Gion#3 in Best Things To Do in Kyoto
Price & Hours
- 4.5Food Scene
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.
More Best Things To Do in Kyoto
#1 Fushimi Inari Shrine
As far as Shinto shrines go (there are about 400 in Kyoto), this one is pretty special. Perched on a wooded hillside in southern Kyoto, Fushimi Inari is a 1,300-year-old temple dedicated to Inari, the Shinto deity of rice and sake (Japanese rice wine). The shrine complex dates back to the eighth century, but it's not the star of the show. Most visitors come for the close to 10,000 red and orange lacquered torii gates that line the 2 ½-mile-long path up Mount Inari, where the shrine sits. Sometimes in dense rows and other times more staggered, the gates are all engraved with the names of Shinto devotees who donated them.
It takes about three hours to make the trek up the mountain, and some recent visitors say that the hike is mildly strenuous, but almost all agree this is a must-see spot in Kyoto, especially for first-time visitors. Plus, travelers report that there are plenty of places to stop and rest along the way. Peer at the dozens of stone and bronze foxes that line the paths along with the gates (foxes are thought to be Inari's sacred messengers). Or stop in to one of the tea houses or restaurants situated on the path, which serve udon noodle soup and sushi. Because crowds are drawn to their picturesque beauty, Fushimi Inari's trails can get quite congested during the day. To avoid the multitudes, opt for an evening stroll up the mountain – recent visitors say the pervading quiet coupled with the fading light filtering through the trees and torii gates makes for an eerie and spiritual experience. Early morning is another optimal time to experience the shrine sans the crowds.
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