Despite Osaka being Japan’s second most vibrant city, it is neighboring Kyoto that gets almost all the attention. The capital of Japan for several centuries, Kyoto has a dignified presence in which much of its past is still preserved. It is filled with temples, castle, old neighborhoods and geisha districts. Tokyo is like a latecomer, having only been the capital for over a hundred years while Kyoto was the capital for over one thousand years. After I was done with Osaka, I took the 30-minute train to Kyoto.
The two cities are part of Kansai region, which is Japan’s cultural and historic heartland. Kansai also features Nara, the Japanese capital in the 8th century, and the port city of Kobe.
After checking into my hotel, I headed to the nearby Gion district, which is famous for its geishas who perform in intimate eating places in wooden buildings that are off the main street. These side streets feature a lot of these elegant windowless wooden buildings that all had restaurants inside, but the only time you could see inside was when the door opened.
On the way to Gion, you cross a bridge over a stream and there are restaurants along both sides. There is a main street lined with shops, theaters and restaurants, which if you go to the end will take you to the Yasaka Shrine.
The Yasaka Shrine is located on a small hill at the end of a main street and has an elaborate gate entrance. Even though it was night, it was open and parts of it were lit up. A notable sight was the performance dance stage which had hundreds of lanterns.
To the south of the main street are a series of small lanes with wooden buildings where the geishas and old teahouses are.
I don’t have a geisha fetish but it was the assumption geishas are supposed to be “exotic” and that I was in the most famous area in Kyoto that they work.
I did catch a glimpse several times though it was brief because they were in a hurry. I tried to take photos of them especially when one walked right past me but I didn’t go as far as call out to them or chase them, which I actually saw somebody do. I was walking by when a geisha suddenly came around the corner, walking fast while being followed by a few Western tourists. One lady called out to her and ran up close to her to take her picture by pointing the camera at her, in the rudest way possible.
I returned the next evening to walk through the geisha neighborhood, then went to a pleasant lane called Shirakawa that is north of the main road. It’s a quiet lane that runs along a small canal, with several wooden restaurants and houses, and has a cobblestoned road.
After the serenity of Shirakawa, turning back onto the main road took me past a street with adult-themed stores and massages and wacky restaurants.
Old teahouses where the geishas perform in
I wasn’t chasing this geisha; she passed me (see photo above this one) and I took this from behind.
Stream that you cross on the way to Gion
Wacky restaurant decor