A friend suggests that I hang around Gion between 5-6pm because that’s when the Geiko (Kyoto’s word for Geisha) and Maiko (a young apprentice to Geiko) are headed to work. It’s the best chance of seeing one and hopefully taking a picture. As soon as I arrive, I’m excited that I see a Maiko smiling for pictures (left). Later I learn that she is a tourist who has paid to dress up as one. Geiko and Maiko don’t stop for pictures and almost run in the other direction when they see you. Geiko and Maiko work in traditional tea houses (above right) as hostesses providing entertainment.
There is an evening walking tour through Gion, so I decide to join the group and learn more about these seemingly allusive women. Our tour guide (above) is filled with interesting stories about Geiko and Maiko. She describes the differences between the elaborate kimonos that they wear. A clue to identifying a young apprentice is that her kimono and obi are more decorative than a Geiko. She wears a lot of red and a flower hair pin that moves in front of her face, making her appear more beautiful. In her first year, she is only allowed to wear red lipstick on her bottom lip. The more experienced Geiko is confident in her skills, singing, playing musical instruments, dancing and playing games, so she doesn’t need to impress with her dress in the same way.
We walk around Gion and our guide shows us several authentic teahouses. She also walks us past a few of the boarding houses (above right) and the girl’s school with a chalkboard listing available classes for the week (below left). At one time, there were over 2000 Geiko living in Kyoto. Now there are fewer than 200.