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Kyoto’s Geisha

The vast majority of Kyoto's geisha 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.

Geisha have a sorted history, people confuse them with earlier versions of courtesans, but the geisha emerged in the 1750-60s as an occupation and were actually forbidden to provide sexual favors (they weren't supposed to compete with the prostitutes) they were entertainers.

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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 if 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 anyway) 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 for 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):

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
> More gorgeous photos from photographer Peter Macintosh

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

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Geisha in KyotoGeisha in KyotoGeisha in Kyoto

Author Bio: Andi Fisher

Yes, I am a francophile, but after that, I love Japan, especially the food! I have been to Tokyo many times, and spent 2 weeks in Kyoto and a week in Osaka exploring and eating!

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  1. 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,

  2. Michelle Salais says:

    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. 🙂

  3. Brad Bernard says:

    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’

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

  5. 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! 🙂

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

    1. Andi Fisher says:

      @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.

  7. Lisa Oswald says:

    Good information.

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

    1. Andi Fisher says:

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

  9. Carly Anderson says:

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

    1. Andi Fisher says:

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

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

    1. Andi Fisher says:

      @Chrissy, they are so graceful and gracious.

  11. 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. 🙂

    1. Andi Fisher says:

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

  12. Amanda Love says:

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

    1. Andi Fisher says:

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

  13. Lavende & Lemonade says:

    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

    1. Andi Fisher says:

      @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!

  14. Awesome photos! They’re beautiful!

    1. Andi Fisher says:

      @Kendall, thank yoU!

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

    1. Andi Fisher says:

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

  16. Joanna Sormunen says:

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

  17. Jessica Doll says:

    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. :

    1. Andi Fisher says:

      @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.

  18. Haleigh DeRocher says:

    very interesting and informative post. thank you!

  19. Erica @ SimplySweetPrints says:

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

  20. kristine foley says:

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

    1. Andi Fisher says:

      @Kristine, I hope you get there soon!

  21. Christine says:

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

  22. Corina Ramos says:

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

  23. Jaclyn Anne says:

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

  24. Robin Rue (@massholemommy) says:

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

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

  26. Stephanie says:

    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!

  27. ourfamilyworld says:

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

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

  29. Chasity Boatman says:

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

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

  31. Reginia Cordell says:

    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.

  32. Tammilee Tips says:

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

  33. Rebecca Swenor says:

    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,

  34. Nicole Herose Escat says:

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

  35. 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.

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

  37. Penny Struebig says:

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

  38. Mama to 5 BLessings says:

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