Friday, September 29, 2017

Gion (祇園)

Gion is another world within Kyoto, within Japan.  It doesn't exist until after dark, and it lives in the shadows, skating along what seems to be the edge of something illegal.  But it is an institution so it can flirt with a sort of lawlessness that other districts can't.

No one lives in Gion; there are no residents, but at dusk it comes alive: beautiful women in impossible heels, long legs and 70s curls; maiko and geiko in kimono, clip-clopping in geta to exclusive tea houses; Brooklyn-style thugs with bleach-blonde hair and pierced ears working the doors, chain-smoking, mobile phone tapping; salarymen, black suits, white shirts, deep pockets, no imagination, red-faced with alcohol; yakuza heavies, Hollywood sunglasses, Italian luxury goods, the quiet swagger of ownership; curious/lost tourists searching vainly for an English-friendly restaurant.  Gion is a parade!

But to get in, really get in, you must be Japanese.  Things are much more democratic in New York.  A fat wallet or cleavage will get you in most anywhere.  Not so in Gion.  It is a trifecta of attributes: Japanese birth or ancestry, solid Kyoto connections and serious disposable income.  My friend Ken-san's bar/cafe Rinken offers an affordable seat to this mysterious world.  I sit and watch it float by.

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