Despite cars, millions of tourists and a cavalier disposition towards them, Gionmachi, or Gion as it is most well known, continues to be one of Japan’s top tourist attractions. The beautiful old streets have not changed much in the last century and a half and it is one of my favorite places in Japan. I visited on a week day night and took these snapshots while wandering around. I have been there many times but I have yet to take a single photo, or even a small series of pictures that manages to capture the atmosphere. Some day!
A few weeks ago I spent a weekend in Kyoto and took the chance to explore one of my favorite neighborhoods in the world – the Kyoto Gion districts. Despite this being one of the foremost tourist spots in the world it is still possible to get some fairly quiet moments on these narrow streets, as you’ll see in these photos. It’s always baffled my why other Japanese cities, many of whom used to have areas more or less similar to the Kyoto Gion, don’t try and recreate them, if for nothing else than the tourism. These photos are from the narrow, less traditional streets of Tominagacho, which might technically be outside of the proper Gion district, but still part of the same spirit and the same sort of traditional tiny restaurants and drinking holes. It’s is also where many of Japan’s last remaining geisha houses are located, and it is not rare to see the tiny maiko girls hurry off to their appointments, as in the first picture. Note the make up of her neck, isn’t it fantastic? Some day in a few years she will be fully trained geisha.
The entrances to the restaurants are often covered in beautiful printed cloth, I tried to catch a few of them but the low light made it difficult. I particularly love the tiny allies, such as the one in the second to last photo. Can you spot the warning sign saying “この路地は通り通りぬけはできまへん”? Meaning, this alley is a cul de sac, in perfect Kyoto dialect.
I just had to compare and show these two views of the Kyoto skyline, taken within hours of each other, the modern and the ancient. Kyoto as it used to be and Kyoto as it perhaps should be. Balancing the old with the new is a difficult art but some people and places do it better than others, in Japan there is Kyoto, Kamakura, Nara, Honkawagoe and a handful of other places that take a great pride in keeping and preserving the Japan that was before concrete.
In the modern skyline you can see Kyoto tower (all cities in Japan have one it seems) in front of the rather fantastic Kyoto station building, with Atom Boy on top of the sign post (Atom Boy because his creator Osamu Tetsuka lived in nearby Takarazuka). Leo, the lion king character (that Disney stole – copyright only applies to American corporations?) is a bit further away from this scene.