You can only enjoy wandering around the historic parts of Gion, Higashiyama, if you get up early or go out late.
Aside from visiting the temples and sampling the cuisine, one of the most rewarding aspects of a visit to Kyoto is wandering around the historic parts of Gion and Higashiyama. At least it used to be. Is it still possible to enjoy the atmosphere with so many tourists? Yes, it is but you may have to delay breakfast or skip dinner!
The bridge featured in Memoirs of a Geisha in the early morning and again that evening.
The popular Shinbashi street is deserted before 08:00 and after 21:00.
As most of the temples don’t open until 09:00, and many of the shops until 10:00, a stroll around Gion between 06:30 and 08:00 will allow you to experience a serenity that is impossible later in the morning. As well as enjoying the calm, you’ll also see a slice of the local residents’ life: sweeping doorways, stopping for a quick prayer at a tiny street shrine, students heading for sports training and fresh produce being delivered to shops.
Gion around 07:30: not a tourist in sight!
“Off-peak”, you are more likely to see something unusual as Kyotoites also take advantage of the quiet times for taking their photos: I saw a 7:00 am modelling shoot and a couple taking pre-wedding photos.
Of course, the reverse is also true. As most of the Gion area temples close around 16:30, the crowds begin to drift away by 17:30. Many traditional inns serve meals at set times – as early as 18:30 – so guests must return fairly swiftly. The Japanese tourists depart for their pre-dinner bath. Outside of festival times, you will find the daytime chaos has given way to a gentle, atmospheric tranquility.
Yasaka Shrine at 20:15.