The historic and traditional entertainment district in Kyoto, Gion refers to the area spanning between Shijo Street and the Kamo-gawa River on the west side and the Yasaka-jinja Shrine on the east, making up the unique area notable as the Geisha district.
History of Gion
The Gion district is a cultural hub of Kyoto, among the many temples and shrines in the area, the Gion area is an exciting and thriving area. Dating back to the Sengoku period, the district was created in front of the Gion Shrine also known as the Yasaka Shrine and was established specifically to make room for the visitors to the shrine. Since then the area has continuously evolved and is now notably known as the Geisha district not only in Kyoto but in all of Japan.
Along Hanami-koji street, visitors can find many ochaya (teahouses), shops, and restaurants along with well-preserved wooden houses. Another part of Gion has been recognized as national historic preservation. In an effort to restore and maintain the traditional beauty and historic feel of the streets in Gion, the municipality recently moved all the street utilities underground rather than overhead. This subtle change makes the area feel even more authentic and unique.
What to do in Gion
Exploring Gion during the day is a great way to visit the many temples and shrines in the area, and in the evening time Gion has a special vibe. Join our evening food tour in Gion, and you’ll be escorted by a local expert to all the best spots in town. The Shirakawa district is another part of Gion which overlooks the Shirakawa Canal, a quiet alternative to the main Hanami-koji street which is much busier and filled with tourists.
Since Gion is the Geisha district, visitors are certain to see a geiko (Geisha in Kyoto) or a maiko (Geisha apprentice) walking in the streets, or in a traditional performance. One of the best ways is to visit an ochaya for an evening performance.
The center street in Gion and the main shopping district, this is the place to explore many shops and cafes in the commercial area of the district. The Yasaka Shrine can be found on the east side of Shijo Avenue, and to the west is the Matsunoo Shrine.
Also known as the Gion Shrine and one of the most notable attractions in the area, the Yasaka Shrine is a Shinto Shrine which includes gates and several buildings along with a stage. One of the most memorable visions are the hundreds of lanterns that are lit in front of the shrine in the evenings. Day or night, Yasaka is a special attraction and one of the most popular in Kyoto.
One of the best ways to see a Geisha is simply to walk down Hanami-koji street towards the Kennin-ji Temple. It is important to always remain respectful and appropriate towards the Geishas. It is best not to approach them or ask for photos, but simply taking a photo of them on their way is acceptable.
Minamiza Kabuki Theater
Founded in 1610 originally as Shijo Minami-za, the theatre is the primary kabuki theater in Kyoto. It is believed that kabuki drama- the classical drama/dance originated in Kyoto. Kabuki style is known not only for the drama and dance but for the style of makeup worn on stage. The current theatre was built in 1929 and sits on the corner of Shijo-dori and Kawabata-dori. Enjoying a kabuki performance in the Minamiza theatre is a memorable experience and one of the best experiences in Gion.
198 Nakanomachi, Shijodori Yamatooji Nishiiru, Higashiyama, Kyoto 605-0075, Kyoto Prefecture
How to visit Gion
From Kyoto Station, it is easy to access Gion, simply take the bus 100 or bus 206 and get off Gion Station. If visiting via train, the nearest stations are Kawaramachi Station via Hankyu Line or Gion Shijo Station via Keihan Line.
One of the most magical times to visit Gion is during the spring when the cherry blossoms are in season and in bloom. The picturesque view of the traditional wooden houses, and streets surrounded by the pink blossoms is a memorable experience. The Shirakawa district is another part of Gion which overlooks the Shirkawa Canal, a quiet alternative to the main Hanami-koji street which is much busier and filled with tourists that is particularly beautiful and scenic when the cherry blossoms are in the bloom.