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The Treasures of Gion

As revealed by our Japan correspondent Ted Grinewich-Yonashiro

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The Gion district is Kyoto’s home for traditional Japanese arts and techniques. Shrines, galleries, and shops selling traditional crafts nestle together on Fourth Avenue (Shijo-Dori) east of Keihan’s Gion-Shijo Station.

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The Minamiza Theater, the birthplace of Kabuki, is a Japanese national treasure and marks the west end of the Gion district on Shijo-Dori. Before and after performances, famous kabuki actors can often be seen coming in and out of the theater’s side entrance facing the Kamo river.

The Minamiza Theater
The Minamiza Theater

Price of seats vary based on the performance attended and are often more expensive the closer they are to the stage. Tickets on the third level balcony often range between 4,000 yen and 5,000 yen per person. Even without an understanding of the Japanese language, the Kabuki sets and costumes are visually engaging and the powerful acting makes all the stories compelling from when the curtain rises to when it falls. Most shows have an intermission that lasts up to thirty minutes. During these intervals, theatergoers purchase drinks, snacks, and even sushi from various stalls in the theater’s lobby.

After seeing a Kabuki performance, enjoying the ornate delicacies of kaiseki-ryori (see photo below) feels like a natural progression when in Kyoto’s Gion district. Kaiseki-ryori is traditional Japanese multi-course meal. Small dishes that showcase seasonal ingredients are served one at time. Each dish is prepared using skills and techniques that highlight the natural flavors of the ingredients.

Kyeseki Ryori
Kyeseki Ryori

Various kaiseki-ryori restaurants are located on the picturesque side-streets on the south-eastern end of Shijo-dori, not far from the famous Yasaka Shrine. Even though Kaiseki-ryori can be quite expensive, the restaurant Gion Mitoko offers a more modest version of the traditional meal. This modest form of kaiseki-ryori is called Gion Gozen and costs 4,300yen (nagomi) for a basic meal or 5,700yen (utage) for people who want their evening dinner to be a bit more lavish. With either option, the traditional atmosphere and fine food are sure to promise a delightful evening.

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A shop on the northern side of Shijo-Dori called Ousu-No-Sato sells a fantastic variety of pickled plums that make a fine souvenir from a trip to Kyoto’s Gion district. Japanese pickled plums are a traditional staple in Japanese cuisine and are a delicious companion to steamed short-grained rice. Shop staff at Ousu-No-Sato will help customers find pickled plums that are the right balance between salty and sweet. Customers get to try samples of the plums before they buy and even refresh their palate with sweet plum flavoured water between tastings. Large individually wrapped plums are available for under 500yen each.

With each visit I make to Kyoto’s Gion district I discover and experience something new. The performing arts, the culinary arts, and traditional Japanese crafts thrive in this area and beautifully transform with the changing seasons. Even with my visit to the Gion district just recently behind me, I am already excited to see the new treasures that await Kyoto’s home for transitional Japanese arts in the spring.

 

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