3 June 2016
After dinner at the Ichiran Kyoto Kawaramachi shop, we decided to head out to Gion (祇園), Kyoto's most famous geisha district. Along the way, we walked through a portion of Kiyamachi Street and Pontocho Alley, lined with many shops and restaurants. Pontocho Alley is one block away and parallel to the west bank of the Kamogawa River between Sanjo and Shijo. This could be a place to have dinner in Kyoto but we already had ramen at the Ichiran. Maybe, we would spend more time exploring this alley on our next trip in autumn.
We had to cross the Kamogawa river via the Shijo Ohashi bridge. The banks of the river seemed like a good place for couples to have a romantic evening out. Many restaurants along the eastern side of the Pontocho Alley that overlook the Kamogawa river had built kawayukas (temporary platforms over the flowing water), where patrons can dine out in the open air and enjoy the summer nights and views of the river.
Gion is located around Shijo Avenue between Yasaka Shrine in the east and the Kamogawa river in the west. Shijo Avenue is pretty crowded at night and has many shops, restaurants and ochaya (teahouses), where geishas and maikos (geisha apprentices) entertain clients.
We went to the most popular area of Gion i.e. Hanami-koji Street from Shijo Avenue to Kenninji Temple. Unfortunately we did not see any geisha or maiko. At about 8.30 PM in the evening, most or all would be already inside the ochayas, entertaining clients. This is probably an expensive place to dine. We walked till we reached the Kenninji Temple and then turn right and went to explore the smaller side alleys.
The alleys were lined with preserved machiya houses, many of which are converted to restaurants. Red lanterns lit the alley ways, quite similar to the small post-towns of the Nakasendo, but more colourful and brighter. If I had not already visited post –towns like Magome, Tsumago and Narai along the Nakasendo Trail, I would have been fascinated by the historical looking wooden houses in Gion.
There are probably more of Gion that we did not explore on this trip. We would save that for our next visit to Kyoto in autumn.