No trip to Kyoto is complete without a visit to Gion, arguably Japan’s most famous geisha district. Gion is best visited in the evening when the lanterns hanging outside the restaurants and ochaya (teahouses) are lit up – and if you’re lucky enough you might catch a glimpse of a geisha or maiko, geisha apprentices.
Gion is also famous for its traditional wooden merchant teahouses, the shopping district Shijo Avenue, and the Shirakawa Canal. If you’ve got the money, you can dine at an ochaya, where you will be served an entertained by geisha and maiko for the evening. You really couldn’t get closer to the real thing.
For those who want to spend a bit less, Gion Corner holds cultural shows everyday which will give you a brief introduction to some classic Japanese performance – tea ceremony, ikebana (flower arrangement), bunraku (traditional puppet theatre), Kyogen comic plays and dances performed by real maiko. It’s one of the most touristy things you can do in Kyoto – the equivalent of riding a tour bus around London – but I still recommend it. If you happen to be in Kyoto in April, and book far enough in advance, you can get tickets to the famous annual Miyako Odori – a public performance put on by Kyoto’s geisha community. Oana and I were in Kyoto in April, but our forward planning only went so far, so we entertained ourselves at Gion Corner.
One typically traditional Kyoto experience we definitely could not missed was the kaiseki ryori – Japanese haute cuisine. Gion is particularly famous for this style of multiple courses-style meal, and it is considered an art in itself. The food is not only presented beautifully but uses ingredients of the season, meaning that chefs constantly rotate their dishes and seek to remind diners that their food is only there for a short time and therefore should be enjoyed fully. I could easily write a whole blog post on kaiseki ryori (which I may do one day), so enjoy these delicious photos from our very own amazing meal. On the menu was: smoked salmon and cabbage with sesame, tilefish cooked with rice and a cherry tree leaf, yellow tail sashimi with vinegar and soy sauce, Japanese herbs containing wheat gluten with white miso soup, grilled sea bream in miso served with pickled radish, boiled clams and fish meat with bamboo shoots, rice cooked with shrimp, red miso soup with tofu skin, and sakura flavoured ice cream with sweet bean soup.
Gion is located in east Kyoto and is easily accessible from Maruyama Park and the historic Higashiyama district, which I recently blogged about here.
And with that – I’ve finished the Kyoto part of my holiday blog! Once Anime August is done and dusted, we’ll move on to Osaka…