Translated by Allie
Gion - Japanese Encyclopedia
Written by ニコ
Gion is one of the famous places to visit in Kyoto, known for its traditional, sophisticated and unique atmosphere. In this article we explain where Gion is located and what are the best ways to enjoy your visit to this area.
What is Gion? Where is It?
When people mention Gion in Japan, they usually refer to one of the districts in Kyoto city.
The nearest station to Gion is Gion-Shijo Station on the Keihan Main Line. Gion district is located around Shijo Avenue, between Kamo River which flows west of Gion-shijo station and Yasaka shrine, located to its east.
Although the northern and southern parts of Gion are famous as Hanamachi (a traditional entertainment district), the northern part looks like a neon district with bars and night clubs.
If you wish to get a taste of old Japan, you should visit the southern part of Gion. The stone-paved alleys and luxurious traditional Japanese restaurants near around Hanamikoji street, which is located right in the middle between Kamo River and Yasaka Shrine, has a particular charm. It will let you experience the elegant atmosphere for which is Kyoto is famous. This is also the area where the historically unique Gion culture emerged under the influence of professional people such as politicians and economists.
What is Gion Like?
Yasaka Shrine, located in the eastern edge of Gion used to be called "Gion Shrine" in the past. This is the origin of the name of the district, "Gion". Gion developed as a town offering accommodation facilities and resting places for those who came to visit Yasaka Shrine.
Chaya (tea houses), initially facilities where visitors went to rest, gradually started serving sake and entertaining the guests with beautifully dressed women. In addition, a theater was built by the Kamo River, which got attention from artists and culture people who began to gather in this area. As time passed, Gion came to be known as "a large entertainment district".
Some sophisticated tea houses are still found in Gion. If you are lucky, you might bump into geisha (traditional Japanese female entertainers) and maiko (apprentice geisha). However, the tea houses in Gion are well-known for their high-class atmosphere, which makes them rather difficult to visit.
To the visitors of Gion, we recommend the "ozashiki asobi", a kind of entertainment which has people enjoy an elegant meal while watching a geisha's performance of dance and music. Please note that some of the traditional tea houses have the rule of "ichigen-san okotowari" which means that "if it is your first visit and you don't have an invitation from regular customers, you cannot enter their store".
However, not all of the tea houses are like this. If you wish to know what a tea house is like when you are in Kyoto, please check out the information about tea houses available at tourist information centers or on the internet.
Luxurious traditional Japanese restaurants open to anyone, even on their first visit, are found near Gion-shijo station. For instance, Mitoko, Gion hatanaka and Hanasaki Gion offer information in English on their website, an they are really worth checking it out. Geisha and maiko are not always present at the restaurant. You should tell the staff of the restaurant in advance that you wish to meet them.
Gion Festival is One of the Three Largest Festivals in Japan!
It is really pleasant to explore the Gion area, but one of the things you shouldn't miss out is the Gion Festival. It lasts for a month from July 1st through the 31st every year, offering various events and shows. It is one of the three largest festivals in Japan.
Yoiyama, an event held from the evening of the 14th to the 16th, and the Yamaboko parade held on 17th, which is listed as UNESCO intangible Cultural Heritage, attract many travelers every year. If you wish to enjoy the festival atmosphere in the old town while strolling around the streets, try to go to Yoiyama. If you wish to see the gorgeous festival floats which are also known as "moving museums", you should definitely see the Yamaboko float parade.
Become A Maiko For A Day
Many places in Gion offer customers the occasion to dress up as maiko. You can have your picture taken and take a walk as a maiko. Exploring Kyoto just like one of the locals from Gion would certainly be the best memory of your trip to Gion. Kyoto Giwon AYA is one of the stores that offer a "Maiko Makeover Experience" - a service consisting in dressing up and putting on the maiko makeup, including having your picture taken. When visiting Gion, do give it a try.
Gion is a stunning traditional entertainment district which keeps attracting visitors from all around Japan and the world. It is the best place to enjoy an atmosphere different than your daily life at the tea houses and festivals. When visiting Kyoto, do go to Gion to enjoy its unique atmosphere.