

August 1st is the day of Hassaku. Originally, people exchange gifts to pray for harvest on this day, now evolved into the tradition of hanamachi. geisha ritually greet tea house owners, their patrons and their teachers so it is easy to see geisha this day.

Most geisha who live in Kyoto's hanamachi head out at about 5:45 p.m. to their evening engagements, which makes this the best time to see them.

 
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Visit

Address Gion-cho, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto-shi, Kyoto
Phone 075-531-2288 (Gion Shopping District Promotion Association)
Admission Free  
Hours Free time  
Closed Open 7 Days a Week
Required Time 30 minutes
Getting There By Train
5 minute walk from Gion-shijo Station on Keihan Electric Railway Keihan Honsen.
8 minute walk from Kawara Station on Hankyu Railway Kyoto Line.
15 minutes ride by car from JR Kyoto Station.
Take City Bus No.206 from JR Kyoto Station to the Gion bus stop, then walk approximately 1 minute.
By Car
Take Meishin Expressway to the Kyoto-higashi exit. It is approximately 15 minutes from exit.
Parking No parking available
 
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