Getting to Know Gion
Japan's traditional and modern worlds intersect where Shijo-dori crosses Hanami-koji-dori in the district of Gion. To the south, cobblestone streets lead past wood-fronted teahouses displaying red paper lanterns, while a block northward are high-rises chock-full of bars. Eastward is Yasaka Jinja's commanding orange-and-white arched gate; westward are the city's best department stores.
Gion remains Kyoto's center for high culture, including venues offering Kabuki, Noh, and Bunraku puppetry theater. Perhaps more famous to foreign visitors is the floating world of geisha entertainment, brought into the spotlight by the film adaptation of Arthur Golden's Memoirs of a Geisha. Wandering around Hanami-koji-dori at dinner time you're pretty sure to see maiko-san and gekko-san, the modern equivalents of apprentice and senior geisha, on their way to appointments at exclusive teahouses behind curtained doorways.
If you aren't able to visit Kyoto during July's Gion Festival, take in one of the massive hoko (wooden floats) on display at the Kyoto Yodabashi Building, a block north of Kyoto Tower. Colorful photos and recorded audio of the festivities give you a sense of what it's like to be at the 1,000-year-old parade.
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