Thursday, October 1, 2009


There are two kinds of geisha sightings in Kyoto. You can see fake geisha and maiko (geisha apprentices) which are really tourists dressed up and then get their picture taken. And then there are real geisha sightings. If you see one in the middle of the afternoon wandering around a park or temple with a photographer...tourist. If you see one quickly walking down the Hanamachi in the teahouse district of Gion around 5 or 5:30 on the way to an appointment...real maiko. See one in a taxi in Gion...real geisha. Looks like it's not really her hair but possibly a wig...tourist.

Unless you are my dad and then every maiko you saw in Kyoto was very really real.

Kristin and I spotted some true maiko while in Kyoto. We showed up in the right neighborhood at about the right time but we weren't having much luck other than a few geisha in taxis until we noticed an American girl and her Japanese host-mom standing in the same spot that we had seen them in 20 minutes earlier. We hung around for another 5 minutes or so and spotted our first maiko on her way to a tea house. When the host-mom took her exchange student down the way to wait at a different spot, we followed. And were rewarded with seeing two more maiko.

Apparently, you have to walk as an apprentice maiko but once you graduate to geisha you can take a cab. That's one way to tell a geisha from a maiko. Another difference is the red in the maiko's hair and her collar. It signifies that she is still in training. The sleeves of her dress are a little longer, but with the geisha in the taxis it was hard to make out the difference.

Overall this was one of my favorite days of our trip. We hiked Fushimi Inari in the morning, stumbled across the Dragon Festival at Kiyomizu Dera in the afternoon (a separate post coming soon,) and spotted maiko in the evening, finishing the day with my favorite Japanese meal ever - sukiyaki.

Spotted in Gion along Hanamachi.

Look at her hand and how elegant she pats her hair.

Doesn't she look young?




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