Experience Japan’s Traditional Arts in Gion
If you say “Kyoto-esque,”many tourists probably imagine maiko and geisha. Even though the figure of a geisha dressed in kimono dancing a traditional dance for a gathering in a tatami-roomed tea house can often be seen in movies and elsewhere, it is said that this image is uniquely representative of Kyoto.Gion preserves that image, and, even within Kyoto, is itself a popular sightseeing destination. To begin with, try walking down Gion’s main avenue, Hanamikoji Street. Hanamikoji runs from Kenninn-ji temple to the heart of Kyoto’s Shijo Street. The street is lined on both sides by ochaya, or “tea houses”, sweet shops, restaurants, and more. Maiko and geisha perform dances at the Gion Kobu Kaburenjo Theater. Gion can be enjoyed simply by exploring its streets on easy walks, but Gion Corner, which is next door to the Gion Kobu Kaburenjo Theater, is also recommended. Here, you can appreciate Japanese traditional arts such as flower arrangement and tea ceremony, as well as the traditional Kyoto dance, the Kyo-mai, danced by maiko.
Enjoying Gion on Foot
Try walking down Shimbashi Dori to the area called Gion Shirakawa overlooking the Shirakawa Canal. Gion Shirakawa has charming cobblestone streets lined by tea houses called ochaya, to which geisha and maiko come and go.In these streets where the ochaya are, the figures of maiko here and there can be seen.The streets at night, too, the warm glow of the restaurant’s lights give off a different atmosphere and truly old-style Kyoto scenes can be enjoyed. In particular, the area in the heart of Shimbashi Street, called Gion Shimbashi, has been designated and Important National Historical Building Preservation District.
Kyoto’s premier seasonal festival, the Gion Matsuri, is unforgettable. The Gion Matsuri runs every year from July 1st for one month, with religious celebrations at Yasaka Shrine in Gion.In the Heian Period, when Kyoto was the capital and known as “Heian-kyo,” plague frequently afflicted the city.The Gion Matsuri began with ritual music and dancing and carrying decorated Yamaboko floats, paraded on foot through the neighborhood, in order to overcome the plague gods. For more than 1,000 years, ever since the time when Kyoto was known as Heiyan-kyo, the people of Kyoto have preserved this traditional event. Many tourists and locals flock to see the gorgeously decorated Yamaboko floats, particularly the Yoiyama Parade, which takes place in the middle of July (the Yamaboko floats are decorated on streets such as Shijo Street and Karasuma Street).The tradition of decorating these Yamaboko floats has been designated as UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage, and, even for Kyoto, it is the festival that sees the largest crowds.