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Recent visitors to Gion were in awe of its quaintness (though some travelers note that hordes of camera-wielding tourists can detract from the scenery). This neighborhood is known for its charming historic features: historic tea houses, willow-lined roads, kaiseki (Japanese haute cuisine) restaurants, wooden ryokan (Japanese guest houses) and shops selling local crafts and antiques. But all of those things are secondary to Gion's real source of fame – the geisha. Visitors to Gion may catch a glimpse of these extravagantly dressed women flitting between tea houses on wooden-sandaled feet.
Contrary to western belief, geisha are not prostitutes. A geisha's primary role is entertainment; she is hired to provide diversions at dinner parties and banquets in the form of singing, dancing, games and conversation. But they are more than mere performers: Geisha are living, breathing gatekeepers of ancient Japanese culture. They train from an early age in traditional Japanese art, dance and music, and perform at exclusive dinners in ochaya (tea houses), usually only for locals. While tourists can arrange geisha dinners as well, it will put quite a dent in a travel budget. Hiring one geisha for the evening with dinner for two can cost about 103,000 yen (about $900) or more. A less costly way to see Gion's geishas in action would be to check out the daily geisha performances at the Gion Corner theater, which cost 3,150 yen (about $28). Or, if you're visiting during April, you can catch the Miyako Odori dance festival – geisha dance performances, which are held four times daily during the festival at the Gion Kobu Kaburenjo theater, cost between 4,000 and 5,500 yen (about $35 to $48) per person. You may also see geisha strolling through the neighborhood; keep a polite distance and refrain from photographing them without explicit permission.
You can find Gion on the eastern bank of the Kamo River in central Kyoto. You can get there by taking the 100 or the 206 bus from Kyoto Station, or by taking the train to Gion Shijo Station on the Keihan Line.
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