Saturday, June 2, 2012

DAY 28: KYOTO Part 3 - Nighttime in the Gion District

Previous Post "DAY 28: KYOTO Part 2 - A Day of Sightseeing"

The best place to enjoy an evening in Kyoto is the Gion District.  Gion is Kyoto's geisha district filled with shops, exclusive restaurants, and tea houses where geiko (what geishas are called in Kyoto) and maiko (geiko-in-training) entertain.  Many of the traditional wooden "machiya" merchant structures can be seen here.  The most popular street is Hanami-koji Street. Another scenic Gion area is Shirakawa Area along the Shirakawa Canal.  There are many exclusive restaurants and tea houses overlooking the canal, lined by beautiful willow trees.

(top to bottom: traditional wooden machiya building in Gion District; geiko being chased by paparazzi; shopping in Gion - expensive wooden slippers, sushi made from cloth)

According to the Kyoto Guide magazine, there are only 190 geikos and 90 maikos in Kyoto, making a geiko/maiko sighting similar to witnessing a famous actor/actress sighting in Los Angeles.  Unfortunately, we saw paparazzi-esque cameramen camped out in front of the tea houses, obnoxiously running after the geiko/maiko for a photo.   A maiko or geiko encountered should be treated with respect (Japanese were bowing to them as they walked by), and taking a photo should be done without disruption.  

(top to bottom: along the Shirakawa Canal; we saw 3 geikos total; kabuki theatre in Gion)

There is no equivalent or anything close to a geisha in the western world, so it is difficult to explain their elite place and respect in Japanese society.  They are highly trained and educated entertainers of Japanese traditional art.  They are not prostitutes.  Confusion may have come about after WWII when women prostituted themselves as 'geisha-girls' to American GIs. 

(top to bottom: restaurants and tea houses along the Kamogawa River; narrow street down Pontocho; in front of the restaurant we ate in)

Another picturesque area is Pontocho, a very narrow street parallel to the Kamogawa River, full of more restaurants and tea houses.  We found a restaurant serving a course menu for a reasonable price in Pontocho.  We sat on the tatami floors upstairs while we ate our 5-course Obanzai meal.  Obanzai ryouri is akin to Kyoto home style cooking - less formal and haute than keiseki cuisine.  For the first 4 courses, we all had the same dishes, but was able to select from 5 options for our main entree.  Akiko went with the boiled tofu (Kyoto is famous for its tofu), Mike went with the kurobuta (pork), and everyone else chose the sirloin steak.  

NEXT POST:  Kyoto Imperial Palace

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