Kyoto's Gion: Home to Geisha and Maiko

 When you first get off the bus or exit through the Gion-side gate of Yasaka Shrine, you won't really be impressed by Gion. Here is an area touted as being the land of geisha and maiko, full of tea houses and tradition. But let's face it, this is modern Kyoto. The main streets are filled with cars and souvenir shops.
 But explore some of the side streets, and you start to see a bit more of the traditional Kyoto neighborhood you were hoping to see.
 For off the main streets, there are plenty of tea houses and home of well-to-do men. And in the evenings, the entertainers come out.
 During the day, you'll see dozens of people out strolling the streets, enjoying the atmosphere.
 Peek down alleys and see the newer houses mixed with the old.
 Houses here aren't really old exactly but they are traditionally built.
 And are those maiko girls down the street? No, those are just girls wearing traditional clothing. The chance of seeing maiko and geisha is pretty low. I don't want to discourage you, but that's the way it is. To increase your chances, you need to be in the right place at the right time. It's not impossible, and one of my friends actually saw a couple on her trip to Kyoto. You can guarantee your chances by attending certain functions, or take your chances on the streets of Gion, usually in evening and early night as they scurry from appointment to appointment.
 Most people don't see geisha or maiko though, and you shouldn't expect to. However, during the day, you'll see plenty of women wearing yukata or kimono, and they might pose for a picture for you. Don't think they're maiko or geisha though. And even the ones with makeup aren't going to be real, because they don't just go for a stroll fully dressed. They're quite busy, you know! But you can still enjoy the traditional areas.

If you really do want to have an experience with a geisha or maiko, here are some basic details. Let me stress that there is absolutely no sex involved in this of any kind - geisha and maiko have never been prostitutes.
 Back on the main street leading from Yasaka Shrine (straight ahead in my first photo) there are several souvenir shops and department stores.
 This is another great place to find gifts to take home - sweets and other Japanese foods, as well as handicrafts, trinkets, and other Japan "things" you might want.
 There are so many alleys and tiny old winding streets that it's probably possible to spend a whole day exploring the nooks and crannies of the district. But for most, an hour or two strolling around some of the back streets will be enough.
The easiest way to get to Gion is to take bus 100 or 206 from Kyoto Station and get off at the Gion bus stop. If you're coming from elsewhere in the city, the nearest stations are Gion-Shijo and Kawaramachi.

Gion Corner has two cultural shows daily by real maiko, though it's in a theater setting so you probably won't get to interact with them. It's only 3150 yen (cheaper if you can find a coupon online). Shows are at 18:00 and 19:00. The theater is located at the end of Hanami-koji.

Gion is best combined with Yasaka Shrine, Maruyama Park, Higashiyama, and Kiyomizu-dera. Ambitious tourists can also add Shorenin and Chionin temples. All of these sites fit into an active but manageable day for me.

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