Gion & Higashiyama   祇園 & 東山

Date of publication :
Gion Higashiyama

Shops Gion under the cherry trees.

Gion Higashiyama

Geisha out of a teahouse in the Gion district.

A world of illusions

In this neighborhood once full of pleasures, many doors remain closed to foreigners. Despite an urban metamorphosis, the spirit of Kyoto highly asserts itself here. Fortunately, however, there are still many festivities to entertain.

A famous image of Kyoto, Gion continues, year after year, the tradition of geishas. Here, they are called geiko. After years of studying singing, dancing and etiquette, these female artists rent out their talent. Discrete figures, they do not offer even a passing glance at strangers. Sometimes, in their high clogs, draped in a resplendent silk kimono cinched at the waist with a wide belt (obi), the maïko, apprentice geisha, slip out of a tea house tucked away in an alley, clutching their mobile phone like any other young women their age.

At sunset, the streets are bustling. Garish neon assaults bystanders. In front of bars, young people in suits and bleached hair call out to prospective customers. Another time, another set of etiquette; geisha no longer rush from one appointment to the next. Parking lots, hostess bars and love hotels are gaining ground at the expense of old wooden houses. Fortunately, the pedestrian street Shinbashi Dori is resisting.

Gion is also the area of Buddhist temples like Chion-in , Kennin temple or Shoren-in . And it remains a hotbed of festivals. Yasaka Jinja , the "Gion Shrine," owes its fame to the most famous and popular festival of all, the Gion Matsuri . The Kyo Odori in the spring and the Gion Odori in the fall is when visitors can admire the dances practiced by all geiko. And without having to cross the threshold of a tea house, a boon for non Kyotoïtes and the uninitiated.

To the east of Gion, the charming neighborhood of Higashiyama leans towards the eastern mountains of the city. With its cobbled streets leading to the millennial temple street Kiyomizu-dera , it encourages those that walk these roads to take the time to forget the vicissitudes of daily distance in favor of Buddhist wisdom. Performing arts lovers shouldn't miss a performance in the Kyoto Kanze Noh Theater .

Comments Read comments from our travellers