Gion (祇園) District is one of the most famous areas in all of Kyoto (京都). It can be seen as Kyoto’s trademark as many people associate tradition and culture with the city. Truthfully, in the Gion area you can find exactly that.
Here, the popular geisha (芸者) or geiko (芸子) in Kansai (関西) dialect can be seen the most in all of Kyoto. If you happen to see one in the streets, please behave respectfully. They are probably on their way to work.
Lots of teahouses (ochaya, お茶屋), shops and restaurants decorate the entire district. It is in these teahouses where geiko or maiko (geiko apprentices) entertain their guests during lunch or dinner.
In today’s age, it is possible to book such an encounter through a number of travel agencies, something that wasn’t common not too long ago. Back then, you were usually only able to enjoy this event if you were introduced by another customer.
A geiko or maiko will supplement your meal with atmospheric music and dances along with games and chatting. I have not yet had the honor to experience this, but I might do it at some point in the future. Keep in mind that such a meeting is usually very pricey!
Gion’s main place of action is Hanami-koji Street, an alleyway that leads from the district’s main street all the way up to Kenniji Temple in the south.
Walking along this street, you will truly feel like you’re back in the Edo Period, at least that’s how it was for me. The architecture of the aligning houses is nicely designed and kept in good shape.
Another way to meet geiko/meiko
If you want to see the traditional dances of a maiko but don’t have the budget to afford a private show, you can visit a place called Gion Corner.
Here, you can enjoy these dances together with a wider audience for affordable money.
Some facts about Gion Corner:
- There are two shows daily at 18:00 and 19:00
- It is closed from Monday to Thursday from December to mid-March (except if one of these days is a national holiday) and on July 16, August 16 and from December 29 to January 3
- Admission is 3,150 Yen (24€/$28) normally but is discounted to 2,500 Yen (19€/$22) for foreign tourists visiting from July 1st to the 28th of February
In addition to the Hanami-koji Street, the Shirakawa area is also a popular spot to be. It lies in the opposite direction, in northern Gion.
Shirakawa Canal builds the center and surrounding high class restaurants and tea houses make this area one of the most exquisite places to dine or stay.
You might have heard of this one before. This festival is the most famous of its kind in all of Japan (日本). The event lasts throughout all of July every year, while the first half of the month is mostly preparation for the later stages. Around the 15th is where the main event begins, and a huge number of establishments open their little shops in the streets.
Gion Matsuri will forever have a special place in my heart. I was fortunate enough to be in Kyoto during the festival in 2017. There, armed with a yukata (浴衣) and wooden sandals, I had quite the romantic success. 😉
Every Japanese festival is great and a lot of fun, but none of them quite reach the level of Gion matsuri. If it is in any way possible, come to Kyoto around this time of the year!
How to get to Gion
From Kyoto Station:
Take bus number 100 or 206 to Gion bus stop. The ride takes about 20 minutes and costs 230 Yen (1,77€/$2.05).
Alternatively, if you are planning on exploring the Higashiyama district/Kiyomizudera (清水寺) first, you can also walk to Gion in about 15-20 minutes. I did exactly that and it is a pleasant stroll I promise!
Gion is the place to go to experience the traditional Kyoto you have all heard of. Of course, Kyoto offers this vibe pretty much anywhere in the city, but here you will encounter the highest concentration of it.
If you feel like splurging on a nice meal with some geiko/maiko entertainment alongside, this is the place to do so.
But even just a stroll through the area really is an exciting activity and will certainly leave you astounded.
Again, I highly highly recommend coming here in July and celebrate the Gion matsuri with the town. That’s by far the best way to experience the city’s nature. Definitely do it if you can!
10/10 would go again.
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See you there!