Lots of Japanese history remains in Kyoto. Gion, originally built as the neighborhood around Yasaka Shrine, developed its own unique culture thanks to being Kyoto's foremost pleasure quarters. Here are 5 places in Gion to visit and enjoy the Kyoto-like atmosphere.
Gion's Historic Preservation District is about 100m to north-south and about 160m east-west, and that area is stone-paved and lined with chaya, restaurants where you can enjoy entertainment by geisha and maiko (apprentice geisha). This area firmly retains the elegance of Kyoto's pleasure districts. Since maiko often pass through the area, you might run into them as you walk around.
The Gion Historic Preservation District was originally the neighborhood around the Yasaka Shrine, but in the Edo Period it became the pleasure quarters (not the red-light district; Gion was never home to courtesans), and had about 500 chaya at its peak. The characteristic of these buildings is that the first floor has lattice work and the second floor has bamboo screens with protruding edges. The sight of the stone-paved streets and the high-quality chaya buildings is a townscape you should see at least once.
In the area there are many cafes using old buildings, so why not stop by for a rest? This is a recommended sightseeing area for people that want to get the most out of the Kyoto atmosphere.
1. Gion Historic Preservation District
If you're sightseeing in Gion you definitely have to go here. Tatsumibashi is a bridge over the Shirakawa River at the intersection of Shinbashi-dori and Shirakawa Minami-dori, east of Gion Shirakawa. It's famous as one of the representative areas of Gion. It's often used as a filming location for dramas, and since it's a beautiful place that looks like a painting, you must get a photo here! Around the bridge, the willow trees lining the river and the buildings with lattice gates have a Gion-like atmosphere. It's also fun to pray at Tatsumi Daimyouji Shrine before taking a stroll around the area. It's a shrine that's related to artistry. If you go in the spring, the cherry blossoms trees line the river in full bloom, and the sight of them lit up at night is enchanting!
The Gion Kobu Kaburenjo Theater is a theater that opened in 1872, and they are famous for their spring performance of the Miyako Odori. The Miyako Odori is a performance in which a crowd of Gion geisha and maiko put on a colorful, energetic dance welcoming the arrival of spring. The performers and the performance are both things that you can't easily see, so it's very popular with tourists because both the clothing and the performance are stunning. They only hold the Miyako Odori every April for one month. Tickets start at 2,500 JPY (incl. tax), but if you really want to take in a full experience of Japanese culture and traditional dance, you should consider the ticket that includes a tea ceremony (4,800 JPY (incl. tax)). This ticket allows you to experience a geisha preparing tea for you before the performance (complete with tea cake), and it also allows you to explore the large wrap-around garden complete with pond and tea house on the grounds. It's a very special experience! Definitely check out the Miyako Odori if you can! It would be good to make reservations in advance because tickets do sell out.
3. Gion Kobu Kaburenjo Theater
Gion began as the flourishing temple neighborhood for Yasaka Shrine. Yasaka Shrine is both the origin and the symbol of Gion, and it was constructed in 656. It's famous for holding the Gion Matsuri, one of Kyoto's most important three festivals. This important historical shrine is definitely a place you can't leave off of your sightseeing list when you go to Gion. The beautiful scarlet shrine gate is its landmark, and the shrine is said to be the place to pray against bad spirits and for luck in love. The smaller shrine past the main shrine on the far right is Utsukushi Gozensha, and it is particularly popular with women as the holy water that wells up here is called "biyoumizu" ("water with effects for beauty"). If you put just 2-3 drops on your skin, it won't just be your skin that becomes beautiful but also your heart! Definitely try it. There are many Japanese traditional sweet shops in the area as well so it's also fun to check them out on your way home from sightseeing.
Kodaiji, an 8 minute walk from Yasaka Shrine, is a temple constructed in 1606 by Nene, the wife of Toyotomi Hidetoshi, a military commander during the Warring States Period (1467-1576), as a memorial hoping for his happiness in the next world. Most of the buildings on the grounds have been designated as important cultural artifacts, and many of them like the Kaisandou, Kasakasatei, and the Shiguretei have remained since they were first built. This area is recommended for people who want to relax and enjoy some of the culture of the time and the Kyoto-like atmosphere. There's a huge garden, so you can take a leisurely walk. In the spring there are colorful cherry blossoms, and in the fall the foliage is beautiful, so during your walk you'll feel as though you entered the world of a movie. Among them, the garden created by the tea master Kobori Enshu uses the Higashiyama mountains as a backdrop, and the sight is one that you must see. In the evening the lit-up gardens are popular, so please make sure to visit. The evening illuminations are only during specific times of the year so please double-check before you go.
Entrance fee is 600 JPY for adults and 250 JPY for middle school and high school-aged children.
Gion is an ancient neighborhood that flourished as a temple town and then became the biggest pleasure quarters in Kyoto during the Edo Period. Now it is the representative area where you can enjoy the traditional atmosphere of Kyoto while continuing to be a business district. There are many cafes using the old buildings and traditional Japanese restaurants with history, so why not try some of them during your visit?
*Please note that the prices and other information in the article may not be the most up-to-date information
*Please note that the information in this article is from the time of writing or publication and may differ from the latest information.