Image copyrights belong to authors
Why Gion is special ?
Gion (祇園?, ぎおん) is a district of Kyoto, Japan, originally developed in the Middle Ages, in front of Yasaka Shrine. 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. The geisha in the Gion district (and Kyoto generally) do not refer to themselves as geisha; instead, Gion geisha use the local term geiko. While the term geisha means "artist" or "person of the arts", the more direct term geiko means essentially "a child of the arts" or "a woman of art".
What to explore at Gion?
Going along the street of old district, you can admire the nice architecture. You can visit tea houses which is an old-style Japanese house. Come across the Kamogawa River is Kawaramachi, this is the largest downtown area in Kyoto. Various stores line the streets, from businesses that maintain centuries-old traditions, to top fashion shops. There are also department stores, boutiques, movie theaters and several large bookstores in the area. You can enter, enjoy some food and see a lot of people walking in the street.
There are also many modern entertainment establishments in Gion – restaurants of all types, bars, clubs, pachinko, off-track betting, and a very large number of tourist-oriented establishments, particularly along Shijō Street, the region is both a major tourist hub, and a popular nightlife spot for locals.
A visit to Gion is best combined with a stroll through the nearby Higashiyama District between Yasaka Shrine and Kiyomizu Dera. This area has more preserved streets and traditional shops selling all kinds of local foods, crafts and souvenirs.
How to get to Gion?
Gion can be reached from Kyoto Station by bus number 100 or 206 (20 minutes, 230 yen). Get off at Gion bus stop. Alternatively, the closest train stations are Gion Shijo Station on the Keihan Line and Kawaramachi Station on the Hankyu Line.
From Umeda (Osaka) :
[Rail] 42 min from Umeda (Osaka) to Kawaramachi Station (Kyoto) by Hankyu Line (limited-stop express).
From Osaka :
[Rail] 28 min to Kyoto Station by JR Tokaido Line (new rapid service).10 min from Kyoto Station to Shijo-Kawara-machi by bus, and a 5-min walk from Shijo-Kawara-machi to Gion.
From Tokyo :
[Rail] 2h 15 min to Kyoto Station by JR Tokaido Shinkansen Line 'Nozomi,' or 2h 45 min by 'Hikari.' 10 min from Kyoto Station to Shijo-Kawara-machi by bus, and a 5-min walk from Shijo-Kawara-machi to Gion.
From Nagoya :
[Rail] 35 min to Kyoto Station by JR Tokaido Shinkansen Line 'Nozomi,' 10 min from Kyoto Station to Shijo-Kawara-machi by bus, and a 5-min walk from Shijo-Kawara-machi to Gion.
- Greatest spot to experience the Geisha in Japan
- Straight out of the "Life of a Geisha”
- A fantastic place to explore
- A nice walk through old Japanese street
- Atmospheric area of old Kyoto
Gion, Kyoto Prefecture 605-0073, Japan
Tips for you
I am sure it has shrunk since its hey days. But some side streets are like time capsules. Read the book "Life of a Geisha" before you visit and you can imagine Nitta Sayuri daintily walking down the street. The houses must date back a few hundred years. We had the good luck to be on the Gion bridge when there was a celebration march with an icon. It was like a very large palanquin carried by men dressed in white, traditional robes. Some men in the front of the procession carried huge burning logs that spewed embers. Firemen followed mopping up these embers. Quite a spectacle! The Kamo river flowing under the bridge is pretty. There are lots of places to eat at close to the Gion bridge. A nice and lively place to spend some time at. We also spotted an Indian restaurant by the name of Ashoka close by. So vegetarians will not starve!
Once you leave the main street full of tourists and taxis and wander into the small dark streets, this is when Gion becomes this magical out of time place. And please, don't harass the geishas.
This is my favorite part of Kyoto, in fact, it made Kyoto one of my favorite cities to visit in Japan. You can find maiko and geisha here but they're very hard to spot since they're always scurrying along. I love how the buildings here are kept in an older design which gives it character and lots of history. In fact, the entire time I was here, I thought Memoirs of a Geisha since it was filmed here. I love that they keep this area traditional, it made my trip to Japan feel complete.