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What attracts tourists to the birthplace of Japanese geisha: the Gion area is a place worth visiting
What attracts tourists to the birthplace of Japanese geisha: the Gion area is a place worth visiting

Centuries ago, the Gion area, nestled east of the Kamo River, was a resting place for pilgrims on their way to Yasaka Shrine, the home of the ronin and the birthplace of the Japanese geisha. Today it is known for its unique, historical atmosphere, as well as for the Japanese traditions that have survived through the centuries. What interesting things can you see in the area and what to do here?

Geisha on the streets of Gion. \ Photo:

1. Shirakawa

Shirakawa Street. \ Photo:

Shirakawa Street has a unique and very convenient location in the Gion area. It runs parallel to Shijo Dori Street, which is also a colorful and vibrant walking area. Shirakawa stretches along the channel of the same name, which is strewn with spreading trees - willows, whose crowns bent over the water due to the weight and abundance of leaves. In addition, it is along this street that some of the most colorful, quirky and traditional Japanese restaurants are built.

Sakura. \ Photo:

Most of the eateries in this place have a splendid view of the canal, which is good both during the day and at night. And, as a bonus, Shirakawa Street is practically not walked by tourists, and therefore there are never crowds of people dreaming of photographing everything.

2. Hanamikoji

Petal Path: Hanamikoji Street. \ Photo:

Gion was one of the entertainment districts in Kyoto that has long been associated with geisha (or geisha as they are called in Japan) and traditional Asian art. Therefore, it is not surprising that Hanamikoji Street boasts the most beautiful and unique architecture in the entire area. This small alley runs along the north and south, crossing the district's central street, Shijo Dori, which leads to the Yasaka Shrine. The southern end of Hanamikoji is lined with stone, and it is there that tea establishments that have survived from ancient times are located.

Matiya. \ Photo:

The Gion area, including Hanamikoji Street, owes its historical charm to the sheer number of ancient matias along the street. Matiya are small houses made of natural wood, which are divided into two main parts: the front part is occupied by a small shop, and the back part is reserved for residential needs. Often, matias are elongated in length, rather narrow and can be up to three stories high. This solution allowed building owners to evade the tax, which was paid for the width rather than the length of the dwelling.

Geisha. \ Photo:

In modern times, many machiya have been transformed into art galleries, various antique and art shops, outlets selling kimonos and other traditional Japanese things. In addition, it is on this street in Matiya that you can buy the best Japanese ceramics.

3. Shijo Dori

Shijo Dori Street. \ Photo:

In the very center of Kyoto, Shijo Dori Street is located - the main place for trade, where you can buy goods for every taste and price. Its eastern part runs along the Gion district, and is also a unique place where you can forget about the modern, noisy shops and plunge into the world of the quiet, luxurious and elegant charm of the old city.

Kamo river. \ Photo:

Along the Kamo River, towards Yasaka Shrine, there are not only huge department stores, but also small, historic shops that offer countless food and craft items for sale. Plus, this is where the best Asian souvenirs are sold. And on the western side of the street, delicious and original food is sold.

4. Teahouses

Teahouses. \ Photo:

In addition to small shops and machiya, there is another type of establishment that well represents not only Kyoto, but also the Gion region, namely teahouses.Tea houses, they are also very Japanese, have always been houses of rest, relaxation and cultural knowledge. It can be safely argued that they previously played the same role as many coffee houses today, while enjoying a quieter and more historic atmosphere.

Ichiriki Ochaya. \ Photo:

There are countless tea houses in the Gion area, but the most famous of them is Ichiriki Ochaya. This teahouse is located near the Yasaka Shrine, at the intersection of Shijo and Hanamikoji Streets. Its age is about three centuries, and therefore the historical atmosphere is easy to feel, one has only to cross its threshold. In the 19th century, it was visited by the legendary samurai revolutionary warriors, who are better known as the 47 ronin. It was here that they met to plan their revenge and change Japan once and for all.

5. Yasaka Shrine

Yasaka Shrine. \ Photo:

Better known as the Gion Shrine, this temple is considered the most important and most iconic site in the Gion area. Standing proudly among the lanterns, it sits between the Gion and Higashiyama districts, attracting a huge number of visitors who flock to it from two districts at once. The temple is composed of several buildings, and therefore is an ideal place to study Japanese culture and the spiritual history of the city.

Yasaka-jinja shrine. \ Photo:

The temple is about 1500 years old, and to this day it is the most popular place for celebrating the Gion festival. Every July thousands of people flock to this festival to admire the chariots, Japanese lanterns and huge halberds that are considered a local shrine.

In spring, Japanese cherry trees bloom profusely in this place. Across the street from the temple is Maruyama Park, where, according to locals and tourists, one can observe the most beautiful cherry blossoms in the Kansai region.

6. Kenninji Temple (Kenninji)

Kennin-ji Temple. \ Photo:

The legendary Kenninji Temple is located in Hanami Lane. It is considered the largest Zen Buddhist temple in the Gion region, as well as the oldest Buddhist temple in the city of Kyoto. This impressive site is a complex of various buildings and halls, which are separated by traditional Japanese gardens, monuments, and small teahouses.

The image of dragons on the ceiling. \ Photo:

The Dharma Hall houses the most famous piece of art in the temple, namely the image of two dragons on the ceiling. It was written by the renowned master Koizumi Junsaku. Initially, the canvas was made to order for the school nearest to the temple, but soon, in 2002, it was moved and installed in the temple to celebrate its 800th anniversary.

One of the most beautiful temples in Gion. \ Photo:

In addition, the temple also houses works by masters such as Hashimoto Kansetsu and Tamura Soryu. The work of such a master as Tawaraya Sotatsu, who painted a double screen depicting the god of thunder and the god of wind, deserves a separate mention.

7. Bunraku

Bunraku, also known as ningyo joruri, is a traditional form of Japanese puppet theater. \ Photo:

The art of a geisha today does not even need an introduction, because the whole world knows about it. However, many, having visited Japan, in particular in Kyoto, overlook other visual types of art, one of which is bunraku. Perhaps, bunraku, aka ningyo joruri, can be safely called the most sophisticated experience for any connoisseur of classical Japanese culture. This phenomenon is a unique style of puppet theater that originated in the 17th century in the Kansai region. Initially, it originated in the city of Osaka, but soon spread to Kyoto.

Puppet. \ Photo:

Like kabuki and no (two other types of theater), bunraku has recently been recognized as part of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of UNESCO, allowing it to become an art form with great cultural impact. Bunraku uses small, several times smaller than a human, puppet puppets, which are controlled by your puppeteers. Their movements reflect the flow of the story told by the main character - a person with excellent ability to change voices during the performance.

eight.Gion Festival

Gion Festival. \ Photo:

The most famous summer festival traditionally celebrated in the city of Kyoto is the Gion Matsuri, better known as the Yasaka Shrine Festival. This event is so large-scale and huge that it lasts a whole month (July), capturing the hottest time in the city. Despite the fact that the festival is celebrated throughout the month, there are several main dates on which the events become most interesting. For example, on July 17th, when the Yamaboko Junko parade is held.

Celebration in the streets of Gion. \ Photo:

Before this main event, there are also small but very exciting parties on the streets. For example, Yoiyoiyoiyama (July 14), Yoiyoiyama (July 15) and Yoiyama (July 16). During these days, many residents of the city open the doors of their homes, allowing others to look inside and learn the history of their family heirlooms. This action is called byobu matsuri (screen festival).

Colorful procession. \ Photo:

Curiously, the Gion Festival is technically held on the other side of the Kamo River without affecting the area. However, it is so vast and huge that fragments of processions and much more can be seen in this area too. In particular, Gion not only holds its own parades in July, but is also full of various demonstrators and vendors of Japanese street food.

9. Yasui Kompira-gu shrine

Yasui Compira-gu shrine. \ Photo:

This quaint spot is one of the more interesting in the Gion area. In particular, it is especially popular among women who flock from all regions to this temple to undergo a kind of cleansing ceremony near the stone, better known as enmusubi or enkiri.

Enkiri. \ Photo:

Through this ritual, women pray to strengthen good relationships as well as to break bad ties. They write their wishes on white paper amulets (katashiro), after which they crawl through a hole in the stone, and then attach the amulet to several thousand others. It is believed that performing this ritual affects not only relationships, but can also heal diseases, remove the ancestral curse, and much more.

It is curious that the old amulets, which have been hanging on the stone for some time, are gradually being cleaned off and burned by the workers of the temple.

Wooden plaques. \ Photo:

In addition to the so-called marriage stone, there are other interesting things in the temple. For example, a museum dedicated to ritual plaques (ema). In Japan, it was believed that the gods came down to earth on horses, because of which these animals were often sacrificed. Later, this ritual was replaced by the creation of figurines and wooden tablets with various images.

In addition, the temple also hosts various festivals such as the Koshi Matsuri (Hairpin Festival) and Shuki Konpira Taisai (Big Autumn Festival).

10. Classes and workshops

Gion District. \ Photo:

The Gion area is one of the best places to learn more about traditional Japanese culture. Here it has not only been preserved in its almost original form, but special classes and classes are also available for training, allowing interested residents or tourists to learn a little more about Kyoto. Here you can learn how to make traditional ikebana, how to put on and wear a kimono correctly, as well as try to cook original Japanese dishes and snacks. For example, in the Gion area, pottery making classes are most popular.

Not only Japan can surprise with its magnificent buildings and sights. For example, Paris is in no way inferior to the country of the Rising Sun, because the capital of France also has something to boast about. And as proof of this - that the city of lovers is proud of.

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