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Gion and Geisha

Listed under Traditional Cultures in Kyoto, Japan.

  • Photo of Gion and Geisha
  • Photo of Gion and Geisha
  • Photo of Gion and Geisha
  • Photo of Gion and Geisha
  • Photo of Gion and Geisha
  • Photo of Gion and Geisha
  • Photo of Gion and Geisha
Photo of Gion and Geisha
Photo by flickr user Shadowgate
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Gion is the most famous of Kyoto’s geisha districts, the narrow roads between bamboo fronted teahouses (ochaya), restaurants and traditional residences (machiya) dating from the late Edo period (circa 1800) have been well preserved and retain some of the bustle and colour of the geisha districts of old. Stone pavements, graceful pedestrian sized bridges and cherry trees add to the impression of a time warp. Traditional music, played by geisha can be heard wafting from the ochayas by the best kept streets around Gion Corner, and their colourful garments glimpsed through the windows give the area life.

The most elaborately dressed women you’ll see in Gion aren’t geisha, but maiko or apprentice geisha, who wear the most ornate kimono and make up. But they won’t be lining the streets, you need to watch out for them on their way to other engagements so dawdle along the streets from the late afternoon onwards.

The most common misconception about Gion and other geisha districts is that they’re akin to red-light districts, geisha are primarily entertainers not prostitutes. Geisha numbers have dwindled over the last hundred years but the area is being preserved and the traditional skills of the artists are still highly respected and quite popular. Now instead of performing for samuri or generals, geisha perform for business men - either way you need to be wealthy to afford their company, but then they spend years learning how to be the perfect companions, learning to dance, sing, tell jokes, serve tea and alcohol is a graceful way etc. so the cost is justified.

The most famous geisha dance still held in Gion is the Miyako Odori also called the “Dances of the Old Capital” or the “Cherry Blossom Dances”, held to coincide with cherry blossom season in April, this is an excellent way to make sure you see geisha and tickets start affordably at around 2,000 yen. Another good time to visit Gion is for Gion Matsuri in July ( If you can’t afford to frequent any of the same places as the geisha or maiko there are condensed tourist-centric performances of the tea ceremony and traditional music and dance held daily at Gion Corner.

Written by  Kat Mackintosh.

Comments, reviews and questions by other travellers

During our stay in Japan I wanted to experience many new things such as sushi, Japanese language, unique architecture and kimonos. More than anything I wanted to see a Geisha. Sadly our tour guide informed us that there were only 300 left in Kyoto and it was unlikely to see one during our stay. Our small group decided to explore Kyoto at night anyway to see the older parts of the city and enjoy the warm weather.

When we were in Japan the world cup had begun and Japan was doing well in the tournament. On this particular night Japan had a game and the streets were filled with people going into restaurants to watch the game. We kept thinking we saw geishas but upon closer look they were either not wearing face paint or in one case men dressed up as women! We kept looking and continued our attempts.

Suddenly one of our group members starts running and saying something inaudible and then we all see them! Two beautiful geishas getting out of a cab and walking to the front of a restaurant. We snapped pictures of them while they barely even glanced at us. They quickly scurried into the restaurant, probably meeting with a man of power. We were ecstatic that we got to see a Geisha and went back to our hotel feeling proud. This is one of my best memories from Japan.

1 Reply

Kyoto is an amazing place, different to anywhere else. When I was last there I saw a traditional wedding - actually two - and the bridge and groom allowed my Mum and I to take lots of photos of them. They looked beautiful.

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