Gion (祇園) is part of the Higashiyama or “Eastern Mountain” area of Kyoto. It’s one of the famous geisha (called “geiko” in Kyoto) districts in the city, stretching from Yasaka Shrine in the east to the Kamo River in the west, and from the Shirakawa Canal in the north to Kenninji Temple in the south.
Gion started around the Edo period (1603–1867) and originally developed to serve the needs of pilgrims to Yasaka shrine. Many tea houses opened up and these became famous spots for resting and enjoying tea after a morning of visiting shrines and temples.
It ultimately became the home of tea houses, geisha and night entertainment.
The first official geisha were licensed in Kyoto in 1813, 53 years before the Meiji Restoration, but some believe their culture is linked to dancers and performers from the 11th century.
Not the only geisha district left in Japan, Gion is a collection of streets defined by its traditional wooden merchant houses, beautifully illuminated by glittering neon lights and exclusive Japanese restaurants.
Catching a glimpse of a geiko, with her white face and beautiful kimono, rushing to an appointment in the narrow streets of Kyoto’s Gion district is a moment of pure magic.
But, the ultimate experience in Gion is being entertained by a maiko (apprentice) or geiko while dining at an ochaya (teahouse). The maiko and geiko will ensure everyone’s enjoyment by engaging in light conversation, serving drinks, leading drinking games and performing traditional music and dance.