The reason behind the large number of tourists visiting Gion is due, in fact, to the chance to see a geisha or a maiko on the streets.
Fun fact, I've seen maiko in many different places in Kyoto, but never in Gion.
Spotting geisha and maiko
Disturbed on their way to a teahouse or just by walking in the street, geisha and maiko are approached and annoyed by paparazzi tourists. It's important to try to be respectful if you spot a geisha, as they have to deal with dozens of tourists on an everyday basis, making it difficult for them to get around. Sometimes the flow of tourists is so large, even the police show up during peak hours to help and prevent tourists from approaching them.
As an example, last summer with another two friends geared up with our cameras and headed to Gion. Plenty of tourists as expected but still quite a good time to go.
As an example, last summer some friends and I geared up with our cameras and headed to Gion. We expected plenty of tourists, but thought it would still be a good time to to.
On our way, the three of us spotted a Japanese girl wearing a kimono, and my friends pursued her a bit and asked for a picture. It was a good chance to take a traditional portrait in Gion. I took the photo from behind the scenes. To our surprise, on the next corner there was a large group of Chinese tourists that ran all the way to our position and started the rude behavior, taking way too many pictures of the girl in kimono, without even interacting with her, when she was trying to continue her way.
We tried to calm the situation and explain ourselves in English but they literally ignored us until a police officer arrived and dispersed all the tourists. I felt so sorry for the lady I had to apologize to her.