What's on in Kyoto
"Explore in Gion!!" - Report of the English Walk Tour "Gion Night Walk"
Gion, the heart of Kyoto, is one of the most popular places in Kyoto for foreign tourists. After the release of the film "SAYURI-Memoirs of a Geisha," the area became even more popular and attracted a number of visitors. As there were too many visitors, troubles have been caused between the local people unfortunately, and security guards stood in the area in those days. Today, especially after the Tohoku Earthquake, the number of visitors has dropped down and the Gion area has become quiet again.
The walk tour "Night-time Exploration in Gion"was started in summer, 2007 by the Kyoto City Tourism Association. Though a number of foreign visitors visited and expected to enjoy the Gion area, it often happened that they didn't know where to go to fully enjoy the area's attraction. As a result, they wandered in the area and happened to enter the places they shouldn't. This was one of the troubles between the local people mentioned above.
Today the tour is conducted by "WaRaiDo Guide Networks" Before they started the tour, their representative, Ted Ueno, took a lot of time to learn and research about the area's history and culture. He visited Kagai (geiko & maiko district) association and manager of ochaya. He learned correct information about Kagai and the world of geiko and maiko as well, and now his tour is locally recognized walk tour in the area.
One summer day, I joined the tour. The guide of the day was Mie. Though she wore casual cloth this day, she usually wear kimono or yukata (casual summer kimono) when she guide. The meeting point is Kita-za near Shijo Bridge and Minamiza Theatre. Today a yatsuhashi (one of Kyoto's famous sweets) shop is on the first floor of the building. They treated the tour participants with a pieces of yatsuhashi before the tour begins and some people bought yatsuhashi at the shop as they liked it.
The tour costs 1,000 yen per person. An English-speaking guide will show you around Gion taking about 100 minutes. On this day 14 participants from different countries gathered: U.S., Canada, Denmark, Sweden, Belgium, UK and Singapore. No reservation is necessary. Just show up at the meeting point at departure time and pay for it. The tour is not covered by insurance. After some more explanation, the tour finally begins.
The first half of the tour goes around northern part of Gion. Many tourists, both Japanese and foreigners, usually visit only southern part of Gion, but actually there are so many attractions and charms that you must not miss in the northern Gion area. One of them is the Shinbashi Bridge which is designated as an important traditional architecture area by the national government. The tour stops a while here and the guide gives explanation about difference between geiko and maiko, roles of ochaya and okiya, how to enjoy ochaya asobi (visiting ochaya), the life of maiko and more.
The latter half of the tour goes down to south of Gion. On Shijo Street which separates the north and south area a variety of shops stand on both sides. The tour stops again at one of the shop which maiko often uses to buy sweets.
While you are walking, you may notice that many cars and motor bikes run on narrow streets in Gion. Some people may not like it and feel it is not suitable for this historical area. However these vehicles are necessary in the area. Motor bikes and small cars deliver ices, hand towels and food used in Gion. Taxies bring customers to restaurants. In the past and still now, Gion is an entertaining area.
The tour goes off-beaten-tracks next to the main Hanamikoji Street. Few people and few cars are seen and you will find real taste of quiet Gion here. When the tour was walking along a lane lined with restaurants using traditional machiya building, a maiko happened to walk pass. She was walking in hurry to work. This is one of the attractions of this tour. As the tour starts in the early evening, participants enjoy not only beautiful evening townscape of Gion but also they may come across such a chance to meet a maiko.
At the end of the tour, the tour goes even narrower backstreet. Even few Japanese enter such deep areas of Gion. This is where people live and the guide gives explanation a little quieter voice. Going into the narrow, dim backstreet, you will feel like enjoying a real exploration.
Finally, the tour finishes in front of the Gion Kobu Kaburenjo Theatre. The guide gave thank you message for participants for their coming to Japan and Kyoto. At the same time they collect comments from the participants. These comments are introduced in the website to appeal to the world that many foreign tourists come and enjoy Japan and Kyoto after the Tohoku Earthquake. From their comments, participants seemed to have fascinated with charms of Gion and they became fans of Kyoto. The 100-min. tour is a full of attractions and everyone left Gion with satisfaction for what they have learned.
• Every Mon., Wed., Fri.:*
*No tour between Dec. 30 and Jan. 2
• The tour starts at 18:00 (reception from 17:30), ends at 19:40
*Dec., Jan., Feb.: starts at 17:00 (reception from 16:30), ends at 18:40
• Reservation not required
• ¥1,000/person (cash only; insurance not covered)
Time required: about 100 min.
Meeting point: in front of Kitaza and tour ends at Gion Kobu Kaburenjo Theatre