I really wanted to see the Gion district after reading Memoirs of Geisha. Even though it is fictional, it accurately represents the geisha experience.
The trip didn't disappoint. There were several women in full geisha regalia, but they were most likely tourists who paid for the experience of dressing up and getting toured around the district. It is rare to see real geishas now that the practice is starting to die out.
However, if you are interested in geishas at all, visit this area. I would recommend doing some reading on this subject - it is fascinating!
Gion is Kyoto's most famous geisha district. To experience the traditional Gion, stroll along Hanami-koji, a street lined by beautiful old buildings, teahouses and restaurants. In the evenings, you may be able to spot a geisha apprentice.
Yasaka Shrine and the Minamiza kabuki theater are some of Gion's other attractions.
You actually often see maiko in Kyoto as well - they are the ones training to be geisha. You can tell which is which by their clothes and their hair. But, I can`t remember how.
There is one street in Kyoto which is good for geisha watching.
After 5pm is a good time to wait for them.
Mini demonstrations of the tea ceremony, flower arrangement, court music, kyogen comedy, traditional Kyoto dance, and bunraku (puppet drama) are condensed into one flowing performance at Gion Corner twice nightly (7:40pm and 8:40pm) from March through November. Those pressed for time may find this the best use of a single evening (1 hour).
Personally, I find the bunraku very interesting. The puppet was brought to life by 3 skillful puppeteers (dressed and covered in black from head to toe). Usually, 3 puppeteers will handle 1 puppet, 1 controls the head, 1 controls the hands and 1 controls the legs. It was rather mersmerising as this kind of puppet shows have minimal "language barrier".
Just go for the experience if you do have have the luxury of staying long in Kyoto.
Fee : 3000 Yen
Geisha originates from Kyoto. Who are they? Geishas are dancers who have to go through rigourous training. Before they become professional, they are known as Maiko, i.e. apprentic Geisha.
NOTE : Geishas/Maikos are not prostitutes.
Geisha girls and women are trained in a number of traditional skills; Japanese ancient dance, singing, playing instruments (a three stringed instrument called shamisen is an essential instrument), flower arrangement, wearing kimono, tea ceremony, calligraphy, conversation, alcohol serving manners, and more. Geisha girls and women are talented Japanese women who patiently go through extensive training. Even after becoming a geisha girl, they keep improving their skills by taking many lessons.
Interestingly, their kimono and make-up is very elaborate. They are powdered white on their faces and their hairdo is uniquely "folded" like leaves. Their kimonos are usually "revealing" at the back of their neck.
When I was at the Gino Corner one evening, I was lucky to be able to peep into a traditional restaurant where Geishas/Maikos were performing. A Japanese passer-by told us that we were lucky to observe that and she also mentioned that a Maiko is usually very young and Geisha is generally older.
It is very expensive to engage a Geisha/Maiko. However, to catch a glimpse of them, just head towards the Gion Area and you will them there.
At Gion, you will see a lot of eateries and restaurants, from Japanese to Western to Chinese. In that area, there is a Gion Corner which is a preserved area with well-preserved traditional shophouses which are mainly high-end restaurants. More interestingly, Geishas and Maikos (apprentice Geishas) can be seen at Gion Corner.
When I was there, I remembered I peeped through a window (and other tourists as well) and saw Geishas/Maikos performing and serving their guests. One Japanese commented that we were lucky to have seen it as it costs a lot to engage them.
Extracted from web-link:
Gion was first developed as a town around Gion-jinja Shrine. In Edo Period (1603-1868) many theaters for Kabuki and playhouses for Ningyo-joruri were built. This district began as a Chaya (teahouse where maiko and geiko entertain their guests) quarter for the area of Gion Uchiroku-cho became a center of the theatrical and performing arts and developed into a 'Chaya-machi'. To this day the district is blessed with beautiful historic scenery including the Shirakawa River stone pavements cherry trees and rows of refined machiya (old Kyoto-style houses) dating from the late Edo Period (1603-1868) through early Meiji Period (1867-1912).
Best seen around 6 pm in the Gion district. It gets pretty funny at that time as the Geisha/Maiko bolt for their appointments with a trail of tourists snapping pictures behind them. Those gals can really book it in sandals!
The area of gion in kyoto is the place famous for spotting geisha. Unfortunately none were spotted on my stroll through, but not without effort. Spent a while wandering the alleyways and streets of these dimly lit stretch of side streets. Many women walking around in kimonos but none witht he classic geisha white face. Interesting nonetheless.
While walking around Gion in the rain, we suddenly were passed by a real geisha, elegantly tip-tapping along under her colorful umbrella. With only 200 in the city, this was a rare treat, and from what I understand, a sign of good luck. Unfortunately, none of us could yank our cameras out in time and not look like complete idiots. Later in the day we went past a "Be a Geisha for $40.00" store and tried to make due with a copy.
It provides an interesting selection of various traditional arts - from the tea ceremony to ancient court music. One of my friend, Sawako, was performing in the Gion Corner on the Monday night I was in Kyoto. So happy & interesting to see this cultual event.
This is a postcard of the Gion Corner. See my travelogues for more pictures and the explanation of the program.
There are at least 7 performances in Gion Corner. (1) Tea Ceremony (2) Koto Music (3) Flower Arrangement (4) Gagaku (5) Kyogen (6) Kyomai (7) Bunraku
When visiting Kyoto, one must make a visit to the Geisha district of Gion, known as the 'birthplace of the Geisha.' Here you can view blocks of beautiful old tea houses and catch glimpses of Geisha life.
Here we ran into some 'Geishas-in-training' entertaining an American traveler while the curious old fellow on the right pays them no mind......
When darkness falls over Kyoto, it's time to leave the more westernised shops and restaurants of Kawaramachi street and stroll towards the Gion and Pontocho districts on the banks of the Kamo river. As you penetrate the narrow lanes and alleys, it's hard to realise that some of these little streets and streams were described in the 'Tale of the Genji', Japan's first novel written just over a thousand years ago. For a more up-to-date description of the district, read Arthur Golden's bestseller, 'Memoirs of a Geisha'.
The Gion district is the most famous one for having active nightlife, restaurant and clubs. It is most popular with tourist as it is also know of the district of the Geisha's.
Gion area was famous for Geisha. I recommend you to read Memoirs of a Geisha written by Arthur Golden. It's my favourite novel and when you come to Gion area, you will recall all content you read.
A walk through the Gion district of the Geisha, can reveal pleasing surprises, specially if you wander off into the back streets. This is a maiko, an apprentice geisha.