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Famed both for its multitude of temples and shrines, here also can be found the old geisha quarter of Gion, where glimpes of geiko or maiko can be occasionally made in early evening as they make their way to appointments. Known as Higashiyama, or ’eastern mountains’, the area is aqueezed between Kamogawa and the eponymous hills from which it takes its name.                                                                                                          

Japanese ’Salarymen’ being entertained in Gion

Situated just east of Kyoto Station, the first temple you come across is Sanjusangen-do. This fascinating 800 year old temple is dedicated to the buddhist goddess of mercy, Kannon Bosatsu. Inside the temple and within its 33 alcoves and under its 33 pillars can be glimpsed the 1,000 handed Kannon together with images of her 1,000 disciples.

One of the most famous landmarks of the city, Kiyomizu-dera is a temple whose current construction hails from the mid 17th century. Also dedficated to the deity Kannon, the main attraction for visitors is the butai or dancing stage, perched 12 metres high above a gorge in front of the hondo, or main temple, and affording panoramic views back across the city. Just below the main hall is the waterfall, Otawa-no-taki where visitors drink the sacred waters believed to have therapeutic qualities

Of the many other temples and shrines in this area, recommended are Kainkakuji Temple with its gold-leaf-covered pavilion, the Shinto Heian Shrine with its spacious garden and Chinese-inspired bridge, and Nanzenji-Temple (left) with its stunning views over Kyoto and the Higashiyama mountains. (in the latter the Leaping Tiger Garden provides an opportunity to view a classic zen garden).

There are too many other temples to detail here and most visitors find that the prospect of visiting more than a handful quite daunting. However many hidden gems are there to be discovered by the more adventurous - examples being Shoren-in, Chion-in, Ginkaku-ji and Honen-in.

For those looking for a break from the temples and shrines, Gion is the city’s main entertainment district. Famed as Kyoto’s main geisha quarter, this is where the visitor is most likely to catch a glimpse of a maiko hurrying to an appointment during the early evening hours. Gion Corner restaurant provides an excellent selection of traditional arts including the tea ceremony, geisha dances and koto music which should all be experienced, time permitting. Shows are on from March until end of November.

Ichiriki-tei - Japan’s most famous chaya or teahouse - is here on the corner of Shijo-dori and Hanami-koji, and during April the visitor can witness at first hand the elegance of the Miyako Odori - a lavish array of music and dances held by the geiko and maiko of the district.

 

 

 

Hanami-koji, left,  is in itself an attraction being one of Kyoto’s most attractive streets with its Edo-period tea-houses and restaurants. Maiko accessories are readily available on Shijo-dori.

 

 
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