Being Japan’s former imperial capital, Kyoto is home to many cultural and historical landmarks that will definitely require more than a day trip to explore. For this installment of Lomography Day Trips, let’s head to one of the city’s most popular sites: Gion, one of the Hanamachi districts where we can find the beautiful and elegant geisha.
Aside from its imperial heritage, Kyoto has become synonymous with the elegant and beautiful geisha, Japan’s iconic female entertainers and hostesses trained in classical music, dance, and games. Therefore, aside from visiting some of the popular old Kyoto spots like the Fushimi Inari Shrine and the Kyoto Imperial Palace, it’s also worth your while to visit the hanamachi districts for the geisha experience.
Hanamachi, which literally means “flower street,” refers to the areas in Japan where modern-day okiya (geisha houses) and ochaya (tea houses) are situated. In Kyoto, the older term kagai is still used, with five of these districts still active: Miyagawa-cho, Kamishichiken, Ponto-cho, and the most popular, Gion Kobu and Gion Higashi (also collectively known as Gion).
Gion is situated along Shijo Avenue, between Yasaka Shrine in the east and Kamo River in the west. This district is lined with traditional wooden machiya townhouses that serve as shops, restaurants, and ochaya where geiko (Kyoto dialect for geisha) and maiko (apprentice geisha) entertain. It’s nice yet expensive to dine in these restaurants and tea houses, but the experience of seeing these elegant women perform is truly worth it!
Begin your Gion experience with a stroll in Higashiyama District nearby, located between Yasaka Shrine and Kiyomizudera. It’s one of Kyoto’s best preserved areas, so be sure to get your cameras loaded and your films ready. Then, to enjoy a more accessible geisha experience, you can head to Gion Corner in Yasaka Hall, where you take in seven kinds of performing arts: Kyo-mai Dance, Flower Arrangement, Tea Ceremony, Koto Zither, Gagaku Court Music, Kyogen Theater, and Bunraku Puppet Theater. To cap your day, you can either enjoy another scenic stroll in the Shirakawa Area (along Shirakawa Canal and parallel to Shijo Avenue) followed by a hearty dinner or relaxing tea time in one of the more quiet restaurants or tea houses; or, if you have managed to book from a travel agency or hotel, an exquisite geiko/maiko-hosted dinner.