“Gion is a district of Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto, Japan, originating as an entertainment district in the Sengoku period, in front of Yasaka Shrine (Gion Shrine). The district was built to accommodate the needs of travellers and visitors to the shrine. It eventually evolved to become one of the most exclusive and well-known geisha districts in all of Japan.
“Gion houses two hanamachi, or geisha districts: Gion Kobu and Gion Higashi. The two were originally the same district, but split many years ago. Gion Kobu is larger, occupying most of the district including the famous street Hanamikouji, while Gion Higashi is smaller and occupies the northeast corner, centered on its rehearsal hall.
“Despite the considerable decline in the number of geisha in Gion in the last century, the area is still famous for the preservation of forms of traditional architecture and entertainment.
“Gion retains a number of old-style Japanese houses called machiya, which roughly translates to ‘townhouse’, some of which function as ochaya, or ‘teahouse’, where geisha entertain guests at parties, involving singing, traditional dance performances, drinking games and conversation.
“Both geisha and maiko can be seen travelling throughout the district to attend parties, lessons and various other engagements.”
“The Gion quarter is situated around a famous shrine, Yasaka Jinja, built in the middle of the seventeenth century. It was owing to the shrine that the geisha quarter first came into existence at all.
“During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, teahouses and restaurants sprang up all around to cater for the travelers who came to visit the many great temples in the area. The courtesans thrived, too, and acquired a reputation for their charms which has caused them to figure in many plays and stories.
“After the middle years of the nineteenth century, the Gion pleasure quarter had grown to a considerable size and many new geisha houses were established to serve it. The geisha gained such fame by their singing and dancing that it led to the founding of the Miyako Odori.
“Gion proper has a subsidiary quarter known since the war as the East Gion New Quarter. In fact, it was established in 1884, when owing to business differences a group of houses broke away to become independent, although they both served the same courtesan quarter, which later disappeared. Gion then became prominent as a geisha district only; the waiting-house and the restaurant replaced everything else as a center of gay life.”
– The Flower and Willow World: the Story of the Geisha, by A.C. Scott, 1960