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The Oldest Zen Temple in Kyoto And Some Sugar Clouds

Though the Gion District is divided into north and south, the most well known area of Gion is the main street of Hanamikoji Dori.

By 3 min read 1

Kyoto’s famous Gion District is bracketed by Kamogawa River on one side and Yasaka-jinja Shrine on the other. Gion’s district name comes from the original name of Yasaka-jinja Shrine, which used to be Gion-sha and was renamed during the Meiji Restoration. Gion is famous for the Geisha that come from here, as well as being popular for its many teahouses and ryokan.

Though the Gion District is divided into north and south, the most well known area of Gion is the main street of Hanamikoji Dori. Traditional houses line both sides of the street, with wood of various hues, from raw to weathered and painted. The variety of traditional shops, cafes, teahouses and traditional restaurants are aplenty. However, if you traverse into certain areas the restaurants and shops can be very exclusive, and an introduction by a current customer is the only way to gain entry.

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When you look around you, there will some places that quite obviously are shops, while others warrant closer inspection, where you will find the hidden treasure of beautiful traditional restaurants. Smaller streets branch out in all directions holding many more of the traditional machiya. This whole area is being actively worked on as part of the Preservation Districts for Groups of Historical Buildings project. This project keeps old, traditional and historical building in the best shape. Once you step onto these streets, its as if you have walked through a portal to the past, especially during the Yukata season.

Nearing the end of the Hanamikoji Dori is a small café with pastries for take out. Admittedly, I may have been most excited for the Choux-cream (better known as cream puff, or is it clouds of sugar?) in either case as an enthusiast of pastries Japanese cream puffs are definitely at the top of the priority list. The most Japanese style I would say would be the black sesame and green tea cream puffs, the creampuff of piecrust is also a recommendation.

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The menu is in English with explanations and listed ingredients. Grab a sugar cloud and keep walking to the end of this street, where you will come upon Kenninji Temple, The oldest Zen Temple in Kyoto, with a history of over 800 years. This Buddhist sects founder is said to have brought with him the tea ceremony, and doesn’t that make the Gion District just the perfect place in this city to have this temple. Geisha are skilled in many of the traditional arts of Japan, including the beautiful tea ceremony. With the profusion of teahouses, geisha and machiya, this temple fits right into the scene.

The Gion-matsuri Festival takes place every summer, rain or shine. Ranging from Yasaka-jinja Shrine all the way down Shijo Street to the west, the celebrations ensue. The parade consists of giants floats going through the center of downtown Kyoto. Traditional instruments are used, Japanese flutes, bells and drums play Gion-bayashi, and taiko performances are held.

If you are looking to stay overnight in the Gion Area, located in North Gion is Hotel Mume, which appears to be a popular choice. As I was staying at shukubo (temple lodgings) there was a lovely couple that had stayed at Mume just the night before. The place was all they had imagined and more. Mume is a slender boutique hotel, in Japanese style and only have 7 rooms. They used the Japanese phrase “Ka-Cho-Fu-Gets” which means Flower-Butterfly-Wind-Moon and symbolize the beauty of nature for Japan.

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There are several ways to reach Gion. If you are taking the Keihan Line, you are headed to the Gion-Shijo Station, use exit 6 to the south or exit 7 to the north, depending on which area you would like to go. For those who are taking bicycles it is usually difficult to find an area to leave it, however, a new bicycle parking lot has been built right by exit 7 of the Keihan Gion-Shijo Station. If you are coming over from Osaka on the Hankyu line, use exit 1 and walk across the bridge towards the shrine you will spot in the distance.

Access:

Gion District

Gion-Shijo Station (Keihan line) Exit 6 or 7
Kawaramachi Station (Hankyu Line) Exit 1

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