If you’re headed to Kyoto, no doubt Gion is one of the top places on your to-do list, as Japan’s largest, and one of the only remaining – Geisha districts.
This place can turn you into a bit of a Cosmopolitan David Attenborough as you prowl around the streets in a predatory manner, peering down the twisty alley ways hoping for a glimpse of this rare creature.
I popped along to a Couchsurfing event whilst in Kyoto – a local, Kazu, who has a passion for travelling himself organises weekly meets for travellers and locals and takes them on a free walking tour of Gion.
Though Gion is obviously a big site of interest for tourists and travellers in Kyoto, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the streets are not too crowded, and the ambience and architecture is as such that you really feel transported back to historic Japan, as you see Japanese Business men just released from their shifts in the City, waiting patiently outside the houses of Geiko (Geisha) and Maiko (apprentice Geisha) for their evening entertainment of parlour games and tea ceremonies.
An “Ochaya” is the dining experience where guests can be entertained by Geisha but this still today remains shielded from tourism. Some hotels offer (very expensive) packages, but for the most part, the tradition remains that you cannot be entertained by Geisha unless you have a referral from an existing Client… so unless you speak fluent Japanese and have the gift of the gab, I doubt you’ll be befriending any high flying Japanese business men clientele that can refer you during your trip.
So what is the next best thing?
Gion Corner offers a nightly show to introduce the Japanese Arts to tourists – It’s a little pricey, at 3,150 yen but you can watch short showings of Bunraku (scary Japanese puppet theatre), Gagaku (music of the Imperial Court), Kyogen (Japanese stand up comedy – I didn’t really know what was going on but the Japanese bloke next to me was having an absolute ball!) and my favourite – Kyomai, traditional dances by real Maiko.
Again, I was pleasantly surprised that the theatre wasn’t too busy. You have to buy your tickets for that evening just before the show (though they’re high tech in most areas, for whatever reason, the Japanese haven’t stumbled across advanced bookings here yet!) so be sure to get there early.
An introduction to each new act is given in English before it commences so you are not completely “Lost in Translation”