Geisha Experience in Kyoto

We will start out by explaining a little about what a geisha is. This is mostly from Japancheapo.com. Known as geiko in Kyoto, geisha are high-class, greatly respected entertainers, who have trained for years in traditional instruments and dance, parlor games and conversation, flower arranging and more. They attend dinners and gatherings at ryōtei (exclusive traditional restaurants) and ochaya (teahouses) and entertain guests with their skills. There are currently believed to be around one hundred fully-fledged geiko and a similar number of maiko in Kyoto today. Geiko are fully-fledged geishas and maiko are apprentices.

Sandy found a tour on Viator called Gion walking tour “Explore Gion and discover the arts of geisha” which she booked just for the two of us after everyone else had left. We have found that most tours are fully booked a few weeks to a month ahead of time.

We met our guide, Ken Sakata, in front of this statue of Izumo-no-Okuni who was a Japanese entertainer and shrine maiden. She is believed to have invented the theatrical art form of Kabuki which is a classical type of Japanese theatre mixing dramatic performances with traditional dance. She originally fashioned an all female dance troupe but the art form later developed into its present all-male theatrical format after women were banned from performing in kabuki theatre in 1629.
Ken explained to us that the word geisha translates to woman artist. This may have started when women were no longer allowed to perform in kabuki. They are known as geiko in Kyoto and the apprentices are maiko.
Minamiza Theater which stages traditional Kabuki shows in Kyoto.
This is a side street in Gion where the geiko and maiko live.
An avian distraction during our tour.
Lovely narrow back streets.
This is an agency that contracts with the geikos whose names are posted above the door. The geikos are typically booked by the agency to perform at exclusive restaurants and teahouses. Attendance at these is by invitation only. Ken explained that they typically work in two hour blocks from 6pm to midnight. During the day they continue their training.
One of many shrines in the area.
One of the local hair salons where the maiko get their hair done. The maiko keep their hairdo for one week while the geiko wear wigs.
This is the pillow that the maiko have to sleep on to preserve their hairdos. The side of their face goes on the padded top.
This is the school that they attend in the mornings to learn all of their performing arts. During our tour we saw one meiko walking on the street with an apprentice in civilian clothes carrying her bag and walking behind her. Every would be geiko goes through a year of apprenticeship before deciding whether to become a meiko.
This was the end of our 2.5 hour tour with Ken but he gave us a card and told us that he could arrange a 1.5 hour private meeting with a meiko.
We scheduled the private show with the meiko on a day thatJim’s cousin Kevin, wife Ai and family were visiting us from Tokyo. Ken met up with us and took us to a private upstairs room in a teahouse.
This is Kanatomo.
She started the session by giving each of us her business card.
Jim accepting the card with the usual Japanese two handed reception.
We then all introduced ourselves and Kanatomo told us about herself. She is 18 years old and has just started her second year of being a maiko. She is taking lessons in singing, dancing and playing the zither.
We were then all given a chance to ask her questions. She said that her parents were against her becoming a geisha and she had to plead with them to get their permission. She started at age 15 and really loves her career at this stage.
As you can see from this video, Lilly and Keitaro were quite involved with her and she really related well to them.
She then danced for us.
Note the makeup on her back and neck that she has to apply with mirrors.
She taught us a game which is similar to rock, paper, scissors. She played with Ken initially and then Kevin played with her and did very well. This video is Keitaro playing with her.
Kanatomo is in this advertisement for an art theater event, she is the lowest one who is kneeling.
When she had to go, we all walked down the street with her and continued talking and taking photos.
Ken took group photos for us.
Saying goodby in front of her residence.
Kanatomo was a first year maiko when this picture was taken. She has no lipstick on the upper lip which indicates her status.

This was such a special day for all of us. Having Kevin and his family with us increased our enjoyment of the event exponentially. Thank you so much for taking the time and spending the money to visit us for the weekend in Kyoto.

We would also like to thank Ken Sakata for his tour and the geisha experience. We would highly recommend this tour and experience to anyone visiting Kyoto. Ken’s contact information.

2 responses to “Geisha Experience in Kyoto”

  1. Miryoku-tekina! That must be near your top of Japanese cultural experiences.

  2. Fascinating. Thanks for the geisha insight.

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