Kyoto is, without a doubt, the home of all kinds of traditional cultures of Japan. However, the most enchanting and also mysterious treasure of this old capital is “The Kagai”, the district where the culture of Geiko and Maiko still exists.
In Kyoto, Geisha are actually called Geiko (pronounced “gay-ko”). Geiko and Maiko (pronounced “my-ko”) in Kyoto are regarded as professional entertainers who welcome and entertain guests in large and small parties or banquets. To be a Geiko and Maiko, a young woman has to go through hard and strict training of a variety of refinements and traditional Japanese art forms such as singing, musical instruments, tea ceremony, flower arrangement, and most importantly, they need to nourish how to entertain and welcome guests with perfect hospitality.
It is said that there are an estimate of about 100 Geiko and 100 Maiko in Kyoto. Other cities, like Tokyo or Kanazawa also have Geisha, but they don’t usually undergo the strict training that defines Kyoto’s Maiko and Geiko.
There are five Kagai or Hanamachi (Geisha Districts) in Kyoto: Gion Kobu, Gion Higashi, Miyagawacho, Pontocho and Kamishichiken. In these Kagai, there are establishments called Yakata or Okiya where young Maiko or trainees live together under the strict supervision by a female manager called ”Oka-san (lit. Mother).”
It’s not too difficult to get to see a Maiko or a Geiko around Kyoto. The best places to see them are Hanami-koji-dori in Gion (the section between Shijo-dori and Kennin-ji Temple) and at the Shijo-dori end of Pontocho. The best time to see them is around dusk (early evening), especially on weekends and holidays.
You can also attend some dinner shows, see dancing shows at specific theaters, organize a private dinner with a Geiko and a Maiko, etc. Meeting one of Kyoto’s Maiko or Geiko is a magical and memorable experience.
Hanami-Koji-Dori Street in Gion
Pontocho Geisha District
Try to be around Hanami-Koji Street, Between Shijo street and Kennin-Ji Temple, at the end of the afternoon. You’ll usually see a number of Japanese photographers.
Another place is around Pontocho.