Secrets of Gion
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Gion is definitely one of the most iconic spots in Kyoto. It’s not only about just enjoying the strolling around town, but there are many great shops and restaurants, due to Gion’s popularity.
Gion has a totally different face at night compared to the daytime – as if you have been transported back in time to an ancient period. It is quite breathtaking, so without the experience, you can’t really know Gion.
This article reveals all of Gion – day and nighttime – what you should experience, where you can eat and more. This itinerary will support all of you during your special journey to Gion, Kyoto.
- 1 About Gion
- 2 5 Things you can not miss to do in Gion
- 3 The best 5 places to fill you up in Gion
Firstly, let’s start to understand Gion so you have time to prepare for your journey.
Summary of Gion
Everyone who wants to go to Kyoto knows the name of Gion.
Why? Gion has the most beautiful and exclusive culture that you just can not get anywhere else in the world.
Gion is a district of Kyoto with a long history, and start in front of the Yasaka Shrine (founded over 1350 years ago), and was originally established in the Sengoku period (1467 to 1567) – you may know the Yasaka Shrine due to the annual Gion Festival procession that begins there.
You can imagine how many people have visited the shrine at that time, and so the district was built to accommodate all those people.
Many people made their journey and stayed in Kyoto, so entertainment was expected. Therefore, Gion developed the most exclusive entertainment available – hence it was natural that the area became known for its Geisha.
It is not only the Geisha culture in Gion though, there are so many inns and restaurants that keep attracting people from all over the world.
It has been wonderful that Gion has been managing its culture, history and its traditional architecture, retaining the atmosphere of the ancient Japanese capital.
There are many fantastic events throughout the year, and the beautiful food culture of Gion is nicely intertwined with Kyoto’s traditional culture and its modern culture.
Where is Gion?
Gion is a district which is located around the “Shijo Avenue” between Yasaka shrine in the east and the Kamo river in the west.
It is a street full of traditional wooden machiya merchant houses, great places for dining out and Ocha-ya (tea house) where Geisha entertain their customers.
How to get to Gion
The closest stations to Gion is “Gion-Shijo station”. Let’s have a look a few other ways to get to Gion.
– from JR Kyoto station to Gion
Take JR Nara line bound for Joyo (platform 9) and get off at Tofukuji station. Then change to Keihan Main line bound for Demachiyanagi station to Gion-Shijo station.
It takes about 18 mins, 270 yen.
Also, you can take a bus (No 100 or 206) from JR Kyoto station to Gion bus stop.
It takes about 20 mins, 230 yen.
– from Shijo Kawaramachi station to Gion.
Take a bus No 207 bond for Gion or Tofukuji and get off at Gion bus stop.
It takes just 5 mins, 230 yen.
5 Things you can not miss to do in Gion
We are now so excited to introduce the 5 must-to-do things in Gion, and we are a 100% sure that these activities are able to make your Gion time a memorable experience.
Tea ceremony experience at En
One of your dreams might be to experience the Tea ceremony in the ancient district of Gion.
You will need to have an explanation in English during the ceremony so that you can understand the ritual properly, so we suggest the one place in Gion that offers English speak staff – “En tea ceremony experience”
Children, adults – foreign tourists – are all welcome at “En”, where you can learn and experience the world of the Japanese traditional cultural of tea, enjoying some quiet time and Matcha in an authentic tea room with an instructor, dressed in Kimono. You will truly have a magical time in quite a unique space.
En tea ceremony experience:
2,500 yen/pp (1 hour)
272 matsubara-cho, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto, just 3 mins walk from Gion bus stop
Taste yummy Wagashi – Japanese sweets
If you are fond of Japanese sweets, Gion will be heavenly! There are many shops specializing in the art of Japanese sweets, but you can also eat them in a fantastic Japanese style tatami room with an iconic view of a Japanese garden that will remind you that you are in Gion – so tasty, and so photogenic.
Japanese sweets unique to Gion:
-Mitarashi-dango – a type of dango skewered onto sticks in groups of 3-5 and covered with a sweet soy sauce glaze.
-Matcha parfait – a very green matcha ice cream and other Japanese sweets made up into a parfait.
-Warabi mochi – a jelly-like confection made from starch and covered or dipped in Kinako, sweet soy powder.
-Matcha tea – of course you know Matcha – a finely ground powder of specially grown and processed green tea leaves. You know matcha is used for the tea ceremony, but you can also enjoy Matcha at many cafés.
For your reference, trip advisor places for dessert in Gion page:
To be a film star at Tatsumi-bashi bridge
“巽橋” Tatsumi-bashi bridge (a wooden pillar bridge) in Gion-shirakawa is one of the best known places in Gion, Kyoto.
Before flowing into the Kamo river, the small Shirakawa canal crosses Gion, and Tatsumi-bashi bridge is one of several bridges built over the canal with cobbled paths, cherry trees covering the bridge and a view of Machiya buildings.
It is not a big attraction, rather it’s a tiny spot that has oozes Japanese beauty, so many dramas and films have been filmed there – one of the famous films taken at the bridge was “Memoirs of a Geisha” in 2005.
Tatsumi-bashi is over the Shirakawa river at the intersection of Shinbashi dori and Shirakawa minami dori, east of Gion Shirakawa.
If you rent a kimono for a day, stand and pause on the bridge, you could also be a film star for a moment!
Feeling the history at Kennin-ji temple
Did you know that the Kennin-ji temple is the oldest Zen temple in Kyoto?
The temple was founded in 1202 by Yousai, who was just fourteen years of age when he entered the major monastic centre on Mt. Hiei to study under the Tendai tradition.
The temple has a large amount of land and so lots to see. Including the Chouontei Garden – such a simple and refined Zen garden with a set of 3 stones that represent Buddha and two Zen monks. It could possibly take your breath away?
There also are many masterpieces, national treasures and listed important cultural properties at the temple, and the one you must look at is the “The wind and Thunder Gods” (replica). When it is lit-up at night, the masterpiece becomes more dynamic and beautiful.
Kennin-ji temple is located at the southern end of the Hanamikoji street in Gion, the nearest station is Gion-Shijo station.
Strolling Gion at night
Gion at night presents a completely different face compared to its daytime one. The area comes alive as it is the time to start enjoying the entertainment on offer.
It is still a calm time, but the atmosphere is one of excitement and anticipation, with many Japanese red lanterns on both sides of the street, with their warm colored glows reflecting on the traditional wooden houses when seen against the dark sky.
It is also the time for Geisha and Maiko to come out and start work. Therefore, you might spot a Geisha in Gion, especially on Hanamikoji dori and Shijo dori if you are lucky.
Please be aware that there are some important rules. You will see many wooden signs in Gion that use pictures to communicate the rules:
-No eating during walking
-Don’t throw away any rubbish
-Do not take ‘selfies’ (self-portrait) using a selfie stick
And one more important rule – do not be a “paparazzi” towards the Geisha and Maiko, and you shouldn’t block their way by standing in front of them. It is important to respect and treat them as professional entertainers, not as idols. So, whilst you can take pictures and video from distance, please leave their thoroughfare open.
Now we’ll introduce 5 places for your you to eat.
The best 5 places to fill you up in Gion
It’s always great to try local foods and drinks when you are in a different country, so let us introduce the best 5 places in Gion.
ZEN CAFÉ is hidden in a quiet alley just a bit away from Hanamikoji, and it is a very minimalistic and simple interior.
You can enjoy the calm atmosphere and their Japanese sweets, such as kuzumochi, mochi cakes made of kuzuko, along with hot or cold green tea, it’s lovely!
Gion Café is located at the heart of Gion and run by a French chef, so the taste is guaranteed. The café’s popular items on the menu are Japanese pancakes and pizza.
It’s not only their food, but the café is actually a 120-year-old machiya style building with the view of a wonderful Japanese garden.
Japanese gyoza has become more and more popular around the world, so you shouldn’t miss gyoza in Gion. Gyoza HOHEI is in the Michelin guide of 2019, and tells of their hard work resulting in the most delicious gyoza you can have in Gion. HOHEI just focuses on gyoza – very simple and very crispy on the outside and very juicy on the inside. Definitely worth a try!
Teppan izakaya Gion TENAMONYA
Have you ever had teppanyaki? Teppanyaki is made using an iron griddle to cook meat, fish and vegetables in front of you – that is why teppanyaki is a form entertainment.
TENAMONYA is very popular amongst foreign visitors who enjoy grabbing a beer and like to eat the best grade A5 wagyu beef steak, along with Japanese traditional foods like Okonomiyaki.
A vegetarian menu and English speaking staff are also available.
When you are in Kyoto, you must have a Japanese cuisine that tastes great and is a pleasure to look at.
Yasakadori ENRAKU is the best place in Gion to experience this, as you can expect a traditional Japanese cuisine. But there is a secret!
You are able to sit down with a Maiko (a Geisha apprentice), chat, play games and take pictures or video with her.
Due to the traditional obstacle that always blocks the way to geisha and make – called “Ichigensan okotowari” (meaning that you need an invitation from a regular customer of the ochaya) – if you have the dream of meeting a Geisha in Gion, it is extremely very difficult for anyone to meet a geisha or make in private.
So, having a beautiful dinner in the company of a real Maiko, at a reasonable price, would just be such an unforgettable memory!
So, as you can see, Gion has so much to do and see that you might actually need more than one day. But the best choices we have suggested for you in this article will help you to have quite an exclusive, and experiential day in Gion!
- I am Nagai Yuichi ,CEO of S-fleage a company in Kyoto. We are spreading the charms of Kyoto to the world. I hope this article is helpful for your experience in Kyoto!