Kyo no Hanamachi (Kagai) (京の花街)

In this section of the Kyo no Hanamachi, the hanamachi (Kagai) ('flower town,' or geisha district) in Kyoto will be explained.

There are six hanamachi in Kyoto, and each has its own characteristics
However, only five of them except Shimabara currently function as a geisha district, and accordingly, they are collectively referred to as "Go-kagai" (five hanamachi, or kagai).


Kamishichiken is the oldest hanamachi, located in the area of Shinsei-cho and Shakenagaya-cho in Kamigyo Ward, Kyoto City. In the Muromachi period, seven tea houses were built with leftover materials from the reconstruction of the Kitano Tenmangu Shrine. The name 'Kamishichiken' (literally meaning 'upper seven houses') originated from this fact, and Kamishichiken has prospered as a hanamachi, with close ties to Nishijin, ever since Hideyoshi TOYOTOMI held a large tea ceremony in Kitano in the Momoyama period and greatly praised the dumpling cake the tea house served. The "Kitano Odori" (dance originally performed at the Kitano Tenmangu Shrine) is performed annually in spring; geisha and apprentice geisha practice traditional performing arts every day and show them beautifully although small in number.

Gion Kobu

Gion Kobu is the largest hanamachi in Kyoto and is known abroad as well as in Japan. Gion Kobu started with the opening of a tea house in front of the gate of the Yasaka-jinja Shrine in the beginning of the Edo period; thereafter, Gion Kobu flourished as a hanamachi and received official approval. The emblem featuring dumpling cake was created then, and it is still used as the emblem for Gion Kobu and Gion Higashi. At the end of the Edo period, Gion Kobu was said to have boasted five hundred tea houses and more than one thousand of geisha, apprentice geisha and shogi (prostitutes) in total. To revitalize Kyoto, which was on the brink of decline due to the Tokyo-tento (designation of Tokyo as capital), Masanao MAKIMURA had Miyako Odori (Dance of the Capital) performed in the Kyoto Exhibition as an entertainment in 1872. Yachiyo INOUE III (born Haruko KATAYAMA) choreographed the dance. The 'Gion no Mai' (Gion's dance) has been choreographed only by the Inoue School, thereafter. Gion has been loved by many prominent figures such as poets and politicians.

Gion Higashi

Gion Higashi is a hanamachi, located on the east side of the north of the intersection of the Shijo-dori Street and the Hanami-koji Street, Higashiyama Ward, Kyoto City. Separated from Gion Kobu in the Meiji period, Gion Higashi became an independent hanamachi and was called "Gion Otsubu" against Kobu ('ko' and 'otsu' in Japanese are equivalent to a and b in English). Otsubu had more shogi (prostitutes) in general.


Shimabara is a hanamachi located in Shimogyo Ward, Kyoto City. The official name of the hanamachi is Nishi Shinyashiki, and it is comprised of the six towns of Kamino-cho, Nakano-cho, Chudouji-cho, Tayu-cho, Shimono-cho and Ageya-cho.
Shimabara has a long history, and is believed to have been the first officially acknowledged hanamachi and have started with the opening of the 'Keisei no tsubone' (a courtesan house) called 'Kujo no Sato.'
The hanamachi was said to have been transferred to Nijo-matenokoji by Hideyoshi TOYOTOMI in the Momoyama period and to the area near Rokujo in the Edo period; it was referred to as 'Rokujo-misuji Town,' having produced renowned geisha such as Yoshino-dayu (Geisha Yoshino with the honorary suffix 'dayu' for geisha added). Shimabara declined in the late Showa period, and as a result, it is not regarded as a hanamachi any more.


Ponto-cho is a hanamachi, located between Kamo-gawa River and Kiyamachi-dori Street in Nakagyo Ward. The land was originally a sandbar on the Kamo-gawa River, but was reclaimed through the bank protection work in the early Edo period and was called Shinkawaramachi-dori Street. Ponto-cho started with the development of the areas along the Kamo-gawa River, building tea houses and hatago (inn with meals); geisha and shogi had settled in and been cracked down repeatedly, but the area was recognized as a work place for those in "Nijo-shinchi" (Nijo new development area) in Kawabatanijo and was separated from Nijo-shinchi in the early Meiji period.


Miyagawa-cho is a hanamachi located in Higashiyama Ward and is comprised of the six sections from Ni-chome (section two) to Roku-chome (section six) in Miyagawasuji. The hanamachi originated in the time of IZUMO no Okuni's Kabuki dance, and it was initially called 'Kagema' (male prostitute), for the area was lined with kabuki and tea houses for the 'wakashu' (a teenage kabuki apprentice and also male prostitute), and those boys entertained patrons. Subsequently, the hanamachi was reorganized and officially approved in the Horeki era. Brothels existed through the Meiji and Taisho periods until March 15, 1958 in the Showa period when the Anti-Prostitution Law was enacted, however, some buildings from the brothel days still remain today.

Odori (dance) in hanamachi
Miyako Odori (Dance of the Capital): a dance performance in Gion Kobu held at the Gion Kobu Kaburen-jo Theater from April 1 to 30.

Kamogawa Odori (Kamo River Dance): performed at the Ponto-cho Kaburen-jo Theater from May 1 to 24 with the largest number of performances among all the hanamachi in Kyoto.

Kyo Odori (Kyoto Dance): performed at the Miyagawa-cho Kaburen-jo Theater from early to late April.

Kitano Odori (Kitano Dance): performed at the Kamishichiken-kaburen-jo Theater from April 15 to 25.

Gion Odori (Gion Dance): performed at the Gion Kaikan Theater from November 1 to 10, and the only dance performance in fall in the hanamachi.

In addition to these performances, dance clubs are offered in Gion Kobu, Kamishichiken, Ponto-cho and Miyagawa-cho in fall for a change. Special Traditional Joint Performances by Five Hanamachi of Kyoto,' hosted by the Ookini Zaidan (Kyoto Traditional Musical Art Foundation), is performed in mid June every year.

Hanamachi (brothel) that existed in the past
in Kyoto City
from the Meiji period to the Taisho period

Kiyomizu-shinchi: dissolved in 1873.

Tatsumi-shinchii: dissolved in 1873.

Shiraume-zushi: dissolved in 1874.

Sanbongi: dissolved in 1876.

Mibui: dissolved in 1880.

Shimogawara: merged with Gion Kobu in 1886.

Nijo-shinchi: terminated in 1887.

Sumizomei: dissolved in c. 1911.

Gojo-hashishita: merged with Nanajo-shinchi in c. 1912.

Operated until enforcement of the Anti-Prostitution Law

Goban-cho (Kyoto City)

Nanajo-shinchi (the present-day Gojo-rakuen)

After the Anti-Prostitution Law was enforced

Chushojima: terminated in 1970

In Kyoto Prefecture

Nihama (Miyazu City)

Asashiro: (Maizuru City)

Kazura: (Maizuru City)

Ryugu: (Maizuru City)

Hashimoto (Yawata City)

Tsukimi-cho (Ayabe City)

Izaki (Fukuchiyama City)

Gion no shimai (Sisters of the Gion)
Gion Bayashi (Gion Festival Music, 1934)
Gion Bayashi (Gion Festival Music, 1953)
Itsuwareru Seiso (Clothes of Deception)
Maiko Monogatari (The Story of Apprentice Geisha, 舞妓物語)
Omocha (literally toys, or The Geisha House)
Sayuri (Memoirs of a Geisha)
Maiko Haaaan!!!

Hannari - Geisha Modern (Documentary, 2006 Sakura Production, USA.)

[Original Japanese]