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Travelblog Gone with the Wine

Travelblog and lifestyleblog. Life under the Californian sun - Gone with the Wine. Trips, food and wine from all over the world. Solo and family adventures.

Filtering by Tag: Yasaka-Jinja

How I spotted a Geisha in Kyoto

Paula Gaston

When we started to plan our trip to Japan, one thing was very clear to me; I wanted to see a real geisha! But I soon realised that it was easier said than done. I read many articles about geishas and found out that they are almost a disappearing tradition in Japan. This profession doesn't attract young people anymore, and there are only about 200 working geishas in Kyoto. So my chances of seeing one were pretty slim. I felt like my obsession was kind of silly and even a little childish, but we still decided to try. I tried to prepare myself for a disappointment.

A geisha is sort of an Japanese hostess or an entertainer who mostly works at tea houses, but can also be seen at different events. They usually perform dances, play games with guests or serve tea and drinks. Against many believes they are not prostitutes. In the Kyoto area, the geishas are called either geiko or maiko (if it is a young apprentice geisha). Geishas usually have a long training which they start as early as 15 years old. They start as maikos and then graduate to become geikos when they are about 20. You can tell the difference between a maiko and a geiko by the way they dress up, and their decorations and make up. Also many tourists want to try out the geisha costume during their visit to Japan, so if you run into a geisha in a touristy spot in the middle of the day, then you have most likely just seen a tourist. 

I chose our travel dates to Kyoto on purpose for the weekend because I knew that the geishas would be most likely working at least on Saturday nights. We planned to walk around and maybe even have dinner in the famous Gion Geisha District. I read so many articles about where I could spot a geisha, and based on those, geisha hunting was pretty popular among the tourists. Some of the pictures of people chasing them on the streets looked quite horrible honestly, and I didn't want to harass them. Many of the articles mentioned that geishas are usually busy getting to their work, so they wont stop for photos or to chat with tourists. I read somewhere that you could stand and wait by a known geisha school on a street called Hanamikoji Dori, and they would most likely appear at some point. This seemed a little much to me, so as a back up plan I thought that we could see a show with geishas at the Gion Corner Yasaka Hall  cultural center. In this show the geishas perform some dances and a tea ceremony. A few times a year there are also some public events in which geishas participate and you can join in.

On Saturday night, we arrived at the Gion District which was already occupied by the tourists. The tea houses had opened their doors and the atmosphere there was somehow special. We walked around admiring the paper lanterns when suddenly we heard a jingling sound. And just like that, a real geisha walked by us! She disappeared as fast as she had appeared and we didn't have time to do anything. I had seen my first geisha! In the next two hours we saw almost ten maikos on their way to the tea houses, and they all seemed to appear from no where and disappear in a heart beat. It was magical! But unfortunately, we also saw some tourists who were running after them or standing in their way while taking pictures. We mostly stood behind others, but at least my husband was able to get a couple nice videos of them.  

When we left Gion District we were standing at a traffic light with a maiko. She seemed to like our little daughter who was so fascinated by the geishas. They smiled at each other and waved. This maiko was maybe on her way to work or was waiting for a ride. At first I didn't notice a man standing next to her who might of been a client of hers. I have heard that you should not take pictures of geishas with their clients, so I blurred his face. Although I have no idea if this was the case or if they were standing there together. 

Even my husband was intrigued by the atmosphere at the Gion District that he suggested we should go back the next day. We walked around looking for a dinner spot, and then stopped in some of the souvenir shops and at Yasaka-Jinja Shrine. I already wrote something about it earlier. This time we were not lucky to see geishas, but we did enjoy our evening stroll. We also visited Pontocho District one night, which is another geisha district in Kyoto. No geishas there either! But Pontocho was lovely with it's narrow little alleys and tea houses. Overall we felt very lucky that we happened to see so many geishas on that one night. We were definitely in the right spot at the right time!

If you happen to see a geisha, don't forget that they are in a hurry to get to work. They must be tired of big tourist groups chasing them around and getting in their personal space. Our special vacation time in Japan is their everyday life. Even the sign in the Gion Geisha District tells us that some people must have forgotten that. 

MY TIPS FOR KYOTO IF YOU WANT TO SPOT A GEISHA

  • The easiest way is to purchase a ticket to a cultural show in Yasaka Hall Gion Corner. They cost about $30 for adults, and they have discounts for kids and students. So not too expensive!

  • There are companies who sell a dinner package where you can meet a geisha and take pictures with her. Prices might be a little high but hey, it's a once in a life time experience!

  • The best places to spot a geisha otherwise are the Gion Geisha District (especially the main street; Hanamikoji Dori) or Pontoncho.

  • Geishas arrive at the tea houses after sunset. We saw geishas right before 6 pm and then more of them right before 7 pm.

  • The best days are most likely on the weekends, especially Saturday evening when many gatherings and parties are arranged.

5 Best Memories from Kyoto, Japan

Paula Gaston

On our fourth travel day to Japan we headed from Tokyo to Kyoto by bullet train. From all the places we saw on our trip, I think that Kyoto really stayed in our hearts. It was different than what we had imagined, but I really understand now why everyone told us to visit there. We were there in November, so we saw some amazing fall colours at the same time that we saw beautiful buildings and views.

There are about 1.5 million people living in Kyoto, and they have 17 UNESCO World Heritage Sites there. So there is so much to do and see in this city. Kyoto was the capital of Japan until 1868, and they are now trying to protect all those historical neighbourhoods. Our best memories from Kyoto are:

GION GEISHA DISTRICT

One of the coolest things we did in Japan was a visit to the Gion Geisha District in Kyoto. Even though there are so many tourists in these small alleys, you can still sense the history there. We were not sure if we would be able to see geishas, since I had read that you are extremely lucky if you see one on your trip. But we happened to be in the right place at the right time, and in a short while we saw almost ten geishas on their way to work. I was so thrilled! Definitely one of my bucket list items. I will tell you more about geishas in a later post in the future. 

There are several good restaurants and tea houses in the Gion Geisha District. But it seemed to us that they were always full; the same with the little stores close by. But this area has a lot of souvenir shops and sweets shops if that is what you are looking for. We also saw many kimono rental shops where you can rent a kimono for a day. 

We also visited another geisha district called Pontocho. We did not see any geishas there but it was a lovely place for the evening stroll. The little alleys were full of restaurants and tea houses. 

FUSHIMI-INARI-TAISHA
 

Fushimi-Inari-Taisha is not part of the UNESCO World Heritage List, but in my opinion, is one of the best sights in Kyoto if not the best. It is a big shrine located at Inari mountain and you can hike up by following a "torii" alley. Torii is a Japanese gate used usually at shinto shrines. The hike up will take about two or three hours, but you can always turn back after an hour and the road will lead you back to the shrine. During your hike you will see many smaller shrines which are guarded by foxes. The foxes are said to be the messengers of Inari. 

The map will show you the hiking trail up the Inari mountain. 

The map will show you the hiking trail up the Inari mountain. 

Also the buildings at the shrine on the bottom of the trail are beautiful. Fushimi-Inari is a very popular site and there is always a lot of tourists there. If possible, you should plan your visit on a weekday and go as early as you can. The higher you hike, the less people you will see. Visiting Fushimi-Inari is free of charge.  

KINKAKU-JI TEMPLE AKA THE GOLDEN PAVILION
 

On our next day in Kyoto, we purchased tickets to the K´Loop bus. It drives around Kyoto and stops at UNESCO World Heritage Sites and a few other places too. We soon discovered that it was not the best choice for us, since the bus did not drive back to our hotel in the afternoon. We still used the bus to go to Kinkaku-Ji aka the Golden Pavilion, and on from there.

The Golden Pavilion is one of the best sights in Kyoto. Do not leave without seeing it! Already at the gate we noticed how many tourists were there, and to see the Kinkaku-Ji, you have to stand by a little pond with all the other people. It got very crowded and there were security officers to guide people to the right places. It kind of broke the atmosphere of this beautiful place. But the view was worth it and the rest of the park didn't seem so crowded. I would recommend visiting here early in the morning and during the week.

The Golden Pavilion was built in 1397 but the original building was destroyed by a fire. The building today has three storeys and it was built in 1955. Two upper floors are covered with pure gold leaf. The building is used to restore the remains of a Buddha. 

NIJO-JO CASTLE

Nijo Castle was the first UNESCO World Heritage Site we saw in Kyoto. That is because our hotel, Guest House Rinn Nijo Castle was located right next to it. The castle was built in 1626, and it has suffered under several fires and typhoons. It has been open to the public since 1939.

After you purchase a ticket you will be able to visit the castle and its gardens. When going inside the palace, you will have to remove your shoes, so don´t forget to bring socks! There is no furniture inside the palaces, and photography is not allowed, but it is still an interesting tour. In Ninomaru Palace you will notice something special; the wooden floors make a sound almost like birds chirping when you walk on it. It is said that the purpose of this sound was to warn the residents of intruders and assassins. There is a big beautiful garden in Nijo Castle and you will be able to feed carp that live in the garden pond.

A little video of Nijo Castle. 

When you tour around the castles and shrines on weekends, you will most likely spot a wedding ceremony somewhere. 

When you tour around the castles and shrines on weekends, you will most likely spot a wedding ceremony somewhere. 

YASAKA-JINJA

This shrine is easy to visit at the same time you visit the Gion Geisha District since it is very close by. There are hundreds of lanterns that are lit in the evenings, so I would recommend visiting after sunset. You can also access Maruyama Park from here which is a popular site for cherry blossoms in the spring time. There are many souvenir and street food sellers in these little alleys. 

We could have stayed in Kyoto for longer. We felt like we missed many interesting places since we wanted to move on to our next destination. We would have at least visited the Silver Pavillion, Arashiyama Bamboo Forest and Fushimi Sake District. I had imagined that Kyoto was a smaller and more compact city where the sites are pretty close to each other, but it took a lot of time to move around in the city. We also ended up walking a lot, so every once in a while we needed a little bit of rest. 

Kyoto really is an amazing city!