Kyoto has such a rich history of beauty and ritual, as it used to be the capital of Japan over one and a half centuries ago. This is the town where the geiko or geisha profession originated. In the mid-17thcentury, the elite tea houses trained young women to serve a particular type of tea only found in this region. These women soon began entertain guests with other traditional arts such as court dances or playing traditional instruments like the shamisen.
Geiko ladies can still be found in Kyoto today. They continue to give the same high class performances to professionals as they have done for hundreds of years. In keeping with historic traditions, these geikos live and work in the town’s entertainment district. There are still many Geiko tea houses that continue the original hosting duties that the geikos have become famous for.
The main geiko entertainment district in Kyoto is known as Gion. It has been split into two communities: Gion Kobu and Gion Higashi. Both have been declared an area of natural history preservation. This means that efforts have been put i to keeping the houses and buildings in the area the same as they have been when Kyoto was the capital in the Edo Period.
There are three main attractions of Gion that highlight the presence of the geikos that work there. The first of course is the teahouses that have become forever linked to these lady entertainers. Many are very exclusive, though visitors and tourists can organise a reservation through the concierge at their Kyoto hotel. If you can arrange a stay at a traditional Kyoto inn house like Hiiragiya or Tawaraya, they have special packages where geikos will host a meal for you and your family or friends.
Another location is the traditional theatres in the Gion district. Though some only perform in Japanese, some do have English brochures that describe the finer details in the art demonstrated by the geikos and maikos. The most popular for tourists is Gion Corner. The geikos and maikos there will demonstrate a cultural activity such as playing a traditional instrument, a play or even a delicate flower arrangement. At the end of the performance, a group of maiko will perform a time-honoured dance. Earphone guides are available so you can appreciate these pieces fully.
The final setting in Kyoto where you can see the famous geikos is during annual festivals. Geikos and maikos perform traditional dances during certain celebrations at a set location. The biggest is the Miyako Odori, which translates to ‘The Dance of the Old Capital’. This is performed at the Kaburenjo Theatre, and has been performed every April for the cherry blossom season since 1873. This is quite popular so it is important to book seats quickly if you wish to attend. There is a smaller dance during November called the Gion Odori. This is celebrating the leaves changing for autumn, though there are fewer performances at the Kaburenjo Theatre.
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