Finding the Ever-Elusive Geisha in Kyoto

  • When people think of Japan, one of the first things that comes to mind for a lot of people is of course Geisha. You know, the famously elegant Japanese ladies with their painted faces and flowing Kimonos. But many people don’t know where to look for them once they get to Japan.

    In most of Japan they are very rare and your best chance of finding a Geisha is to head to Kyoto. In the old capital there is still plenty of Geisha to be seen if you look in the right place, or if you use the local Kyoto dialect, lots of Geiko. The Higashiyama district of Kyoto is where the majority of the Geisha houses are to be found and most of the places they work at are along a number of traditional looking streets nearby. Also worth knowing is that there will be 2 different groups to look out for. The Geiko themselves will have the famous white painted face but are often dressed quite simply compared to what many people would imagine when thinking of a Geisha. The ones who are dressed in the truly elaborate Kimonos with the bigger and more eye-catching hair pieces are actually known as “maiko” and are the apprentice Geisha.


    One of the most famous of the streets you’ll find Geisha on is Ponto-cho alley between Shijo and Sanjo streets, in April and May during the Kamogawa odori in particular is a great time to see them along this street as there are a number of performances in the theatre to the North end of the street and you see far more of both the maiko and geiko on Ponto-cho than usual.

    Another good spot to try and see both Geiko and Maiko is just one street away from Kawabata dori, the main road running along the east side of the Kamogawa river. Going south from Gion-shijo station, when you reach the 7-11 convenience store turn left and you’ll see a more traditional looking street just across the road on your right. Follow this down and you’ll soon feel like you’ve stepped back in time as you see the traditional inns and restaurants. Walking along this street in the evening you’ll be bound to find maiko and geiko eventually! You’ll sometimes notice Japanese men standing around in the streets with their big cameras waiting to see them moving from one job to another so keep your eyes open so you don’t miss them!


    Author’s photo

    One note though is that taking pictures is fine though it’s considered quite rude to ask them to stop for a photograph as if they are out and working they are probably on a very tight schedule and need to get to their next job!

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    Geisha or Maiko? Know the Difference!