Once In A Lifetime to Catch A Geisha At Famous Gion (Home of Geisha) In Old Kyoto, Japan 日本古老京都祇园花见小路，以舞妓或艺妓舞艺的 “花街” 闻名
Kyoto is famous for 300-year-old Geisha tradition. There are about 250 Geishas in Kyoto city – they are popularly called Geiko and Maiko (the apprentice Geisha) in Kyoto – and 100 of them are registered in Gion, the most prestigious geisha community.
Gion is also the district name where many houses served tea to people who visited Yasaka shrine in the old days and later they added attractions of singing and dancing to entertain those people. That is the origin of Geisha in Gion. There may have been 80,000 geisha shuffling about in the 1920s, but today, less than 2,000 remain in Japan. The odds were slim but i was hopeful. Indeed, my wish came true. This is a rare experience that you won't find anywhere else.
Geishas and Maiko alike are a cultural mystery to foreigners, and even most Japanese. Few people get to meet one or even seen a real Geisha in the flesh. I had a chance to meet some which was definitely a highlight of my recent trip to Japan. I was lucky to get a glimpse of the jewel in the crown of Japan. Maiko and Geiko are a mystery even to Japanese. However don't worry too much if you don’t, as the district’s sights, sounds and shopping are like a glimpse into old Japan that you will never forget. The Geisha sighting would just be the cherry on top.
祇园是京都繁华区的代表地段，以观赏舞妓或艺妓舞艺的 “花街” 闻名。祇园作为艺妓花街文化的发源地，而花见小路则是其中的代表，在花街全盛时期光是茶屋就高达700间舞妓、艺妓的人数将近三千人，时至今日虽已盛况不再，但此地仍然是京都最热闹的区域之一，也只有在这里才有机会碰上艺妓的身影，尤其是从四条通至建仁寺这段区间的花见小路通更是热闹非凡。
祇园是京都最着名的艺妓区，它的历史可追溯到封建时期, 也是京都市中最受欢迎的观光点之一，这区在八坂神社 前于四条大街和鸭川之间，有多间茶室、电影院、商店和餐厅, 沿着花见小路漫步，欣赏两旁的美丽古建筑甚而还可能在街上看到舞妓。
In Kyoto, which is considered the home of the Geisha, the most famous district to go and see Geisha's is the Gion, where you will find many Okiya, the homes of Geishas. This is old Kyoto, where the streets are lined with traditional machiya houses, stone walkways and traditional lanterns lining the way. These traditional buildings look small from the front, however this is based on the fact that they used to base property tax on the street frontage of your building, so although they look small from the front, most of them stretch far, far back.
This district is a must-see while in Kyoto, day or night, however at night the Gion is a beautiful site in dimmed light from lanterns and the traditional buildings, it feels like being taken back into the ancient Japan.
Wandering the streets of Gion, the narrow streets and side alleys ways were inviting in their subdued orange glow – igniting a well-known district in a layer of mystery. Blood-red lanterns with their pretty dove patterns marked out traditional teahouses, restaurants buzzed with the low hum of customers and the laughter of businessmen echoed in the secretive air, which whispered nothing except curiosity in a place where you wandered slowly and paused only in hope of a sighting, before moving on.
Hanamikoji Street 花见小路。
Ventured through the alleyways away from the tourists and was rewarded with spotting two maiko, in their opulent kimono, leaving one building and walking into another.
They truly are a great spectacle. Centuries old form of entertainment, Geisha and Maiko are performing artists in Japan held to high esteem – female entertainers who are not only hostesses, but also classical musicians and dancers. Some begin their daily training at a very early age, whilst others choose to enter the profession later in life. Either way, you train for life, unless you leave your Okiya – the place where you live, train and are indebted to under contract.
Geisha normally have more subdued and less elaborate clothing, hair and makeup, whereas Maiko are more colourful and bold – the robe is usually patterned, hangs low at the nape of the neck and the obi (the waist tie decoration) is normally more embellished and long, sometimes hanging as low as the ankles. They are striking and not easy missed.
Seeing Geisha is not guaranteed and if you are successful with a sighting, it will most likely be that of a Maiko. As many local people told me: “you have to be lucky” and that’s really what it is.
Hired to attend parties and private gatherings at ochaya (teahouses) and ryōtei (traditional Japanese restaurants), no one knows where a Geisha will be called to work and the exclusivity of their company means they are not a common sight. Not only do you have to pay the equivalent of hundreds or even thousands of dollars but, in many cases, you must be invited by another person. Therefore, to behold one within the old streets of the ‘Geisha District’ of Gion in Kyoto, as they make their way to work, is a very special sight indeed.
Kyoto – a place identified not only with the ‘old’ Japan and UNESCO World Heritage temples, but also with the most beautiful and revered entertainer of all – the Geisha. The area is still very much steeped in tradition and culture, something to appreciate and admire in this day and age.
Seeing a Geisha, or a Maiko, really made my time in Kyoto. Not only was it a dream come true, but the electric atmosphere the Maiko’s presence created was something that will stay with me always. Whether you have a vested interested in seeing one of these special entertainers or not, it’s an insight into an incredible preserved Japanese tradition that creates as much a mystifying culture for us as it does for the people they entertain.
A freelance Singapore-based travel photographer / photojournalist. I seek the extraordinary, but finds beauty in the everyday. Life is interesting, capture it.
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