Geisha and Maiko Spotting in Kyoto
One of the main things I wanted to do whilst I was in Japan was to see if I could spot a real live Geisha. I’ve been completely fascinated by Geisha long before I read the book, ‘Memoirs of a Geisha‘ and watched the film based on the book.
Geisha, and Maiko (an apprentice Geisha), are really hard to find, and if anyone spots one, the cameras come out and everyone starts acting like the paparazzi…!
I was determined to see one, and as it turned out, it was the highlight of my trip to Japan. So where does one meet them?
Kyoto is known as the historical former capital of Japan which has over a thousand years history, and since Imperial times very little has changed around Gion. Gion is an area in Kyoto famous for its Geisha, and it’s where the Maiko and Geiko live.
Before talking about the ways to see Geisha, let me explain a little about Maiko and Geiko, the terms used to refer to Geisha. Geisha still keep their very traditional ways with their white-painted faces, traditional Japanese hairstyles, little white socks and wooden shoes, and fabulous hand-painted silk kimonos.
There are about 100 Maiko, (apprentice Geisha), and 200 Geiko, (fully trained Geisha), in Kyoto. A Maiko usually starts her career around the age of 15 years old, but has to be under 20, to be a professional in the art of Japanese culture and entertainment. Both Maiko and Geiko go to a school to learn traditional Japanese culture such as the tea ceremony, flower arrangement, and traditional music and dance. Maiko are professional artists, yet their charm is in their youth and immaturity.
When they turn 20 and are acknowledged to be skillful in music and dance, they become Geiko. They also have to be mature enough to talk to guests and also are required to have a higher level of artistry. They are NOT, as commonly believed, prostitutes!
Maiko and Geiko are a mystery even to the Japanese. Not many people have seen or met them in person. You may come across a Geisha moving from one tea ceremony to another by chance, as I did! I was just meandering down some little back streets and people started rushing towards me. I wondered what they were doing and turned round, and lo and behold, there were two Geisha/Maiko walking right behind me! Luckily, I had my camera around my neck so could snap away as I let them pass. It is quite an amazing experience to capture these shy little creatures in real life (er they may be a bit diva-ish too), but they don’t like their picture taken.
I also came across another three Maiko around the Kiyomizu-dera Temple area, where they were just wandering along the street, making their way to another tea ceremony.
There are also costume hire shops all around Gion where you can dress up as Geisha for around 3000 Yen. Be careful not to mistake tourists making up themselves as a Geisha for the real thing! But you will notice the vast difference when you do see a real Geisha.
Here are ten fun facts about Geisha/Maiko:
1. Geishas use safflower lipstick to colour their lips red and add sugar to create a shine.
2. The mother of a Geisha house is called an Okasan. She is responsible for the education and the career of the Geisha of the house.
3. It can take up to two hours (or even more) for a Geisha to get ready.
4. Geisha are paid according to time consumption.
5. Apprentice Geisha will dye their teeth black before becoming a fully qualified Geisha.
6. A Geisha’s kimono can take up to three years to manufacture.
7. Many Geisha prefer not to wear any kimono more than once.
8. Traditional Geisha hairstyles can cause the hair to recede. This is why wigs are commonly worn by many Geisha.
9. Many gestures performed by Geisha have a hidden meaning.
10. The first Geisha were actually men, and they were known as Honko.
Although technology and social media have had an important impact on the Empire of Japan, many Geisha prefer not to evolve with modern times. Apprentice Geisha are not permitted to use mobile phones, however they keep up to date with current affairs including economy and politics by digesting the daily newspapers.
Fun Facts – (courtesy of Venere Travel Blog)