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Gion (祇園) / Kyoto / Kyoto & Kansai

Gion is Kyoto's most famous geisha district, and one of the city's most popular attractions. The district lies in the city center around Shijo Avenue between Yasaka Shrine and the Kamo River, and is filled with ochaya (teahouses where geisha entertain), theaters, shops and restaurants.

Kyoto's other geisha districts are Pontocho, a narrow street across the Kamo River from Gion, and tightly packed with restaurants and bars; and the Kamishichiken district near Kitano Tenmangu Shrine, consisting of seven teahouses built using the extra materials from the shrine's last reconstruction.

Gion's main attraction are its traditional wooden machiya style merchant houses, built in a design characteristic of Kyoto. Due to the fact that property taxes were based upon street frontage, the houses were built with narrow facades only five to six meters wide, but extend up to twenty meters in from the street.


The most popular area of Gion is along Hanami-koji street from Shijo Avenue to Kenninji Temple. A nice place to dine, the street is lined with preserved merchant houses which now serve as high-end restaurants that mainly specialize in kaiseki ryori (Japanese haute cuisine and a specialty of Kyoto), although there are restaurants specializing in other types of food as well.

The restaurants around Hanami-koji are typically expensive. Interspersed among them are a number of ochaya teahouses, the most exclusive and expensive of Kyoto's dining establishments. Hanami-koji is usually crowded, and unfortunately there are no restrictions on automobile traffic on the street.

Another scenic part of Gion is the Shirakawa Area which runs along the Shirakawa Canal parallel to Shijo Avenue. The canal is lined by willow trees, high class restaurants and ochaya teahouses, many of which have rooms overlooking the canal. As it is a little off the beaten path, the Shirakawa Area is typically quieter and with a more seasonal atmosphere than Hanami-koji.
(Gion around the Shirakawa canal)

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.

You may also encounter maiko walking around other parts of Kyoto such as the Higashiyama district around Kiyomizudera. However, these are typically tourists who have visited one of the local studios to dress up as a maiko and take pictures.

The ultimate experience is being entertained by a geisha while dining at an ochaya. As expert hostesses, geisha ensure everyone's enjoyment by engaging in light conversation with guests, serving drinks, leading drinking games and performing traditional music and dance. Unfortunately, the services of geisha are expensive and require an introduction, making it difficult for most travelers to experience.
(Gion Corner)


(Maiko performing at Gion Corner)

A more accessible experience is the 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.

Shijo Avenue, which bisects the Gion district, is a popular shopping area with stores selling local products including sweets, pickles and crafts. Gion is also known for the Gion Matsuri, the most famous festival in Japan. Ironically, the most spectacular events of the festival are held outside of Gion on the opposite side of the Kamo River.

A visit to Gion is best combined with a stroll through the nearby Higashiyama district between Yasaka Shrine and Kiyomizudera. This area has more preserved streets and traditional shops selling all kinds of souvenirs and foods including many Kyoto specialties, such as folding fans and Yatsuhashi sweets.
(A geisha hosted dinner)

How to get there

Gion can be reached by bus from Kyoto Station in about 20 minutes. Take number 100 and 206 and get off at Gion bus stop. The closest train are Gion Shijo Station on the Keihan Line and Kawaramachi Station on the Hankyu Line.

How to get to and around Kyoto

Hours and Fees
Gion Corner
Hours:March to November: Two shows daily at 19:00 and 20:00
December to February: One show at 19:00 on selected days only
Admission:3150 yen

By TS on Oct 30, 2010
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tag : Kyoto, Gion



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Author:T. SATOH