"So you want to spot a geisha?": Geisha Spotting in Kyoto
Geisha are one of the most iconic symbols of Japan, found in Japanese literature, history, and in accounts of Japan from all over the world. They are traditional Japanese female entertainers, skilled in conversation, dance, classical music, and games. While their numbers may have dwindled over the past century, the vibrancy of their culture is still very much alive. For those visiting Kyoto, the center of the geisha world, that also means a chance to gaze at one one beyond the pages of a book or hanging scroll, and see a geisha in person.
With many geisha entertaining patrons at teahouses within specific districts of Kyoto, if one is at the right place at the right time, it is possible to spot one. As many of their appointments occur in the evening, over dinner or shortly afterwards, many geishas move around at dusk time, especially on Fridays and weekends. The ideal places to spot a geisha are Ponto-cho, at the Shijo-dori end, and the section of the Gion district between Shijo-dori end and Kennin-ji Temple. Another great area to see a geisha making their way to a meeting is Higashiyama, a neighborhood known for its traditional teahouses.
Here’s a couple of more tips that may be of use during your pursuit:
- Many geishas do not accept requests to take pictures with tourists as they often have strict appointment times. As a result, if you would like to take pictures, remember to not block their path to get a better angle.
- Keep in mind the popularity of “geisha parlors” in Kyoto which provide clothes and makeup services for those who want to feel like a geisha for a day. Taking note of accessories, as well as the quality of makeup—especially around the neck area—are ways to ensure that what you are seeing is an actual geisha.
- To tell the difference between a geiko (fully-fledged geisha) and a maiko (geisha in training), look at their kimonos and hair. While maiko’s kimonos are more colorful and their hair adorned with elaborate hairpins (kanzashi), geiko’s kimonos are often plainer, and their hair done less extravagantly.
- While it may take more than just a few minutes to spot a geisha once you arrive in the proper area, you can use this time to admire the beauty of the neighborhoods’ traditional architecture.
Seeing a geisha, whether it be a geiko or a maiko, is a truly one-of-a-kind pleasure, and an experience that only be had in Japan.
Best of luck with geisha spotting!
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