Did you know that Kyoto was once considered as the city to drop the atomic bomb on? It was reportedly spared this and much of the bombing during the war through the intervention of Henry L. Stimson, US Secretary of War. He did this as he was aware of the cultural significance of the area (he honeymooned here with his wife). The minimal bombing here, left Kyoto as one of the best preserved cities in Japan. Although much of the city has been updated, as it has modernized, it still has some very charming areas that provide a glimpse of ancient Kyoto.
Gion is one of these areas. It’s a very picturesque district in Kyoto built in the Middle Ages for travelers visiting the local shrine. The area grew in popularity over the years and became one of the most famous geisha areas in Japan. A geisha, or geiko, literally means a “lady of the arts”, like singing and dancing (not what many of us think of when they hear the term). They say that you can still see geishas here today, dashing off to appointments, but I would not know a real one from the many locals and tourists who come here in traditional Japanese dress to take selfies. It’s really worth visiting here.
There are many creeks with old footbridges, lined with gracefull willow trees. You can see the mountains in the distance.
Gion is full of traditional Japanese restaurants and tea houses. It’s a perfect place to walk in the evening, especially as the lanterns start to turn on.
The restaurants here are expensive, but some looked amazing. This was a table set for dinner.
Shrines and Temples in Gion
The Golden Tempe is completely covered with gold leaf on the second and third stories. It looked glorious on this cloudy day. I can only imagine it on a sunny day.
Originally built by an aristocrat as a country villa in the 12th to 14th centuries, it was taken by a retired shogun and turned into a country palace. After his death, his son converted it into a buddhist temple. The temple was rebuilt in the mid 1950’s after being burnt to the ground by an extremist monk.
The setting is serene, but the spot to take the photo is loaded with tourists taking selfies, so make sure you arrive with lots of patience. Then stand in line for green matcha ice cream cone to relax afterward.
The main shrine sits at the bottom of the mountain, but there are many smaller shrines placed throughout the mountain. There are 4 kilometers of path and it takes about 2 hours to walk to the top. The view of Tokyo from the top is supposed to be lovely.
The path is lined with orange torii, which were donated by various merchants and businesses. This makes the walk interesting as you pass through hundreds, if not thousands of them up the 4 kilometer path of the mountain.
The path was packed with tourists at the bottom. About halfway up the mountain it started to rain, so the crowd thinned out. Of course, I had carried my umbrella all morning, but opted to leave it in the hostel when I came here as it looked clearer. I walked for a while in the gentle rain, thankful for the cool rain, but when it started to pour, I had to take cover and wait It out. I was pressed against a wall, under a small roof, sharing the space with some large, strange looking bugs….sparing you photos of them.
This market is tucked on the back streets of downtown Kyoto. It is several blocks long and very interesting to see the various foods for sale. It was also very crowded, as were most tourist spots. Lots of sushi, seafood, sake, unusual vegetables, treats and trinkets.
Kyoto is much smaller than Tokyo, but still a large city with 1.5 million inhabitants. Due to the preservation of this city, there are a lot of touristy things to do here and many more temples than I show here. One quickly gets “temple fatigue”, so don’t expect to see all of them. I went to these, as others had suggested they were the best ones. If you visit Japan, I highly recommend staying several days in this area.