I’ve Got a Date with a Geisha in Kyoto

Geisha in Kyoto Japan

Japan is synonymous with Geisha’s right? Well, at least it used to be. Nowadays they are not as common as you might think. And their services are extremely expensive. I am not kidding, time spent in the company of a geisha is ridiculously expensive. And more often than not, you’ll see Geisha in Kyoto. I booked seats on the bullet train, a hotel room, dinner in a Ryokan (traditional Japanese style room), and signed up for a tour to see a reserved Geisha performance, to take part in a traditional tea ceremony. Because I’ve Got a Date with a Geisha in Kyoto.

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I’ve Got A Date with a Geisha in Kyoto

My plan was to visit Kyoto on another trip, but we have so many countries on the list to visit over the next two years, that we decided NOT to go to anyone country twice. However, everyone I spoke to about my upcoming trip to Tokyo urged us to make a detour to Kyoto. So I did a little research, booked a hotel, transportation on the Shinkansen (bullet train),  and a tour of the famous Gion Center. Kyoto here we come.

The tour also includes the Gion Corner (including Geisha performances) for the budget price of $750 for everything… the train, hotel, dinner, and tours… and that’s the budget tour. I’m excited about it all. But weirdly I am most excited about the tea ceremony.

When I was in college I took an Honors seminar that included learning how to perform a traditional tea ceremony. How to pour, how each cup is placed and held, the table layout… trust me it’s very detail-oriented and can last for HOURS!! I’m curious how much I remember.

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Get Your Mind out of the Gutter

Geiko in Kyoto

Geisha (more correctly referred to as Geiko) are not prostitutes. They are trained to embody both the innocence of a child and the seductiveness of a temptress. They are performers. The idea of a Geiko really fascinates me because I am a visual person. Geikos move gracefully, fluidly– no erratic or jerky hand or body movements. You aren’t supposed to notice when one movement stops and another one starts.

Warning… be careful not to mistake tourists for the real thing! Gion Corner is a theater where they perform a touristy version of the seven Japanese traditional performing arts. The performances include:  tea ceremony, flower arrangement, koto (Japanese Harp) playing, gagaku (court dance), kyogen (comic play), Maiko dance and Bunraku (puppet play). At the end of the show, a Maiko or two show up and dance a traditional Japanese dance.

The theater was built for the Tokyo Olympic Games to welcome foreigners and it has various language brochures and earphone guides, for an extra charge of course.

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Geisha Watch

Matter of fact, for a long time, teahouses didn’t accept guests without references from other clients. This insured security and maintaining a certain level of availability. Until recently, this made it especially difficult for foreigners to witness the traditions. Even now, Maiko and Geiko are a mystery to lots of Japanese too. Not many people have seen or met one in person. So if you visit, just because you see a girl in a traditional dress, don’t assume they are one. But you’ll be more like to see a Geiko in Kyoto, where the traditions are still preserved.

They dress inexpensive, brightly colored kimonos, flowers and other ornaments decorate they flawlessly pinned hair. They are trained to anticipate their patron’s needs before they know them themselves. Geikos are both demure and disciplined. They were originally highly skilled artists who trained for years mastering traditional music and dance, flower arranging, and the art of conversation to entertain emperors and other royalty. These days, Geikos perform for wealthy businessmen.

Book a Tour with a Geiko in Kyoto

Currently, there are roughly 100 Maiko, apprentice Geiko between the ages of 15 and 20, and about 200 Geiko in the city of Kyoto. And they all live in the same area, an area of Kyoto that has withstood the tides of change called Gion. Gion Corner, in Kyoto, is also the best place for an unscheduled sighting of the painted ladies. Geisha performances are typically contracted, paid for monthly where no money is ever exchanged in person. A few houses have opened their doors to foreigners for a price and if you know the right people to ask.

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