Gion Travel Guide

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Gion 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.

Gion, Kyoto, Japan
Gion, Kyoto, 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".

Gion, Kyoto, Japan
Gion, Kyoto, Japan

This neighborhood in Kyoto has two hanamachi (geiko communities): Gion Kobu and Gion Higashi, which split many years ago; Kobu is larger, occupying most of the district, while Higashi is smaller and occupies the northeast corner, centered around its rehearsal hall. Despite the considerable decline in the number of geisha in Gion in the last one hundred years, it is still famous for the preservation of forms of traditional architecture and entertainment.

Gion, Kyoto, Japan
Gion, Kyoto, Japan

Part of this district has been declared a national historical preservation district. Recently, the City of Kyoto completed a project to restore the streets of Gion, which included such plans as moving all overhead utilities underground as part of the ongoing effort to preserve the original beauty of Gion.

Gion, Kyoto, Japan
Gion, Kyoto, Japan

Gion remains dotted with old-style Japanese houses called machiya, which roughly translated means "townhouse", some of which are ochaya or "tea houses". These are traditional establishments where the patrons of Gion°™from the samurai of old to modern-day businessmen°™have been entertained by geiko in an exclusive manner for centuries.

Gion, Kyoto, Japan
Gion, Kyoto, Japan

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 Shijo Street; the region is both a major tourist hub, and a popular nightlife spot for locals. Streets vary dramatically in character, and quiet traditional streets abut modern ones. Among the traditional streets, Hanami Lane and environs is a major preserved street. It ranges from Shijo Street at the north end, anchored by the famous Ichiriki Chaya, and running south to the major temple of Kennin-ji.

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