Blanketed by Night in Gion

May 14, 2018

By Takumi Abe



When you walk in the Gion district of Kyoto, you have time-traveled back into the olden days of Japan. You will see traditional style house alsos and people wearing kimono. You can enjoy seeing not only such scenery, but you can enjoy Japanese foods such as matcha green tea, Japanese sake or sukiyaki. A river along one street in Gion is lined with stones and many willows, giving you a feeling of exoticism. After the sun goes down, you will be fascinated by the new mood of Gion. It has a relaxed atmosphere. laughter emerges from the old-style houses. I decided to record this special night mood through photographs.


The History of Gion

Gion was created in the late 1600s and prospered as a town that had developed near the gate of Yasaka Shrine. At this time, many beautiful women stood in front of the stores to attract customers. In the Meji period, from 1868-1912, the Gion area was expanded. Furthermore, Many famous Japanese writers loved Gion in this period. Eventually, Gion changed into the amusement and nightlife district it is now. Now, the northern area of Gion sparkles with bright neon lights. In the southern part of Gion, there is soft lighting and it is very quiet.


Gion Night Scenery

  • Yasaka Shrine


Yasaka Shrine

This shrine is the symbol of Gion, which extends out west from its base. This area prospered from people who came to worship at this shrine. Now, the gate is lit up every night.


  • Northern Gion

Northern Gion

In northern Gion, there are bars, snack bars and nightclubs. Many people go there to enjoy drinking and the nightlife. On Friday night, lots of taxis are coming and going.


  • Gion-shinbashi


Gion shinbashi

In northern Gion, glittering neon signs illuminate the streets. However, if you continue to walk north out the the more lively streets, there is an old Japanese-style district that has a quiet atmosphere. This area’s streets are covered with stones. You can enjoy the atmosphere and sophisticated Japanese restaurants.


  • Shijo Boulevard



The Shijo Boulevard is the main busy street in Kyoto and in Gion. There are many people here for shopping, commuting, dining and drinking, going back home or just out walking. Shopping is the biggest reason that people come to Shijo, because there are so many different and attractive stores there.


  • Snowy Downtown


Snowy Downtown

When January arrives, it brings snow to Kyoto. The citiscape is changed by snow. People might think that temples or shrines covered with snow are beautiful, but the collaboration between snow and Gion is even more magical. You can see that old houses and streets are dressed in new snow.


  • Hanami-koji


Hanami koji

Hanami-koji is the main street of southern Gion. Red Japanese lanterns have images of dumplings printed on them. Gion was started with dumpling and green tea shops. In Japan, drinking Japanese tea while eating a dumpling is one of our favorite customs.


  • Rainy Gion


Raining in Gion

After a rain in Gion, the wet streets reflect the lights brilliantly. Those lights are white, red or brown. The pitter-patter of rain and the sound of footsteps fill the air.


  • Kennin-ji Temple


Kennin-ji temple

If you walk further south on Hanami-koji Street, you will see the traditional gate of Kennin-ji temple, Kyoto’s first Zen temple. You can experience the culture of Zen (禅) here and see beautiful fusuma and byobu paitnings and a Japanese garden.


  • The traditional pagoda



Yasaka-no-to is a three-story pagoda between Gion and Kiyomizu Temple. The presence of this pagoda is very photogenic. This is one of Kyoto’s most famous places, so many people come here and see it. At night, this area is so silent that you can hear your own footsteps and breathing.


  • Sakura



Maruyama park stetches out in back of Yasaka Shrine. This park is famous for its cherry blossoms and there is one big cherry tree at its center. Regardless of age or sex, many people are attracted by this famous tree.


  • Under the trees


Enjoy Hanami

Many people enjoy viewing cherry blossoms with good food and alcohol. When people are under the trees, they feel delight. This is one way to have fun at night in Gion..


The Atmosphere of Gion


Gion is famous as a traditional Japanese entertainment district. However, the old structures coexist with modern bars and concrete buildings. So this area looks a little bit messy, but in fact, the long history of Gion remains intact. The area that has a long history is attracting many more people these days and they enjoy the nighttime with alcohol. It is good that people can enjoy and go a little crazy even in front of the holy shrine. When night comes, most people go to sleep at their hotel or guesthouse. If you have time or are not able to sleep, I recommend you go to Gion at night. Gion then has a bustling and buzzing face in addition to quiet and calm face along the river. You can feel this original atmosphere. Gion is both loud and quiet.

Live house

by Tomomi Nakashima

There are a lot of ways to enjoy the nighttime in Kyoto, and I think one of the best ways is with… music! If you want to experience a variety of musical tastes by artists who have their base in Kyoto, take my advice and follow these directions.

Take a Karasuma Line subway train bound for Kokusaikaikan, and get off the train at Imadegawa station. Leave the station through either exit 4 or 6 and walk in a westerly direction along the south side of Imadegawa Street for about one and a half minutes. Here you will find the sign for BACKBEAT. Head down the brick lined narrow staircase and open the door. You are now at a real Kyoto live house!

As this venue is located in a basement, there is a kind of authentic, underground music feel to the place. On the bend of the stairs outside, you can see announcements for the event that will be held that night and also some fliers detailing artists who usually perform here.
Almost with your first step into BACKBEAT, you are at the bar counter where the manager will invariably be waiting to serve you personally. The room is decorated with leis, neon signs and many pictures of the sea, because the manager has a real fondness for Hawaii. The sound system is located directly next to the bar, and there are a variety of old posters on the wall celebrating coca-cola, etc, as well as CD jackets for most of the legendary Beatles albums. On the far side of the room from the door is the stage, the focal point of the place.

In this live house, just about anybody can perform on stage because the concept of the live house is “free”. In any given month, most days are pre-booked for “lives”, which means some artists have made bookings in advance and have been given a time to perform. However, some days are reserved for “Acoustic Tobiiri Day” which means artists can play without a booking in a kind of “open mic” set up. Many of the performers at these events play songs on acoustic guitars, but they present a surprisingly unusual and eclectic mix of styles! Some play songs composed by professional artists but with their own arrangements, others play original songs with heart-warming lyrics, and then there are those who play guitar only, often showing great technique. It’s not only about the music though, as there are also plays, original movies and traditional and modern arts showcased here from time to time.

Message from the manager of BACKBEAT:

I used to belong to a band when I was at university. It was tough to get a booking to perform in places then because there were a lot of bands around. There was real competition between bands to see who could get the biggest audience, capture the hearts of the audience with their songs, give them a good time and also enjoy performing for themselves! Now I recognize what music means to me, and really enjoy it with a lot of people in HAKO (BACKBEAT).Of course, I manage the place, but it’s not really only mine. The atmosphere here can change daily according to the artists who are performing on that day. What I want to do is make this live house somewhere for everyone, artists and audience alike.

So, how do you feel about spending a night at this “live house”? If you want to be in the audience or even fancy performing on stage, please go back to the beginning of this article and review how to get there. You can also access the BACKBEAT homepage to get further information about the location and the live entertainment schedule. Rock on Kyoto!!