Ooh, Gion. Where do I even begin? The neighborhood that oozes quintessential Japanese charm and age old traditions. It’s enchanting. It’s mysterious. It’s intriguing and evocative. Gion originated in the Middle Ages to provide accommodation for pilgrims to Yasaka Shrine, gradually evolving as the most exclusive and well-known entertainment neighborhoods in Japan. Most often referred to as Kyoto’s Geisha District, Gion lies north to south of Shijo Street and stretches from Kamo River in the west all the way to Yasaka Shrine in the east.
Beautifully preserved wooden ochaya, or teahouses, where geisha entertain affluent clientele, line up along the narrow winding streets which have retained much of its original character.
I loved meandering through the picturesque maze of cobbled alleyways which looked more like a movie set of an Edo period, filling me with the sense of suspended time.
The ancient city of Kyoto is invariably imbued with allure and mysteries of geishas. Spotting them whilst roaming the winding streets is as hard as finding a tiger in a jungle. I guess I got a bit lucky to spot one while she was en route to one of her appointment, gracefully shuffling in cumbersome zori sandals and exquisite kimono.
What are the best places to visit in Gion? Make sure to roam Hanami-koji-dori (the section between Shijo-dori and Kennin-ji Temple) as well as Ninen-zaka Path and Ishibei-koji to soak up the quaint atmosphere as well as peruse the jumble of shops selling traditional crafts and souvenirs. My favorite part was wandering the labyrinth of Higashiyama area, in particular, the quaint streets leading up to Kiyomizu-dera Temple. It was at its most atmospheric at dusk, when the crowds die down, sun sets and lanterns are lit. It’s perfect strolling territory, with narrow stone-paved lanes that wind their way through tidy, aged neighborhoods; spires of pagodas that peak above silvery rooftops and the crisscrossing patterns of electrical lines; and temples and shrines that intermingle with modern day shops and homes.
Although the best way to discover the allure of Gion is by simply wandering among its nooks and crannies. Take time and get lost in the narrowest of passages infused with a somewhat mystical ambiance to uncover the unique charm that makes this city tick. You will not be disappointed!
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