Kyoto’s Geisha

The vast majority of Kyoto’s gesiha live in the Gion district, an area filled with shops, restaurants and teahouses, where geiko and maiko (apprentices) entertain. They are artists who are held in very high esteem. They are entertainers who are not only hostesses, but also musicians, dancers and poets. Their services are expensive and exclusive, usually requiring an introduction via a referral, although some travel agencies and hotels have started creating packages, still it is very expensive.

Some posts on this site contain affiliate links, meaning if you book or buy something through one of these links, I may earn a small commission (at no extra cost to you!). Opinions are always my own and I’ll never promote something I don’t use or believe in.

Geisha have a sorted history, people confuse them with earlier versions of courtesans, but the geisha emerged in the 1750-60’s as an occupation and were actually forbidden to provide sexual favors (they weren’t supposed to compete with the prostitutes) they were entertainers. The world of the geisha has its roots in Kyoto where the imperial court was, but they are present in other parts of Japan (around 2000 in total), although Kyoto is where you will find the large majority (even is that is only a couple hundred).

Geisha Paparazzi
Geisha Paparazzi, photo credit Sketchy Impressions

I had read so many stories about the paparazzi-style problems that the geisha have these days (like this NY Times piece), that Mr. Misadventures and I had no intention of “hunting” them down. In fact we barely stepped foot in Gion, just a few strolls as we were crossing into other neighborhoods.

So we could not have been more surprised to come upon two geisha (the way to tell a geiko from a maiko is the lipstick [if you get close enough] red lips mean she is a full geisha, if only the lower lip is red, she’s a maiko) making their weekly offerings on a Thursday morning in the quiet neighborhood near the Kodaiji Temple.

I had just shopped (ok, buying another scarf) at the most adorable little shop called Dot Dot when I spotted them across the street. I wanted to be as respectful as possible, I crossed the street (we were going to head that direction any way) and walked behind them heading to the temple.

Kyoto Geisha

I was amazed to see how revered they are by the locals, bowing in respect as they passed. One Japanese woman spoke with them a moment and asked if she could take their photo with her phone. At that point I had passed them, but turned around to look at them and pointed to my camera, they smiled and gently nodded their head, I took a few photos (although they continued to look at the other woman) and bowed to them in thanks.

Kyoto Geisha

It all happened in a second, Mr. Misadventures was still across the street at the store, he hadn’t really registered that it was happening. Although he did capture this shot (which is still great):

KYOTO-Geisha
Photo credit: Mr. Misadventures

I am not a good photographer, I am making baby steps, but I am really proud of the two photos I got because they were under pressure!

More geisha reading:

> Wikipedia
> Beautiful slideshow from BBC News
> Article about the documentary Real Geisha Real Women
> Gorgeous photo shoot images from Jungles in Paris
> More gorgeous photos from photographer Peter Macintosh

How about you? Have you ever seen a geisha in real life?

49 Comments

  1. Lai Gamboa
    June 23, 2014

    Those were great photos, you are doing a great job in taking the best angle, how i wish I am also good as you in taking photos. I am always fascinated by the Japanese culture,

    Reply
  2. Michelle Salais
    June 23, 2014

    The pictures are wonderful! Nope, never seen one in person but, I noticed the geisha in blue has a cellphone sticking out at the top. 🙂

    Reply
  3. Brad Bernard
    June 23, 2014

    Great pics, Andi. Kyoto is tops on my list , and seeing the Geishas ranking even higher. I’ve been absolutely enthralled with the idea ever since reading Michael McGee’s ‘of Geishas and Tea Houses’

    Reply
  4. Terri S
    June 23, 2014

    The pictures are beautiful! I have never seen a geisha in person. Thank you for sharing.

    Reply
  5. Kelly @ A Side of Sweet
    June 24, 2014

    Awesome story, thanks for sharing! Japan is definitely at the top of my travel list!

    Btw, found you via the social media challenge for #SITSblogging! 🙂

    Reply
  6. Candace
    October 10, 2014

    So cool! I wonder what that’s like. Everything I’ve seen about geishas seems exhausting and sad. But they are beautiful.

    Reply
    1. Andi Fisher
      October 11, 2014

      @Candace, I would have to agree on the exhausting part, their schedule is incredibly rigorous, but they seem so calm and at at peace when you see them in person.

      Reply
  7. Lisa Oswald
    October 10, 2014

    Good information.

    Reply
  8. Nancy
    October 10, 2014

    Wow, the photos of the Geisha’s are so pretty.

    Reply
    1. Andi Fisher
      October 11, 2014

      @Nancy, thanks, and as much as you like make-up I am sure you would love how complex their make-up routine is.

      Reply
  9. Natalie
    October 10, 2014

    I’ve been fascinated with geisha culture since reading Arthur Golden’s book (which is fiction, granted, but still!). Your photographs are gorgeous, and I love how the colors of the tree leaves highlight the rich colors in the geishas’ outfits. 🙂

    Reply
    1. Andi Fisher
      October 11, 2014

      @Natalie, there is tons of history around the geisha culture and I find it fascinating as well!

      Reply
  10. Carly Anderson
    October 10, 2014

    Wow, what a neat experience! And you took such beautiful photos!

    Reply
    1. Andi Fisher
      October 11, 2014

      @Carly, thanks, it is certainly easier with these beautiful subject matter.

      Reply
  11. Chrissy
    October 10, 2014

    Oh my! I just can’t believe how beautiful and proud they look in their attire.

    Reply
    1. Andi Fisher
      October 11, 2014

      @Chrissy, they are so graceful and gracious.

      Reply
  12. Amanda Love
    October 11, 2014

    Thanks for the sharing the background story. I had no idea the difference between a Geisha and a Maiko.

    Reply
    1. Andi Fisher
      October 11, 2014

      @Amanda, it didn’t either before I went and saw them in person, so interesting.

      Reply
  13. kendall
    October 11, 2014

    Awesome photos! They’re beautiful!

    Reply
    1. Andi Fisher
      October 11, 2014

      @Kendall, thank yoU!

      Reply
  14. Lavende & Lemonade
    October 11, 2014

    Beautiful! I love that you “asked” their permission as you took their pictures. I remember thinking it might be cool to get to see a real Geisha up close, but without having any real enthusiasm or expectations…and being overwhelmed with excitement when a pair walked past us. They have such an amazing aura! Great photos

    Reply
    1. Andi Fisher
      October 11, 2014

      @Lavende, thanks I was so pleased to have encounter them as we were definitely not trying to go out of our way to bother them in their neighborhoods like so many others do. They are so incredibly graceful!

      Reply
  15. Fi
    October 11, 2014

    Fabulous pictures, it’s great that you asked permission to take them too, a great respect of their culture.

    Reply
    1. Andi Fisher
      October 11, 2014

      @Fi, thanks, I think that is important. Not always possible, but important to try nonetheless.

      Reply
  16. Joanna Sormunen
    October 11, 2014

    They are amazing pictures! And thank you for the interesting facts about geishas!

    Reply
  17. Jessica Doll
    October 12, 2014

    This is so cool, like really, really cool. I would probably be a little starstruck. Throughout school I studied a bit about the Geisha and Japan and even had an exchange student from there my senior year. I was supposed to go there but the trip was canceled from the war. :\

    Reply
    1. Andi Fisher
      October 12, 2014

      @Jessica, I was definitely shy about approaching them, also wanted to show respect and try to not act like “that” tourist. They are exceptionally beautiful.

      Reply
  18. Haleigh DeRocher
    October 12, 2014

    very interesting and informative post. thank you!

    Reply
  19. Erica @ SimplySweetPrints
    October 12, 2014

    Your photos are so great! 🙂 And what an awesome experience!!

    Reply
  20. kristine foley
    October 14, 2014

    Your pics turned out beautiful! We hope to visit someday to see for ourselves the beauty.

    Reply
    1. Andi Fisher
      October 16, 2014

      @Kristine, I hope you get there soon!

      Reply
  21. Christine
    April 3, 2015

    I dressed up as a geisha for halloween one year when I was little. It was one of my fav costumes!!

    Reply
  22. Corina Ramos
    April 6, 2015

    The ladies are beautiful and the pics are amazing. Thank you for sharing this.

    Reply
  23. Jaclyn Anne
    April 6, 2015

    Your images are beautiful! The Geishas are stunning as well!

    Reply
  24. Robin Rue (@massholemommy)
    April 10, 2015

    No I haven’t seen one, but I think my husband has. He spent 2 weeks in Japan when he was in the military.

    Reply
  25. Eileen
    April 10, 2015

    What an interesting experience! Their costumes are so beautiful and ornate!

    Reply
  26. Stephanie
    April 10, 2015

    I’ve always admired the Geishas. They look like real life porcelain dolls. I have also always been amazed that they have no pimples with all that makeup on all the time!

    Reply
  27. ourfamilyworld
    April 10, 2015

    Those are amazing pictures. I would love to see Geishas in real life. Their costumes are just wonderful

    Reply
  28. Amanda
    April 10, 2015

    Wow, the beauty and artistry of come countries just simply amazes me. Thanks for sharing your experience with this wonderful culture!

    Reply
  29. Chasity Boatman
    April 10, 2015

    These women are stunning. I’ve always loved Japanese culture. I would love to meet a geisha.

    Reply
  30. Nancy
    April 10, 2015

    They are so gorgeous, aren’t they? Such a curiosity to me.

    Reply
  31. Reginia Cordell
    April 10, 2015

    I never knew that there was a difference geishas. I’m happy to leave with the take-away of knowing the difference by the lipstick. You’ve captured great images.

    Reply
  32. Tammilee Tips
    April 10, 2015

    Oh my gosh these are amazing photos that you got! What an amazing chance to run into these women.

    Reply
  33. Rebecca Swenor
    April 11, 2015

    This is an interesting post about the geisha. I did not know anything about them til I had seen something one tv recently about them . This is awesome that you clarified info about them. These are awesome pictures indeed. Thanks for sharing,

    Reply
  34. Nicole Herose Escat
    April 11, 2015

    I love all of pictures, I had no idea about Geisha til found this, this is very interesting post.

    Reply
  35. Rosey
    April 11, 2015

    Geisha must be pronounced the same singular and plural, right? I do love your pictures!

    Reply
  36. HilLesha
    April 12, 2015

    I’ll admit that I truly didn’t know what a geisha was (now I do). I just thought they looked cool! By the way, you took some really wonderful shots.

    Reply
  37. Penny Struebig
    April 12, 2015

    I love hearing about other parts of the world. And your pictures are amazing. You did capture them at the perfect moment.

    Reply
  38. Mama to 5 BLessings
    April 12, 2015

    What great photo’s, you really captured their beauty. Their clothing is amazing.

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to top