Destination: Gion Kyoto prefecture Japan

An Insider's Guide

Welcome to Gion, Kyoto. A charming neighbourhood patterned with historic wooden townhouses, traditional tea houses (ochaya) and known as one of the few places in Japan where Geisha culture is still thriving. It’s hardly surprising Gion is one of Kyoto’s most mesmerising neighbourhoods – inspiring us to design a new line of backpacks, perfect to take along whilst exploring. To get your intrigue (and taste for tea) going, we compiled an insider’s guide to the essential spots you should definitely explore.

FUEL YOUR APPETITE

Kyoto Ishibe-Kouji “Kamikura” 463-12 Shimokawaracho Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto City 605-0825, Japan

Self-proclaimed as “upscale Kyoto-style cuisine”, Kyoto Kamikura prepares harmonious dishes crafted with only the most fresh, select ingredients – alongside handpicked wine from their house cellar that adequately meets its match. Each dish carefully balances the art involved in fine dining whilst being truly authentic Japanese. Come here for fresh seasonal ingredients, outstanding dishes and great service.

THE TEA CEREMONY

En teahouse, 272 Matsubaracho, Higashiyama Ward, Kyoto, Kyoto Prefecture 605-0063, Japan

Intrinsically bound to Gion – and Japan as a whole – is their tea culture, in which the ceremony of tea for powdered green tea is at the forefront. It’s a ritual steeped in history, requiring attention and poise, especially for the unbeknownst tourist eager to witness the practice first hand. Enter the tea ceremony experience that En, a small teahouse a few minutes away from the Gion bus stop, offers. Its name symbolises both a circle, and a connection between people, places and objects, aptly alluding to one of the highest Buddhist truths. And its tearooms are hosted by knowledgeable English-speaking servers dressed in kimonos. Book in advance for an introduction to tea, classes on the poised movements involved or lessons in making matcha.

TAKE A LOOK

FMOCA, 2 570, Gionmachi Minamigawa, Higashiyama Ward, Kyoto, Kyoto Prefecture 605-0074, Japan

A short eight-minute walk from the Gion-Shijo Station and you’ll find the Forever Museum of Contemporary Art (FMOCA). Home to a selection of nearly 700 works, including that of Yayoi Kusama and her playful five-metre spotted pumpkin, FMOCA is not one to miss within the popular geisha district. The tatami-designed space within the museum is intended to house pieces that adequately merge time-honoured tradition and modern-day culture all in one. The permanent collections includes, in addition to Kusama, works by Joseph Beuys, Anselm Kiefer, Richard Long, Tatsuo Miyajima and Oscar Oiwa, among others.

WHERE TO REST

Celestine Hotel Kyoto Gion, Japan, 〒605-0933 Kyoto Prefecture, Kyoto, Japan 東山区 八坂通東大路西入る小松町572

Opened in September 2017, the Celestine Hotel Kyoto Gion strives to be the luxurious stay within traditional Japanese surroundings that you can return to again and again. Its design and hospitality echoes as much: check-in is done sitting down upon arrival with tea, concept rooms feature sliding paper screens, the Yasaka Endo in-house restaurant is inspired by traditional Kyoto Kaiseki (multi-course) cuisine, and in addition to providing drinks and sweets in the guest lounge, you can also experience Japanese traditions such as origami there, too. Stay here if you’re looking for helpful staff wanting to give you a truly hospitable Gion experience.

EXPLORE (AND TRY SAKE)

Shijo Station, Japan, 〒600-8412 京都府京都市下京区二帖半敷町先

& Wadachi, Nijuikkencho, Higashiyama Ward, Kyoto, Kyoto Prefecture 605-0077, Japan

While walking anywhere through Gion lends a great sense of understanding to its sense of history, Shijo street marks a more modern alternative to explore. A popular shopping area, you’ll find large and high-end department stores interspersed with smaller traditional shops selling Kyotan crafts and specialty snacks such as Kyo-wagashi (kyoto sweets). And when you’re looking for a little hiatus, hop on the Hankyu-Kyoto line from Shijo Station for 10 minutes to get yourself some traditional sake at Wadachi – a quaint sake bar hidden away, with great tapas-sized dishes on offer, too.

WHAT TO EXPLORE WITH

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