Gion is the famous geisha district of Kyoto. As you may know, geisha (芸者), called geiko (芸子) in Kyoto dialect, are female entertainers known for their mastery of classical dance and music, as well as their distinctive white make-up and elaborate kimono. The number of geisha began to decline just before WWII, but Gion remains a bastion of traditional architecture and arts, where the streets are still lined with machiya (町家/old-style wooden townhouses). Part of the district is covered by national preservation and a few years ago the city finished burying the overhead wires to restore the original look and feel.
My friend Lauren and I went to Kyoto during our Kansai trip in March 2011 and wandered through Gion as the sun was setting. We didn’t see any geisha, but even so it really felt like stepping into a time before concrete and exposed wires began to crowd the city skyline. If you find yourself in Kyoto, it’s well worth it to set aside a half-hour to take a walk through this hold-out of old Japan.
Access: Take the number 100 bus from Kyoto Station and get off at the Gion bus stop. The nearest train station is Gion-Shijo, on the Keihan Line.