The Gion District was established in the early 1600s to accommodate the needs of travelers visiting Yasaka Shrine. It evolved to become one of the most exclusive and well-known geisha districts in all of Japan.
Hanami-koji is a wide street bordered on both sides by traditional teahouses called ochaya. On the corner sits Ichiriki Chaya, easily spotted by its vibrant orange walls. Ichiriki Chaya is over 300 years old and is known as one of the most high-end establishments in Gion, offering geisha entertainment to powerful business and political figures – but strictly by invitation only. This teahouse is as famous for its history as its exclusivity. During the 19th century, revolutionary samurai warriors would meet here to plot the downfall of the shogun’s government.Strolling down Hanami-koji and its intersecting streets the architecture repeats. Elegant, simple, historic. The teahouses are discreetly indicated, welcoming only those intended.
Throughout Japan there are numerous opportunities for tourists to dress in kimonos but no where else was it as prevalent as in Gion.
In Kyoto the geisha refer to themselves as geiko which translates to “a woman of art”. Seeing a geisha is like sighting a whale or any other mysterious creature that emerges seemingly on its own whim. I had the pleasure of seeing these stunning, demure geiko before the crowd rushed forward with their cameras.
The beauty, mystery and history of these buildings and streets was absolutely transportive and captivating. I filled my head with romantic daydreams, disappointed but also intrigued by the exclusivity of these streets.