The language used in Kyoto’s geiko district is an old Kyoto dialect—and some words may sound bizarre even to a Japanese native. Even if you don’t speak Japanese, you may find it useful to get familiar with the basics of 花街言葉 kagai kotoba, the “geiko districts language”. Use them during your next trip to Kyoto’s Gion!(more…)
The iconic and fascinating look of Kyoto maiko has probably made you want to try it on even once. You can make this dream come true in Kyoto—just visit one of the many makeover studios! You can become a maiko for a couple of hours there, experience the white makeup and heavy kimono outfit, and take great souvenir photos. But which maiko makeover studio is the most reliable? Is it expensive? How does the process look like? Let’s transform into a maiko with me!(more…)
The global pandemic is not giving up. It is affecting the global economy, but some businesses are suffering more than others. Naturally, the world of traditional Japanese entertainment is facing a lot of problems at the moment. Let’s take a look behind the sliding door of a notable teahouse (お茶屋 ochaya) at the most famous geisha district of Kyoto, Gion Kobu. What is their story and how are they dealing with the coronavirus pandemic?(more…)
2020, a highly anticipated year, was expected to be groundbreaking, especially for Japan. The upcoming Olympics were exciting not only for the tourists but also for the business owners who invested a lot in one safe bet: the sports games would make the economy great again. The tourism industry, in particular, was thriving in 2019 indeed and 2020 would only accelerate the boom. Because of it, it might have been secure to assume that tourism is an endless gold mine of Japan. The increasing number of tourism-related services is overwhelming, especially in Kyoto and Gion, where even the famous school for geiko is being transformed into another hotel. But then, the most unexpected and terrifying thing has happened—the coronavirus pandemic, described by the Japanese prime minister as “the biggest crisis since the II World War”. What does it mean for the geisha business?(more…)
If you think of the word geisha you probably automatically think Kyoto. Understandable—Kyoto maiko’s image is one of the most popular symbols of Japan (I even did my own academic study confirming this thesis) and it’s so distinctive that it serves as a pattern of a unified geisha look.
But not far from Kyoto lies a real treasure: a small one-house geisha district in Nara, abundant with culture, traditions, and hope for a bright future. Let’s have a look inside.
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At a tranquil August evening, just a night before a typhoon hit Kyoto, I had a privilege to be entertained by a charming maiko Toshinaho of Miyagawacho district. It is one of my job’s perks when a customer requests to meet a geiko or maiko privately. It was quite difficult to arrange an ozashiki in the middle of Obon holidays, but luckily, while the Gion Kobu artists and local businesses are off, the Miyagawacho geimaiko don’t mind the holidays and keep on working. So young Toshinaho of the Komaya house was chosen to be our star that night.(more…)
The Kamishichiken district, the oldest of five hanamachi in Kyoto, seems to be so tranquil nowadays. The area lost its most famous faces and business suffered heavily. I visit Kamishichiken regularly, but this place resembles a ghost town sometimes, especially in winter and after dark. For me, Kamishichiken has a very peaceful and calming atmosphere, though. It’s certainly the best place to completely relax, far far away from the busy streets of Gion or Pontocho. Kamishichiken is ancient, quiet, and mysterious. And it gained new blood last Autumn!(more…)
Last year was rough. 2018 is marked with tragedies, sorrow, happiness, surprises, big decisions, and even bigger disappointments. Kyoto is still standing strong, though, despite the fact that a kanji for “disaster” is haunting us from the head temple of Kiyomizu complex. Indeed—what I like the most about Kyoto’s culture is its peaceful stability against all odds. But, as this culture greatly relies on weather conditions, sometimes the sacred customs need to be adjusted slightly. For me, personally, the kanji describing last year is “change” and “humbleness”. These two words are imminently related.
Meeting a real maiko in Kyoto might feel like an impossible challenge. Sometimes, geisha spotting in Gion can be a form of an extreme sport. Also, you can be fooled easily by random tourists dressed up in kimono. While I really don’t recommend chasing maiko on the streets, I’m very happy to discover much better ways for meeting a geisha in Kyoto. Open parties with maiko are now a big thing over here. It’s a fun, budget, and unique experience. The world of traditional entertainment has never been closer.
I arrived to Kyoto just in time to attend a farewell party of Kamishichiken’s top maiko, Umechie. During her super long career (exactly six years as a maiko!), she became one of the most recognizable faces in town. Her debut was marked by an NHK TV program which, thanks to YouTube, gained popularity all over the world. Three years later, the fans were anxiously waiting for Umechie’s debut as a fully-fledged geiko. But, sadly, it wasn’t meant to be.