She painted her face full white, put on some red lipstick, black and red accents on her eyes and eyebrows. Her hair was arranged to the most sophisticated Shimada hairstyle with a beautiful 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 the way she looks. Sliding her tiny feet into a wooden okobo, she walked in tiny steps with poise and femininity. That is how I always imagine a Geisha preparing for work.
Geishas are traditional Japanese entertainers who perform various arts such as classical music, dance, games, and cheerful conversations to both female and male customers. Many thought especially 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.
Gion District is located around Shijo Avenue near Yasaka Shrine. The streets of Gion are filled with wooden tea houses, shops, restaurants and few temples nearby. One of the highlights in the district are the Geishas and Maikos who for hundreds of years still continues the olden skill of Japanese traditional art of hosting.
Not everyone who wears a kimono is a Giesha or a Maiko (apprentice Geisha); maybe she is just a plain tourist who rented a regular kimono. How to spot the difference?
Geisha wears dark-colored kimonos, wears wig, full red lips, touch of red on their eyebrows while eyes are outlined in black, wears shorter okobo (platform sandals) and quite older than a Maiko.
Maiko (apprentice Geisha) wears brightly colored kimonos with long sleeves, doesn’t wear a wig (it shows on the hairline), wears more blush, red lipstick on the bottom lip, red or pink on the eyebrows while eyes are outlined with red and black, wears more hair ornaments, higher platform okobo and looks younger.
The real Geishas and Maikos can be found in Hanami-koji-dori and at Shijo-dori of Pontocho around dusk, especially on weekends and holidays, rarely on a Monday.
How to spot a tourist in a kimono? Easy! They take pictures just like you, looks quite ragged compared to the real Giesha or Maiko. And most of all, they are out in the open anytime of the day.
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, not unless she is willing to be your wife. But once a Geisha is married, she can’t work as a Geisha anymore. If a Maiko decides to marry, she can’t 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 is cheaper, around 170 USD – 300 USD. Check Gion Hanaka for options.
Turn yourself into a Geisha or Maiko by purchasing photography packages. Photo shoot locations can be in studios or outdoor, depends on package purchased. For cheaper Geisha or Maiko experience, Kimono for rent is available in random shops around Kyoto or in hotels.