Gion is a district of Kyoto, Japan, originally developed in the Middle Ages, in front of Yasaka Shrine. The district was built to accommodate the needs of travelers and visitors to the shrine. It eventually evolved to become one of the most exclusive and well-known geisha districts in all of Japan.
The geisha in the Gion district do not refer to themselves as geisha; instead, Gion geisha use the local term geiko. While the term geisha means “artist” or “person of the arts”, the more direct term geiko means essentially “a child of the arts” or “a woman of art”.
This neighborhood in Kyoto has two hanamachi (geiko communities): Gion Kōbu and Gion Higashi. Despite the considerable decline in the number of geisha in Gion in the last one hundred years, it is still famous for the preservation of forms of traditional architecture and entertainment.
Gion remains dotted with old-style Japanese houses called machiya, which roughly translated means “townhouse”, some of which are ochaya or “tea houses”. These are traditional establishments where the patrons of Gion—from the samurai of old to modern-day businessmen—have been entertained by geiko and geisha in an exclusive manner for centuries.
Photo Credit: Mikael