The Geisha World

I was intrigue by the Japanese Geisha culture so I joined a walkabout at the Geisha districts around Gion, Kyoto with a local guide.

We walked through narrow streets that still reminded us of the Edo period. Apprentice Geishas are called Maiko or “Woman of Dance”while a trained Geishas are called Geiko or “Woman of Art”. Contrary to popular believe, Geishas are not the Eastern equivalent of a prostitute. This is a misconception originated from the West due to interactions with Japanese courtesans, whose traditional attire is similar to that of a Geisha.

If you happen to be in Kyoto, it is well worth the effort and money to attend one of these walkabouts. It gives a very in-depth understanding of the Geisha culture and how they are trained, how the training are funded, the mentor-ship system and numerous details that have escaped the main media.

Gion, Kyoto, especially in the Geisha district has now banned photography on their streets due to abuses by selfie photographers who have made a nuisance of themselves in the past. If you are caught taking photos, the fine is 10,000 yen or 100 USD.

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Disclaimer: These photos were taken well before the ban of photography on the streets of Gion, Kyoto.

A Maiko in her morning walk to run some errands
A Meiko on her way home.
The narrow streets of Gion. Nothing much has changed since the Edo Period
These narrow streets were catered to horses and horse carts of the era.
These Japanese lanterns marked the family or a signboard of the business that was carried out here.
A Geisha
This was the house where the Geishas live
The little tablets on top of the door were listed the names of the Geishas, their mentors and teachers
“Shinto gods” are called kami. They are sacred spirits which take the form of things and concepts important to life, such as wind, rain, mountains, trees, rivers and fertility.
Some of the houses were converted to restaurants and other commercial activities.
Very often , you would see a girl dressed in Kimono. No, they are not Geishas. They are tourists who rented kimonos and walk the narrow lanes of Gion. There are a couple of kimono rental shops in this district.