Kyoto’s traditional entertainment district, where geisha, gangsters and gawkers prowl, is one of the most interesting places for an after-dinner stroll.
Geishas in Gion district: yusshazwan bin adnan / Shutterstock.com
When people talk about “the floating world” (the ephemeral world of nighttime pleasures to be had in Japan’s entertainment districts), they’re talking about places like Gion (rhymes with “key on”).
This tightly packed district of hostess bars, elite restaurants, geisha houses and members-only bars is where the nightly drama of lust and commerce is played out. The main street of Gion is Hanami-koji Lane, which is lined with traditional restaurants, bars and “teahouses” (actually, places where geisha entertain clients).
Some of the smaller lanes off of Hanami-koji are lined with beautiful old Kyoto machiya (traditional townhouses). Some of these machiya are available for rent – see the Kyoto Machiya page if you’re interested. There are also several hotels located in and around Gion. See a comprehensive selection of Gion hotels on Booking.com and Agoda.com.
In recent years, groups of tourists have taken to milling about on this street hoping to catch a glimpse or a photograph of a passing geisha. We really can’t condone this and you can get far better pictures online, many of them royalty free. And if you really want experience the world of Kyoto’s geisha, it’s better to do it the right way: by arranging for an evening of geisha entertainment, which my tour company Chris Rowthorn Tours can easily do for you.
If you’re interested in understanding more about geisha, see our Kyoto Geisha page. You might also want to consider staying at the Gion Hatanaka Ryokan, which regularly organises geisha entertainment evenings for guests. (Please Note: Gion Hatanaka is now permanently closed.)
For a detailed daytime walking tour of Gion, visit our Walking in Gion page. (This is a walk you can do yourself – just follow the article’s lead). And if you’d like to explore Gion at night with an experienced guide, see our Gion Evening Walk page.
For a map of Gion that corresponds to the Walking in Gion daytime tour, check out our Gion Map. Click the icon on the top left for a slide-out menu showing the place names.
Where Is This Place Located?See these places on our Kyoto Google map:
- Open the Kyoto map
- You will see the list of places on the left hand side. (Click the 3-line icon in the top left corner if not). Scroll down or use the map search (the magnifying glass icon) to find the place you want.
- Click the name of the place in the list. Its location pin will be highlighted on the map.
- Map pins are color coded - BLUE: Hotels | VIOLET: Ryokan | PINK: Places to Eat | YELLOW: Things to See and Do
- If you're using the map on your phone, open the map and then search for the name of the place. The map will then zoom in on its location.
Kyoto Vacation Checklist
- For all the essentials in a brief overview, see my First Time In Kyoto guide
- Check Kyoto accommodation availability on Booking.com – usually you can reserve a room with no upfront payment. Pay when you check out. Free cancellations too
- Need tips on where to stay? See my one page guide Where To Stay In Kyoto
- See my comprehensive Packing List For Japan
- Buy a data-only SIM card online for collection when you arrive at Kansai International Airport (for Osaka and Kyoto) or Tokyo's Narita Airport. Or rent an unlimited data pocket wifi router
- Compare Japan flight prices and timings to find the best deals
- If you're visiting more than one city, you might save money with Japan Rail Pass – see if it's worth it for you
- A prepaid Suica card makes travelling around Kyoto easy – here's how
- World Nomads offers simple and flexible travel insurance. Buy at home or while traveling and claim online from anywhere in the world