Gion Walk, Kyoto
Image Courtesy of Koichi Rikitake
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Gion is Japan's most famous and now only geisha district. It is a place where old wooden merchant homes, exquisite teahouses and exclusive Japanese restaurants line beautiful streets. Widely considered to be the most attractive is Ishibei-koji Lane, a pedestrian-only walkway with a stone floor and a clutch of wooden inns, restaurants and bars. Equally eye-catching is Shirakawa Dori, another pretty thoroughfare lined with traditional buildings. Take a gentle step back in time at Pontocho Alley, where cars and modern buildings are forbidden. Admire the traditional shops and stay for lunch or dinner in one of the many restaurants. Likewise, Hanamikoji Dori appears to have come from a different time with its old homes, tea houses and restaurants. Stop by some of Gion's most spiritually important sites. Yasaka-jinja Shrine is where people come to get married and to have their children blessed. Visit Kennin-ji, the oldest Zen temple in Kyoto and marvel at the beauty and calm of its Zen garden. A key reason why visitors flock to the neighborhood is to see a geisha (they call themselves geiko) girl or maiko (geiko apprentices). They are professional entertainers and you may see them on their way to restaurants where they perform and interact with guests. Alternatively, book a table at one of the restaurants where they stage their shows.