The Gieshas and Maikos of Kyoto

She painted her face full white and put on some red lipstick, black and red accents on her eyes and eyebrows. She has the most sophisticated Shimada hairstyle with a beautifully ornamented hair comb, a simple wig, and hairpins. A beautiful black with red prints silk kimono was her choice for the night. The kimono softly touched her ankles while her assistant tied the obi on her back. She checked herself in the mirror and was satisfied with how she looked. Sliding her tiny feet into a wooden Okubo, she walked in tiny steps with poise and femininity.

Geishas are traditional Japanese entertainers who perform various arts such as classical music, dance, games, and cheerful conversations with female and male customers—many thought, especially in western countries, that Geishas are prostitutes who sell sex for a living. NO, Geishas in Kyoto are highly trained professionals who mastered the art of being a hostess, not women for erotic pleasure.

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Gion District is around Shijo Avenue near Yasaka Shrine. Wooden tea houses, shops, restaurants, and a few temples nearby fill the street of Gion. One of the highlights in the district is the Geishas and Maikos, who, for hundreds of years, continues the olden skill of the Japanese traditional art of hosting.

Not everyone who wears a kimono is a Geisha or a Maiko (apprentice Geisha); maybe she is just a plain tourist who rented a regular kimono. How to spot the difference? A Geisha wears dark-colored kimonos, wears a wig, full red lips, a touch of red on their eyebrows while their eyes with black outline, wear shorter okobo (platform sandals), and is relatively older than a Maiko.

A Maiko (apprentice Geisha) wears brightly colored kimonos with long sleeves, does not wear a wig (it shows on the hairline), and wears more blush, red lipstick on the bottom lip, red or pink on the eyebrows. At the same time, their eyes have a red and black outline, they wear more hair ornaments, higher platform okobo, and look younger.

The real Geishas and Maikos stay in Hanami-koji-Dori and at Shijo-Dori of Pontocho around dusk, especially on weekends and holidays, rarely on a Monday.

Photo from Pinterest: Maiko

How to spot a tourist in a kimono? Easy! They take pictures and look quite ragged compared to the real Geisha or Maiko. Moreover, most of all, they are out in the open any time of the day.

Tourists wearing kimono.
Tourists wearing kimono at Gion District.

To have a full Geisha or Maiko experience, dine with them. Unfortunately, having a romantic or sexual relationship with a professional Geisha or Maiko is not allowed unless she is willing to be a wife. However, once a Geisha is married, she can no longer work as a Geisha. If a Maiko decides to marry, she cannot continue her training to become a Geisha. Arranging a dinner with a Geisha is expensive. It costs 900USD – 1500USD depending on the restaurant, the food and drinks consumed. Group dinners with Geishas or Maiko are cheaper, around 170 USD – 300 USD. Check Gion Hanaka for options.

A traditional Japanese restaurant in Gion.

Experience being a Geisha or Maiko by purchasing photography packages. Photoshoot locations can be in studios or outdoor, depending on the package purchased. For a cheaper Geisha or Maiko experience, kimonos for rent are available in random shops around Kyoto or hotels.

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