Living The Fantasy...Geisha For A Day #11

We were in Kyoto, Japan last month visiting Kiyomizu-dera Templea magnificent Buddhist temple registered on the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage list and one of the "must see" Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto. 

As we were climbing the steps to the brilliant orange Deva gate it was hard not to get swept into the action taking place in front of us. It was geisha selfie time.

There are not to many occasions where you would catch me taking photos of other tourists but on this occasion I could not resist. Where else would you see tourists living the fantasy, dressed as Japanese geisha's for the day…and taking a group selfie? 

I learned a few things about geisha's on this trip. Firstly, they still exist. I thought it was a tradition that was long forgotten but apparently, not so in Kyoto, the birthplace of geisha culture. If you are looking to do a bit of geisha spotting, Gion, a historic district of Kyoto is the place to go. 

Let me back up a bit. First off, seeing a geisha ( also known as geiko and geigi) is a rarity and it mostly occurs in the early evening hours as they make their way to work at the local tea house (ochaya) where they entertain guests (mostly male) by serving tea, playing traditional Japanese music, dancing, playing geisha games, make polite conversation and a host of other activities. 

Interestingly, before women are selected for the honour of being a geisha, they must first train as a maiko. A position that requires up to five years of rigorous training in traditional Japanese arts, such as tea ceremony, flower arranging, Japanese traditional music and dance. I get exhausted just thinking about it.

Maiko training starts as young as 15 years of age with the hopes of becoming a full-fledged geisha's after the age of 20..if and only if they prove themselves to be proficient in the art and service areas mentioned above. 

If you are around Gion looking for a snap of a geisha than you need to know the difference between the two. Maiko will often have decorations like flowers in their hair, geisha's will not. The maiko's kimono belt (obi) is long and falls to the full length of the kimono. The geisha belt is square shaped and sits firmly at on her back. Big difference! 

Their make-up and the way they carry themselves is a dead giveaway that you are photographing the real deal…they have a regal air about them. They are working and swiftly move along (as quickly as a kimono will allow) to where ever they need to go. If they stop for photos and are generally hanging about, soaking in the paparazzi like atmosphere, chances are they are tourists. Many are from Hong Kong, Tokyo and Taiwan. 

Dressing up as a geisha or maiko for the day is big business. A tourist arriving to Kyoto can find a studio that will provide the full geisha and maiko transformations including make-up, hairstyling and ornamental kimonos. It is not uncommon to see geisha tourists walking the streets of Gion with a trailing photographer taking a series of pre-arranged glamour shots.

If you plan to travel to Kyoto and would like to get in on the action, try Geisha Experience-Maiko Henshin.  You will be offered a choice of plans.. indoor studio shoot, strolling shoot, outdoor shoot, head shop special, white kimono, school trip, child maiko and for the men..the samurai shoot. I am still trying to imagine Mr. H dressed as a samurai. ;)

Price vary from 4,600 yen (USD $40.00) for the School Trip Plan to 48,000 yen (USD $400.00) for the White Kimono Plan. 

Based on what I was seeing around is a lot of fun.

I did my own trailing and this is what I managed to shoot of the "geisha-for a day" crowd...

I just loved the girls below…
they were in for a good time 
and they certainly had it.

The ones who were dressed for the day 
seemed to be having all the fun.

If you would like to learn more about the geisha
experience…you can refer to the following links.

As for the original point of the visit,
it was amazing!

More on that in a future post!

With that I say 
ARIGATO (thank you)
OYASUMINASAI (good night)
BAI BAI (bye)

Signing off…with post #11
of the 28 Day Writing Challenge
From Shangri-La
Hong Kong time

All photos above taken by me
while playing trailing photographer
in Kyoto.


  1. Jeanne, your photos of the visit to Kyoto are so amazing - I'm really loving them. My only close encounter with a true geisha was in Niigata - she welcomed us at the gangway of our expedition ship before we sailed - I thought her so beautiful up close. Don't recall seeing tourists dressed this way in Tokyo, but still enjoyed the traditional dress of some locals. Especially colorful and wonderful were the large groups of pre-school children all clothed in matching 'daycare outfits' and playing/exercising together in public squares parks. Such a beautiful country Japan - saw much of it but would like to return some day.

    Wish you and Mr. H had dressed up! Enjoy each day - travel as we know is so inspiring and educational. Thanks for all you shared in this great post.
    Hugs, Mary

  2. You are very welcome Mary..I would love to go to Niigata one day. We enjoyed our time in Kyoto and look forward to going back. We have a plan…not so sure dressing up will be one of them but saying that…Mr. H as a samurai warrior would be a sight to remember! All the best Mary..xx

  3. This brings back wonderful memories from our trip to Kyoto last fall...the highlight was when our guide took us to Gion and taught us about the Geikos and Maikos. We didn't spot any "real ones" but I enjoyed taking pictures of the "geishas for the day" as well.

    I am green with envy of your time in Hong Kong - we fell in love with it there (as well as Japan). Our son is thinking of doing a post grad year there now - we already told him we would come for an extended visit this time!

    Your 28 day writing challenge is a good thing for me - I really enjoy reading your posts. Safe travels, Jeanne...I hope you packed your snow boots! xoxo

    1. Thanks so much Sandy…and I agree, there is much to love in Hong Kong and Japan..actually...let's throw all of Asia into that as well. ;) Thanks for keeping up with my posts, much appreciated! As for those snow boots…I need to buy some when I arrive. Not an easy thing to find around Saigon and it has been years…15 years, since I have been around serious snow (London doesn't count). ;) All the best from HK… xx

  4. Enjoyed my brief but very fun trip to Japan years ago as a guest of Japan Airline. Traveling with a group who made travel plans for the company execs, we were driven in our own personal van and tour guide for a day-trip to Kyoto. We traveled from Osaka to Tokyo on the Shinkansen (sp?) and were feted royally at the big hotel in Tokyo designed by Frank Lloyd Wright (its name escapes me at the moment). One of the things I remember most about Japan was how clean the country was. Arigato, Jeanne, for helping us relive our travel adventures of yore.

    1. You are very welcome Judy! Your trip sounds like a fun one…you do get around! :)

  5. How beautiful.........I am fascinated with everything from Asia..............Thanks for all you share.
    Love Jeanne♥

    1. Thank you Jeanne…sending you warm wishes from HK… :)

  6. I would love to host a women's tea in a Kimono(though not the sandals!).

    1. That sounds like fun Susan…just imagining the tea could have so much fun with that theme. ;)

  7. my son is a roving ambassador for Japanese scotch + will send this to him + he goes to Japan quite a

    1. That sounds like a great position Peggy…he must enjoy it. I hope he spoils his mother with treats from Japan, there are so many wonderful things to choose from. xx

  8. So much beauty here!!!! LOVE the artistry of the fabrics and beautiful little packages, these girls!

    1. You raise a good point Becky, the fabrics and wrapping are exceptional in Japan. Presentation is everything, some of the most beautiful I have ever seen…especially with food. :)

  9. So fascinating. What an odd cultural pocket, huh? Dressing up as geishas even when they still exist? Maybe cowboys are the American equivalent?

  10. Hi Jeanne, wow the kimonos are quite spectacular aren't they? I can understand the appeal of being a geisha, even though I'm sure to modern girls it seems quite old-fashioned. It seems like a beautiful, delicate, nuanced and feminine life. xo, N.


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