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Kyoto's Gion has been the foremost entertainment district in Japan since ancient days. By day it bustles with visitors but at night these streets look completely different. Let's visit Gion at night.
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 all over the world.
Today we would like to introduce to you the magical world of Gion at night.
Gion is the best-known entertainment quarter in Kyoto. Originally it prospered as the monzencho (*1) of Yasaka Shrine (formerly called Gion-sha). It gradually developed into a town full of restaurants, high-class ryotei (Japanese restaurants), and entertainment facilities.
The extent of what can be called the Gion area is quite large. 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 also about 500 meters. On the southern end is Kenninji Temple and the northern end spreads out to around Shinbashidori Avenue.
*1 Monzencho: a town centered around a large temple or shrine with many shops and restaurants opened here to serve the pilgrims who came to worship at the temple/shrine.
In a town such as Gion, which prospered as an entertainment district, there are many institutions from long ago that are now known as amusement or cultural facilities. For example, the Kabuki theater Kyoto Shijo Mimamiza and the Gion Kobukaburenjo 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 (apprentice geisha) walking around town to announce dances and upcoming performances.
Just looking at the intricate latticework of these doors already makes you feel that you've fallen back in time here in Gion. Once it gets dark, the townscape of Gion shows a different kind of beauty.
Now, we'll introduce to you to Hanamikojidori and Shinbashidori where you can see the magical night sights of Gion.
First is Hanamikojidori, the main street that passes through the center of Gion.
Hanamikoji is split into north and south by the intersecting Shijodori. This results in a completely different atmosphere on the north and south side. The north side has many izakaya or Japanese-style pubs whereas the south side has mainly historical and traditional-style restaurants.
Lanterns that are dimly lit create a dreamy scenery that spreads out ahead of you; it is an entirely different Gion from that of the day.
Next up is the street called Shinbashidori. It has a slightly more relaxed atmosphere than Hanamikoji.
Along Shinbashidori 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.
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.
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 addition, no selfie sticks. These are all very obvious manner to be followed.
Please 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.
On summer nights, 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 very lively Gion. You can hear the sounds of nature that are muffled during the day. How about experiencing a calm side of Kyoto and the Gion atmosphere that you can't see during the day?
Address: Kyoto, Higashiyama, Gion MAP
Nearest Station: Gionshijo Station on Keihan line, Kawaramachi Station on Hankyu Line
Access: 1 minute walk from Gionshijo Station, 5 minute walk from Kawaramachi
Phone Number: 075-531-2288 (Promotion Association - Japanese only)
Website: Gion Shopping Street Promotion Association (Japanese only)