One of the Japanese traditions foreign travelers are interested in is geisha, geiko or maiko.
Geisha are recently becoming more popular outside Japan thanks to some movies or novels. What do you think about geisha or maiko?
A geisha is a female professional entertainer who has knowledge of traditional arts, is skilled at verbal repartee and has an ability to keep a secret to win the respect of the customers. Kyoto especially is one of the famous cities to meet geisha, and Kyoto’s geisha prefer the term “geiko.” Synonymous with geiko is a “maiko,” an apprentice geiko, who undergoes a long and strict period of training before stepping up to be a geiko. The unsophisticated but yet dazzling image of maiko, dressed in kimono, with distinctive white makeup and floral decorations flickering in a traditional hairstyle, is the very essence of purity. Maiko entertain guests in tatami rooms with enchanting dance performances and traditional games. They are consummate professionals who revere traditions and offer attentive and dedicated hospitality to customers. The dinner party hosted by maiko provides a chance for a more profound experience of the spirit of hospitality that so characterizes Kyoto.
Maiko are teenage girls featuring a long obi (a broad sash around the kimono waist), tall clogs called “koppori,” and an embroidered collar. When becoming full-fledged geiko, they change the embroidered collar for a white one, a transition known as eri-kae, or collar change.
Geiko and maiko entertain mainly at an ochaya or “geisha house,” where they sing, dance, and play traditional Japanese instruments to entertain their regular customers or patrons. Geiko and maiko entertain in five small districts in Kyoto called “Kagai,” which literally means “Flower Town.” The Kagai areas of Kyoto are respectively called Kamishichiken, Pontocho, Miyagawacho, Gion-higashi and Gion-kobu. These areas are also places where geiko and maiko lead their normal lives and are among the most touristy places in Kyoto for sightseeing in the night time. You can catch sight of them in gorgeous kimono walking through the quaint streets of Gion, the main downtown district in Kyoto. In the Edo Period many ochaya were built in this area. The part of Gion in the south side of Shijo-dori street retains its old-fashioned tranquil charm.
If you are lucky enough to see geisha, there is a rule you have to observe. Today it is becoming more and more popular among foreign travelers to see them, and they are often interrupted when going about their business. When you spot them, you must not follow them or touch their kimono. You are required to respect their privacy. If you want to take a photo, you are advised to ask their permission first.