Gion District

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Location

Kyoto, Japan

Address

Gio District, Kyoto, Japan

Getting there

From Kyoto Station, take the number 206 bus (220 yen for adults) from bus stop D2. A taxi will cost about 1500 yen ($15).
The closest train is Keihan Shijo Station. Sanjo Station is also within walking distance.
If you are in the downtown area, Kawaramachi Station on the Hankyu Line is convenient. Exit for Kiyamachi and walk across the Shijo Ohashi (bridge).

Telephone

Gion Corner: +81-(0)75-561-1119

Fax

Gion Corner: +81-(0)75-561-3860

More information

http://www.kyoto-gioncorner.com/global/en.html, https://foursquare.com/v/gion-geisha-district/, https://web.facebook.com/pages/Gion-district-Japan,

Prices

Gion Corner: 3150 yen (2800 yen with online coupon).

Opening hours

Gion Corner: Two shows daily at 18:00 and 19:00. Monday to Thursday from December to mid March (except national holidays), July 16, August 16, and December 29 to January 3

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Gion (祇園) is Kyoto's most famous geisha district, located around Shijo Avenue between Yasaka Shrine in the east and the Kamo River in the west. It is filled with shops, restaurants and ochaya (teahouses), where geiko (Kyoto dialect for geisha) and maiko (geiko apprentices) entertain.

At the heart of Kyoto lies Gion, the city’s most famous entertainment district and the center of its traditional arts. Michael Lambe takes us on a daytime tour of Gion’s most famous landmarks, shops and historic sites.

Gion is a traditional entertainment district lying north and south of Shijo Street, and stretching from the Kamo-gawa River in the west, as far as Yasaka-jinja Shrine in the east. Originally, this shrine was called Gion Shrine, and the entertainment area developed here to service its many pilgrims with food and drink.

Later, as kabuki drama became popular on the Gion district’s western edges, more sophisticated forms of entertainment were developed for the theater-goers, and so today Gion is known as Kyoto’s most famous geisha district. Packed with bars, restaurants and traditional teahouses, Gion is at its most atmospheric in the early evening, when the lanterns are lit and apprentice geisha will flit about the back streets on their way to their appointments. However, there is also a lot to see here during the day. Let’s take a walk and explore the shrines, temples and historic sites of Gion’s picturesque streets.

Gion attracts tourists with its high concentration of traditional wooden machiya merchant houses. Due to the fact that property taxes were formerly based upon street frontage, the houses were built with narrow facades only five to six meters wide, but extend up to twenty meters in from the street.

The most popular area of Gion is Hanami-koji Street from Shijo Avenue to Kenninji Temple. A nice (and expensive) place to dine, the street and its side alleys are lined with preserved machiya houses many of which now function as restaurants, serving Kyoto style kaiseki ryori (Japanese haute cuisine) and other types of local and international meals.

Interspersed among the restaurants are a number of ochaya (teahouses), the most exclusive and expensive of Kyoto's dining establishments, where guests are entertained by maiko and geiko.

Another scenic part of Gion is the Shirakawa Area which runs along the Shirakawa Canal parallel to Shijo Avenue. The canal is lined by willow trees, high class restaurants and ochaya, many of which have rooms overlooking the canal. As it is a little off the beaten path, the Shirakawa Area is typically somewhat quieter than Hanami-koji Street.

Many tourists visit Gion hoping to catch a glimpse of a geiko or maiko on their way to or from an engagement at an ochaya in the evenings or while running errands during the day. However, if you spot a geiko or maiko, act respectfully. Complaints about tourists behaving like ruthless paparazzi are on the increase in recent years.

The ultimate experience is being entertained by a maiko or geiko while dining at an ochaya. As expert hostesses, maiko and geiko ensure everyone's enjoyment by engaging in light conversation, serving drinks, leading drinking games and performing traditional music and dance.

The services of geiko are expensive and exclusive, traditionally requiring an introduction from an existing customer. In recent years, however, some travel agencies and hotels have started to offer lunch or dinner packages with a maiko to any tourist with a sufficient budget. There are even a few companies which target foreign tourists without Japanese language skills.

A more accessible experience is the cultural show held everyday at Gion Corner at the end of Hanami-koji. Aimed at foreign tourists, the show is a highly concentrated introduction to several traditional Japanese arts and include short performances of a tea ceremony, ikebana, bunraku, Kyogen comic plays and dances performed by real maiko. If you are in Kyoto in April, check out the Miyako Odori with daily dance performances by maiko.

Shijo Avenue, which bisects the Gion district, is a popular shopping area with stores selling local products including sweets, pickles and crafts. Gion is also known for the Gion Matsuri, the most famous festival in Japan. Ironically, the most spectacular events of the festival are held outside of Gion on the opposite side of the Kamo River.

A visit to Gion is best combined with a stroll through the nearby Higashiyama District between Yasaka Shrine and Kiyomizudera. This area has more preserved streets and traditional shops selling all kinds of local foods, crafts and souvenirs.

Now, if you wander the streets of Gion long enough you can still spot a geisha or two. Well, we stumbled upon one to be honest; just as she managed to briefly escape a group of tourists insisting on blinding her with their flashes. I was too startled to take a picture of her as she appeared right in front of me. Before I realized what was going on, the group swiftly followed her around the corner and all I learned from this was that tourists can probably be worse than paparazzi.

Gion Machiya

That is, both areas have the classic Kyoto machiya buildings, and have limited Coke machines and other tasteless elements of modern life.

Though the fortunes of the geisha have declined significantly, and they are perhaps not as exotic and remote as they once were - tourists will never be entertained by one unless they have an introduction and are invited to a tea house (ochaya) where they work.

The women are not sex workers - the word "geisha" literally means "artist person" - and no amount of money or persistence will gain you entry into a tea house.

Of the licensed geisha areas, or hanamachi - Gion, Miyagawa-cho, Kamishichiken, Pontocho, and Shimabara - the only one that caters to the masses is Kamishichiken. It opens a beer garden every summer in the grounds of the large temple in the area. The "garden" is open to the public, and as you drink overpriced beer, geisha from this hanamachi will flit around, stopping at your table briefly. It is a five-minute walk from Kitano Tenmangu Shrine.

If however you are famous or connected and do get into a tea house, what to expect? You will be wined and dined by the geisha, talk to her (if you can understand a rather anitquated form of Kyoto dialect), and get to listen to and watch the women sing and dance.

Depending on how long you stay and how many geisha are there, you will be billed anywhere from 70,000 yen ($700) and up.

If you hope to just catch a glimpse of a geisha, your best bet is to hang around Gion or Pontocho around five or six in the evening. That is when the ladies are en route to their first evening appointments.

Thanks to the mystique of the geisha, Gion has appeared in many novels and films. Mineko Iwasaki, the American geisha Liza Dalby, and Memoirs of a Geisha author Arthur Golden have all documented the area.

Gion Theaters

Kabuki theaters moved into the area in the 16th century from the Kamo River banks, where it all began. The Minamiza is the most famous one still in existence and the venue for Kaomise Kabuki in December. The Gion Kobu Kaburenjo features the Gion geisha's annual dances in April. The performances at Gion Corner are a good introduction for tourists to sample a number of Kyoto's traditional arts including kyomai - Kyoto dances - kyogen comic dances and ikebana flower arranging. There are evening performances at 7.40 and 8.40pm from March to November.

Gion Shopping

Gion's main shopping street is on and around Shijo Street from Yasaka Shrine to the Minamiza and the Kamo River to the west. There are a number of exclusive shops selling kimono, kimono accessories, combs, hairbands, bags and traditional shoes and sandals like geta and seta. The Kyoto Craft Center has a wide range of traditional Kyoto items and is a good place to begin.

Hanamikoji Street runs north and south from Shijo at the corner of the exclusive Ichiriki Teahouse and has a number of interesting shops selling antiques as well as more ochaya, up-market eateries and cafes. Shinbashi Street runs east off Hanamikoji and is a beautifully preserved street of wooden ochaya with wooden lattices and bamboo curtains. Tatsumi Daimyo-jin shrine is at the eastern end of Shinbashi and is covered with the name cards (meishi) of hundreds of Gion's geisha, hostesses and bar and restaurant owners hoping for success in business.

The Furumonzen Street area including Shin-Monzen Street and Nawate is known for its many antique shops selling Japanese furniture items such as tansu as well as antique masks, ceramics, folding screens (byobu, samurai armor, lacquerware, dolls, tea sets and inro.

The rest of north-eastern Gion is a maze of narrow, neon-lit karaoke bars, clubs and bars in marked contrast to Shinbashi.

Gion Hotels

If you wish to stay in the Kyoto area of Gion there are a number of hotels and traditional ryokan. Some recommended places are Kyoto Garden Ryokan Yachiyo Hotel, Koto Hotel Kyoto and the Gion Shinmonso Hotel.

Yasaka Shrine

(free admission, always opened)

This ancient Shinto shrine, dating back to 656 and also called Gion Shrine, is one of the most important of the city, also because one of the most famous festivals in all of Japan is held here, the Gion Matsuri in july. Also this festival is very old, it dates back to year 869, when the sacred altars (mikoshi) paraded along the streets of the city to ward off a pestilence that had hit the city. The shrine is also very popular for the New Year celebrations.

Kenninji Temple

(admission 500 yen, opening hours 10:00-16:00) 

Although this temple is not among the most visited of the city, it is the oldest temple of the city, dating back to 1202.

Shirakawa

Shirakawa is the name given to a small area of Gion just north Shijo Avenue, along a small canal (Canal Shirakawa precisely). 
In this area too there are a lot of restaurants and tea-houses, and the presence of the canal, surrounded by many trees, including many willows, makes this area very quiet and charming.

Eating, where to eat in Gion

Gion is not a place where I recommend stopping to eat, it is a super-tourist district, and too tourist neighborhoods are the best places where to find food that is not worth what it costs, but I also think that eating sitting next to people who speak English, German, Italian, etc, is not one of the experiences that I personally prefer if I am in Japan. What is positive is that you won't have any problems, because most of the restaurants have English menus or anyway are accustomed to serve tourists. 
Be also careful of which place you choose, because this is also the area of some high-level restaurants, where you need tens of thousands of yen for a dinner. 

One of the most famous restaurants of the city where to to taste the eel (unagi) should be located along the Shijo Dori and is called Matsuno (marked on the map at the bottom). 

As regards the kaiseki cuisine, one of the most famous restaurants and also one of the most foreign-friendly (this is the English website) is Kyoto Gion Nanba, but you need at least 10,000 yen per person for dinner (but this applies more or less for all restaurants serving kaiseki).

Get There and Around

Gion can be reached from Kyoto Station by bus number 100 or 206 (20 minutes, 230 yen). Get off at Gion bus stop. Alternatively, the closest train stations are Gion Shijo Station on the Keihan Line and Kawaramachi Station on the Hankyu Line.

Directions

From Umeda (Osaka)

[Rail] 42 min from Umeda (Osaka) to Kawaramachi Station (Kyoto) by Hankyu Line (limited-stop express).

From Osaka

[Rail] 28 min to Kyoto Station by JR Tokaido Line (new rapid service).10 min from Kyoto Station to Shijo-Kawara-machi by bus, and a 5-min walk from Shijo-Kawara-machi to Gion.

From Tokyo

[Rail] 2h 15 min to Kyoto Station by JR Tokaido Shinkansen Line 'Nozomi,' or 2h 45 min by 'Hikari.' 10 min from Kyoto Station to Shijo-Kawara-machi by bus, and a 5-min walk from Shijo-Kawara-machi to Gion.

From Nagoya

[Rail] 35 min to Kyoto Station by JR Tokaido Shinkansen Line 'Nozomi,' 10 min from Kyoto Station to Shijo-Kawara-machi by bus, and a 5-min walk from Shijo-Kawara-machi to Gion.

Reviews by visitors

The happening place in kyoto.. lots of restaurant, attraction and chance to meet geisha!! Really nice view at the side of the river.. must go! ~Belinda A

The Gion area is the centre of traditional Japanese Performing Arts. It has certain level of mysterious attraction due to may stories and difficulty to understand. Interestingly, a lot of tourist just go to this area and walk on the streets, some even hire a set of kimono. To understand Japanese performing arts, it is necessary to see the actual performance. There is nothing on the streets except commercial stuff. ~jm00192

May be just another tourist attraction, so go for the history and the tradition. Specialty like muchi & beef and the architecture is breath-taking which I fall in love with. Oasis supermarket is so affordable for an ad hoc home cooking. ~AmandaWhoTravel

Gion is one of the old area where Japanese people used to go out at night, and where the famous Geisha are trained and where they live. You will find many small streets, tea shops, where you will enjoy a nice matcha dessert, and if you are lucky, may be you will be able to see one Geisha going to work. It's a nice place to feel the old Kyoto like in Mémories of a Geisha....well that's was before 2016...

I went to Gion in 2004 and 2008, and it was a real lovely place, peacefull, with a few tourists...But thank you to the Chinese Mass Tourism development, Gion is now just a street full of chinese taking pictures, speating on the floor, littering the papers. You have the impression to have been sent to one of the most horrible place on Earth where rudness and non respect of a culture is glorify....Avoid GION or come at 6am in the morning!

~Benjamin N

We enjoyed wandering around the streets of Gion, popping into shops that have been trading for hundreds of years! We even met three geishas! Very special place. ~coolum_65

It is mesmerizing this area and you can't stop looking for a the pale face of a geisha, hurrying to her next appointment. The small, traditional tea houses are so fascinating! ~Aerandria

This is the place to find a real Geisha, I've wondered around for a while and luckily I was able to see one and take a picture with. I've always been fascinated by this culture and so grateful to have been able to experience it a little. There is a theater were you can attend a show and a tea ceremony. It was really nice experience. ~trvljock

Walked along narrow streets of similar styled housed, as part of Gion evening tour. Attended a Geisha theater show in the area, and a Japanese meal followed by Tea Ceremony. ~maribellisimo

We loved visiting gion on our very quick trip to Kyoto. It's small boutique shops and traditional feel is very pleasant to be in. It's one of the best areas of Kyoto in my opinion. Worth seeing. ~Sonia W

Uniquely Kyoto.A place to visit at night.Cobblestone walkways.You are transported to a different world..It was an experience getting lost. ~SCTW6564

This district has a special atmosphere, if you are fortunatly, you will see some geishas. It is prohibitet to taking pictures and the geishas cover thers face. ~M L

Gion is a historic neighbourhood in Kyoto. Most tourists flock there to catch sight of maiko/geiko. You will generally know when one is out and about by the sudden tourist activity (rushing to take photographs). A good time to catch sight of one is probably just before 6pm, when they start coming out and make their way to a taxi for their first evening appointment.

There are also shops and restaurants within Gion to occupy your time when you're done with Geiko spotting.

~jchong

The district is known for its geishas and wooden machiya merchant houses. We were so lucky to have them just around the corner from us. 

There was some really lovely souvenir shops, they didn't sell cheap tat but rather were all lovely boutiques selling wonderful handmade items. 

We walked around the restaurants in the wooden houses but found it incredibly hard to find a place that could accommodate walk ins so my suggestion would be to make a booking if you want to make sure you can enjoy dinner here.

~Chelsea B

Do not miss this area of Kyoto even if you have a short visit...it is as authentic as you can get it...the alleys, the hustle and bustle and yet some streets so calm and so "asian"...definetely a must... ~Ana M

Beautiful streets lined with old wooden houses and absolutely fascinating history. If you get a glimpse of a Maiko going to work it's the icing on the cake. We had a guided tour and the guide was very knowledgeable about all the old customs and tea houses and it brought the whole place alive for us. We went in the day and in the early evening, and could have walked around for ever it's so beautiful and so many interesting sights. ~Barkerfamily

Wandering through these old streets, gives you the idea being back in the days before the war. Although not every street has this glance, let your imagination go ahead. ~Ad W

Gion is filled with shopping places. Take the time to breathe and enjoy the Kama river, check out one of the best traditional restaurants in kyoto, and walk down the street of Hanami-koji. And lastly, make a wish to see a maiko. :D ~Madeleine Mitch

We stayed close by and were in Gion for a geisha performance but otherwise I'd also recommend to go here and have a little stroll. Very cute and authentic neighbourhood. ~Marrciasiebers

This very clean looking area of Kyoto is fun to walk around in, most people wearing kimomos arent geishas , just tourists who get a discount if they shop or eat in a kimono, but there are actual geishas walking around, and the old houses are still in use as geisha houses, all very recognisable from the descriptions in " memoirs of a geisha". Lots of souvenir shops definitely worth a visit. ~Lorin S

You can see more Kyoto travel guide at here.