There is nothing like being shown around by a private tour guide who knows the place you are visiting inside and out. It is handy if you have friends and family abroad as they would probably love to do that. For those that don’t have friends everywhere around the world, don’t worry, because there are other ways to arrange your private tours.  During our Japan trip, we did a private walking tour in the Gion district, one of the best things to do in Gion at night.

Our walking tour in Gion at night

HiHiGuide

We booked a local guide for our Gyon Kyoto walk with HihiGuide. HiHiGuide is a platform where you can book local guides in different cities all over the world. What we love so much about this concept is that you can customize the tour to your own preferences.  As we were hoping to see some geishas we arranged with our guide Guenda our private geisha tour in Kyoto.

What we love so much about HiHiGuide is that you can customize the tour to your own preferences.

Another benefit of these private small walking tours is that you can talk about local habits. Certainly, in a country like Japan, this was really nice because they have a lot of habits different from ours. More about that later in this article.

More information and booking: HiHiGuide

We discovered Kyoto’s sights by taking a stroll in the Gion district at night with Guenda. Guenda is an Italian, who stayed in Kyoto after her Japanology study, as she had found her true love. She was really happy to take us on a walking tour wandering through Kyoto’s old streets.

Among other things, we talked about the enormous social pressure in Japan and how important image (reputation) still is.

We got to know each other better over a drink and immediately an interesting conversation started about the differences between Europa and Japan. The best thing about a guide like Guenda, who grew up in Italy, is that she can make a good comparison between what we find normal and how Japanese perceive this. Among other things, we talked about the enormous social pressure in Japan and how important image (reputation) still is. But we also laughed a lot about more airy themes like the very different Japanese beauty ideals. Maybe that’s why Sylvia hasn’t spotted many handsome men.😊

Read also: The best 3-week itinerary for Japan

Discovering the geisha district in Kyoto

After this cozy chat, we immersed ourselves in the picturesque streets of the Gion district. Gion in Kyoto is one of the last existing real geisha districts and one of the best areas in Japan to spot geishas.

Geishas are companion ladies. You immediately might be thinking of a prostitute but that is not what they are. The role of a geisha is limited to entertaining people with conversations, art, singing, and dancing. Before one can become a geisha, one must undergo heavy training and maybe that is why the services of a geisha are reserved only for the Japanese elite. If you, as a tourist, like to see a geisha at work you can book some of the shows or tea ceremonies that are specially organized for tourists. But then the question arises if this is a “real” geisha? That’s why we didn’t book any of these and instead opted for our private geisha tour in Kyoto with Guenda.

Geishas are companion ladies. Their role is limited to entertaining people with conversations, art, singing and dancing.

Even though the past few days were very warm, during the evening the weather had let us down. But the showers could not spoil the joy of our walk through Gion. As a full-fledged guide, Guenda led us through the maze of authentic old Japanese buildings and we almost felt like we were back in the old Japan. During our walk, Guenda told us all kinds of facts about the life of a geisha and the buildings we passed. The beautiful wooden facades often hide expensive teahouses and exclusive restaurants.

Read also: What to wear and bring to Japan.

Our walk brought us past gorgeous cherry blossoms and impressive temples. Guenda also showed us a house of an okâsan, loosely translated: “ a mother”. It’s a home were geishas stay during their training until they have saved enough money to live on their own. Usually, that means finding a man that is willing to maintain them.

Every time we passed a corner in these charming old streets in Kyoto we were hoping to see a geisha, but so far, we were out of luck. Halfway through our walk around Gion, we stopped at the Yasaka shrine, also one of Kyoto’s attractions, to taste some of the local street food. It certainly was not the first time we did this but with the help of our guide, who spoke Japanese, we could finally order something to our taste. Names of street food are usually just posted in Japanese and vendors speak very limited English.  Before we just tried our luck by pointing at something and sometimes our choices turned out to be rather unfortunate.  This may be a good reason to bring along a translation guide.

On our way back through the Gion district, we purposely wandered along some Kyoto old streets where we had the highest chance to see one of the remaining geishas (there are less than 1000). This time we were luckier because we didn’t see 1 but even 3 geishas this time.

Geisha’s are remarkable appearances on the streets and it is nice to see that this tradition has been going on for so long although it’s slowly disappearing.

You will recognize them directly by their perfect white faces.  White is a status symbol. Throughout Asia, white skin is a status symbol of the richer population to show they don’t have to work the fields. It is also a residue from the past where geisha’s danced in candlelight and this white color was more practical since it stood out.

Read also: The perfect 14 day Japan itinerary 

They are also dressed in beautiful rich decorated Kimono’s. A lot of time is spent on the appearance because it is an inseparable part of the entire entertainment ritual. That is why most geisha also wear a wig.

Geisha’s are remarkable appearances on the streets and it is nice to see that this tradition has been going on for so long although it’s slowly disappearing.

Conclusion

We had a great evening with Guenda and seeing those Geishas was for us the icing on the cake. We are happy we have learned about HiHi Guide and that they gave us the chance to do this walking tour.  Guenda definitely knew a lot about what to see in Gion. On HiHi Guide you can book hundreds of guides in cities around the world. We will definitely look here again for our next city trip.

The funniest anecdote from Guenda was that her mother in law approved her because she met the beauty ideal of a small face.

Do you also have a funny memory of meeting the locals?

Top things to do in Kyoto

We loved this walking tour in the Gion district but this part of Kyoto has much more to offer. Here we share other fun things to do in Kyoto.

Full-Day UNESCO and Historical Sites Tour

Kyoto Full Day Tour

Public transportation in Kyoto is not as good as in Tokyo and some of the highlights, like the Golden Temple, are far from the metro stations.  We wandered 3 days around Kyoto easily doing 20,000 steps each day.  If you have less time this tour is a good alternative that will take you to most highlights in just one day.

 

More information and booking: BOOKING

Tea Ceremony Experience

Kyoto Tea Ceremony

A tea ceremony is a centuries-old Japanese ritual.  This ceremony is recommended if you want to learn more about this ritual and the Japanese culture.  You will get to experience the full ritual and not the more often offered shortened tourist version.  Note that this ceremony is not offered by a geisha.  

 

More information and booking: BOOKING

Kyoto Night Food Tour with 10-Course Dinner

Things to do in gionThis walking tour will take you around the historic Gion district where your guide will tell you many interesting stories along the way.  At the end of the journey, you will enjoy a delicious 10-course Kaiseki including the world’s smoothest sashimi, tofu, macha, dashi, tamagoyaki, and fresh seafood.

More information and booking: BOOKING

Kyoto Highlights 7-Hour Private Guided Tour

Kyoto Highlights Private Tour

You can choose from 2 different tours where your private guide will take you to either 4 or 5 of Kyoto’s must-see top attractions.  Both tours end in Gion, the geisha district of Kyoto.

 

 

 

More information and booking: BOOKING

Nishiki Market and Gion Food and Drinks Tour

Nishiki Market Tour Kyoto

This tour is for you if you absolutely want to taste some of Kyoto’s great street food but are reluctant to do so because you prefer to know what exactly you’re eating. Your guide will introduce you to “Kyoto’s kitchen”.  You will have the opportunity to taste the local food and you will learn about Japanese culture as you gradually make your way towards the Gion district.

More information and booking:BOOKING

Maiko Makeover and Photo Shoot

What to do in gion

A maiko is an apprentice Geisha.  On this special 3-hour activity you’ll learn about the life of a maiko.  A former maiko will apply your makeup, style your hair and dress you so you will look stunning for your photoshoot. She’ll also teach you how to pose and dance appropriately. The pictures will be a great souvenir to take home. 

More information and booking: BOOKING

 

Hotels in the Gion district in Kyoto

Kyoto is Japan’s most popular tourist destination.  More than 2000 hotels are spread out across the city but still, prices tend to inflate tremendously during the cherry blossom season and other popular tourist seasons.  We recommend you to book well up front.  Here are 3 hotels in or within walking distance of the Gion district.

Luxury hotel

Hotel iconThe Ritz Carlton Kyoto Hotel

The Ritz Carlton Kyoto JapanThe Ritz Carlton Kyoto is at a great location, along the river in the center of town, within walking distance to the Gion area and a lot of other attractions.  Spacious, beautifully decorated rooms and a large swimming pool.  The great attention to details separates this hotel from others.

 

Click here for reviews and the latest prices: BOOKING

Premium comfortable hotel

Hotel iconGion Hatanaka Ryokan

Gion Hatanaka Kyoto JapanGion Hatanaka is a traditional ryokan just a short stroll from the picturesque Gion district. It offers traditional Japanese accommodation and a spacious public bath overlooking a zen garden. Spacious rooms with large windows, a balcony and an en-suite bathroom with a bathtub.

 

Click here for reviews and the latest prices: BOOKING

Comfortable hotel

Hotel iconRoyal Park hotel Kyoto

 

The Royal Park Hotel Kyoto SanjoThe Royal Park Hotel Kyoto is a good choice for those who are looking for a hotel in the center of Kyoto. It is within walking distance of the Gion district, two metro stations, and various temples. The rooms are neat and the bathroom is fully equipped. You can enjoy a nice breakfast at the bakery next to the hotel.

 

 

Click here for reviews and the latest prices: BOOKING

Didn’t find what you were looking for? Booking.com has a lot of other hotels in Gion.
More information and booking: BOOKING

Are you also intrigued by geishas?
Then this book might be something for you.


Here are some travel guides to get you started.

Lonely planet JapanLonely planet phrasebook & dictionaryFodors Travel Japan

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7 fun things to do in Kyoto

Have you ever visited Kyoto? Please let us know your favorite spots in the comments.

This walk was offered by HiHiguide. Of course, we always share our honest opinion about activities. This article contains affiliate links. This means that when you click through and make a purchase, at no additional costs for you, we will get a small commission.


2 Comments

Maartje Hensen · June 5, 2018 at 6:04 pm

This is the first time I hear about HiHi guide, it sounds super handy and fun! Will look at it and use it in the future. Glad that you saw geishas and that you even got a picture with them!

    Sylvia · June 6, 2018 at 5:33 pm

    Yes, HiHi guide is a good way to discover a city with a local. It was a great experience and we were very lucky to see a geisha during our walk.

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