Translated by Jay Issei Karslake
A Dreamlike Townscape: Come Walk The Streets Of Gion At Night
Kyoto's Gion has been the foremost entertainment district in Japan since ancient days. By day it is populated by tourists but at night, there is a completely different look to these streets. Let's visit at Gion at night.
Written by FujimotoHiro
The Gion area of Kyoto is the foremost place to get a taste of Japan. With its streets lined with old wooden buildings, Gion is visited not only by domestic tourists but also by visitors from Asia, Europe and all over the world.
Today we would like to introduce to you the magical world of Gion at night.
Gion, Kyoto's Premier Entertainment District
Gion is Kyoto's premier entertainment quarter. Originally it prospered as the monzenchō (*1) of Yasaka Shrine (formerly called Gion-sha). As times changed it developed into a town of pleasure.
The extent of what can be called the Gion area is huge. On the eastern end there is Yasaka Shrine and if you go 500 meters in the completely opposite direction, you'll come across Kamo river on the western end. The north and south range is about 500 meters too. On the southern end is Kenninji Temple and the northern end spreads out to around Shinbashidōri.
*1 Monzenchō: a town that was centered around a large temple or shrine where many shops and restaurants gathered in order to take advantage of the number of pilgrims that worshiped at the temple/shrine.
In a town such as Gion that prospered as a entertainment district, there are many institutions from long ago that are now known as amusement or cultural facilities. For example, the kabuki theater KyotoShijō Mimamiza and the Gion Kōbukaburenjō where Japanese traditional dances are performed are two such amusement facilities. In addition, if you go to the restaurants in the area, you can see maiko or apprentice geisha announcing dances and upcoming performances.
Let's Walk Around Gion at Night!
Just looking at the intricate lattice work of these doors already helps to build the feeling that you have fallen back in time here in Gion. Once it becomes night the townscape of Gion is colored by a different kind of beauty.
Now, we'll introduce to you to Hanamikōjidōri and Shinbashidōri where you can see the magical night sights of Gion.
First is Hanamikōjidōri, the main street that passes through the center of Gion.
Hanamikōjidōri is split into north and south by the intersecting Shijōdōri which makes for a completely different atmosphere on the north and south side. The north side has a lot of buildings with izakaya or Japanese-style pubs as tenants whereas the south side is populated by historical and traditional-style restaurants.
Lanterns that are dimly lit and reflect well on the stone pavement create a dreamy scenery that spreads out ahead of you; it is an entirely different Gion to that of the day.
Next up is Shinbashidōri. It has a slightly more relaxed atmosphere than the affectionately nicknamed Hanamikōji.
As you walk on Shinbashidōri you will find a small shrine called Tatsumi Jinja. Also known as the "Home of the Gods of Gion's Harvest", this Inari shrine is where authorized apprentice geisha begin their public appearances. This particular shrine was built originally to protect the Tatsumi direction (Southeast) from bad luck and so forth.
A short distance from the street there is a narrow alley with okonomiyaki and teppanyaki restaurants. Of the many shops here, there are great ranges in price from the moderate to the expensive, all to suit the needs of the customers who make their way here.
On warm days, it's quite lovely to sit by the river enjoying the cool breeze as you listen to the water as it murmurs by. The scenery around the riverside is most beautiful when the sun has just started to go down.
Rules of Gion
There are of course rules to be followed here in Gion so that everyone can fully enjoy their time in this historical area.
All over this district there are signs with simple pictures that even children can easily understand.
No littering, no eating/drinking/smoking and, the newest edition, no selfie sticks while walking are the most obvious, but you must also remember that you may not touch the maiko or geisha, nor should you sit on the road or lean against any of the buildings or fences. Be careful and use common sense when sightseeing.
At night the temperature in Gion drops and it becomes very breezy and quite comfortable.
Once it becomes night time, there are fewer people in the usually lively Gion. You can hear the sounds of nature in the town that are muffled during the day. How about experiencing the calm Kyotoand Gion atmosphere that you can't see during the day?
Address: Kyoto, Higashiyama, Gion
Nearest Station: Gionshijō Station (祇園四条駅) on Keihan line, Kawaramachi Station (河原町駅) on Hankyū Line
Access: 1 minute walk from Gionshijō Station, 5 minute walk from Kawaramachi
Phone Number: 075-531-2288 (Promotion Association - Japanese only)
Website: Gion Shopping Street Promotion Association (Japanese only)