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Gion is one of the most popular district located in the heart of Kyoto. It's known to be the place in Kyoto where you can spot some geishas and maikos (geisha apprentices) if you're lucky enough. Gion also boast ochaya (teahouse) and traditional Japanese restaurants serving delicious Japanese haute cuisine (kaiseki ryouri) and the guests will get a chance to hire a geisha to entertain them. Tourists can also explore the whole district and admiring wooden merchant houses (machiya) that have been preserved for years. Kabuki show is one of Japanese traditional shows that thrive and flourish in this district.
How to Have Fun in Gion, the Geisha District With Minimal Budget
Kabuki show is one of the most popular and flourished form of entertainment in Japan since 17th Century, although Minamiza Kabuki Theater building itself was established centuries later, in 1929. Apparently Minamiza Kabuki Theater is the only survivor from 7 kabuki theatres that had been demolished years ago. Although the theater often hold various theatrical shows, kabuki show is still the main highlight. Minamiza Kabuki Theater building is easily noticeable thanks to its dramatic facades and roofs. The theater is located on the south-eastern corner of Shijo-street right behind a noodle shop that's also famous for its delicious noodles.
Shirakawa Canal is a scenic canal located parallel to Shijo Avenue, and is much more quiet than Hanami-koji Street. It's recommended to take a peaceful afternoon or evening walk as you enjoy view of willow trees lining along the path. The path will leads to Shirakawa Area, where most high-class restaurants and ochaya are open for business. Right beside the canal, you'll find a poem inscribed on a stone monument written by one of Japan's most famous late poet, Isamu Yoshii. Thoroghout his life, Isamu Yoshii fell in love with the beauty of Gion, and even until now Gion residents returns his love by holding a special festival held once a year to pay him a homage. Geishas also will lay flowers before the stone.
Venture further to the Eastern side of Gion where a tiny temple called Chugen-ji, or Meyami-jizo is located right next to a clothing shop. The small wooden shrine was built to protect a 'Jizo' or a small statue of Buddhist guardian saint that takes form of a small monk adorned with red-colored bib. There's also an interesting story of how the 'jizo' hold so much importance in the eyes of Japanese buddhists. Legend has it that in 1228 there was a severe flooding in Gion, that put many people and also businesses at stake. The rain, however, was magically ceased after the suffering residents prayed to the jizo statue. As a token of thank you, the residents built a small shrine for the 'Ame-yami JIzo' or 'Rain-stopping Jizo'. The name was later changed to 'Me-yami JIzo' thanks to a belief that the jizo also helps curing eye diseases.
Visiting Gion won't be complete if you haven't watch performances brought by geishas and maikos, though thankfully you still have a chance if you head to Gion Corner. Gion Corner is located at the southern part of Hanami Koji and few meters away from Ichiriki Chaya. One of the most famous festivals in Gion called Maiko Odori is performed here. Tourists are able to see charming dance performances of the geisha. There are also some more activities to immerse yourself inside traditional Japanese culture, such as tea ceremony (chadou), flowers arrangement (ikebana), and listening to various classical Japanese music performances.
From Hanami-koji, just head to the downtown area to visit Yasui Kompira-gu Shrine. Upon entering, one thing that will definitely catch your attention is a large hollowed-stone covered in paper pieces. It's not just an ordinary stone, as Japanese believe that the 7th century stone is an 'enkiri' or 'enmusubi' stone that can help people to break bad connections with bad people or bad habits in their life, and guide them to a much better ones. If you're interested in taking part, you should first pray at the main sanctuary. Next, you buy a special strip of paper sold in the shrine. You should then walk pass the shrine back and forth twice, that symbolize a 'rebirth', before you attached your wish to the stone.
Ebisu is God of Fortune and Prosperity in Shinto teachings, and a shrine dedicated to the deity was erected in Yamato-Oji Street. The shrine was built by Myōan Eisai, a Buddhist monk as a homage for Ebisu deity that have protected him during his travel back from China to Japan. Ebisu Jinja have two toori gates, and on the second one attached a sculpture of Ebisu's smiling face with a small basket below it. Locals believe that if you toss a 5 yen coin into the basket, you'll get a very good luck. Ebisu JInja also two major attractions in Gion held every January and October.
How to Get Tickets?
Most Gion attractions listed above don't require some admission fees. However, you do have to pay about ¥3,150 to enjoy performances in Gion Corner and ¥1,000 up to ¥20,000 in Minamiza Kabuki Theatre (depends on your choice of seatings).
How To Get Around?
Getting around from one attraction to another in Gion is easy. All attractions are located just within walking range so you'll be fine exploring them all on foot. Just be sure you wear some comfortable walking shoes!
What Should I Wear?
It's best to wear less-revealing clothes (like T-Shirts or any sleeved tops and pants that covering your thighs) when you are visiting shrines in Gion. Don't forget to always be civilized and act respectful whereever you go.
Best Time to Visit
The best times to visit Gion is from April to June. The weather is temperate and comfortable to explore all parts of the city. However, if you're aiming to watch Maiko performances in Gion Corner, it's best to visit Gion in April or in October. Though you might want to pay close attention to the weather, and only if you're comfortable with crowded place.
Will I Need a Guide?
We've summed all informations needed in this website, so there's no need to hire a guide.
How To Get There?
From Kyoto Station, take bus number 100 or 206 and alight at Gion Bus Stop. The Gion district is just few minutes away. Or, you can also take subway on the Keihan Line and stops at Gion Shijo Station, or Kawaramachi Station on the Hankyu Line.
There have been many reportings that some tourists act direspectful to the geishas and maikos they encountered. Don't be like them, and even if you want to take pictures of them be sure to ask for their permissions first.