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Visitors to Kyoto, Japan, may spot women clad in kimonos, donning a shimada (wig) and wearing a full face of makeup. These geisha, often referred to as geiko (if over 20 years old), are trained in the art of traditional Japanese entertainment and hostessing. Kyoto has five geiko districts that are home to an estimated 73 maiko (younger apprentices) and 186 geiko.
Tomitae is a geiko living in the Gion Higashi district of Kyoto. Here’s what she wants visitors to know about her city.
My favorite part about living in Kyoto is:The number of historical landscapes and sites that are accessible here. In my district, I am near Yasaka Shrine, Maruyama Park, Gion Shirakawa Street and Chion-in Temple, for example.
How can tourists learn about Japanese culture?By attending the many festivals and events in the city. If visitors want to have an experience with a geiko or a maiko, they can make reservations in advance.
Some of my favorite things to do in Kyoto are:Visiting the many alleyways in my district. I enjoy The Philosopher’s Walk (a path alongside a canal), where I go on my days off to enjoy the flowers and traditional architecture.
The best place to have a meal in Kyoto is:Gion Tokiwa, an udon restaurant. Order oyakodon (a chicken and egg rice bowl) with noodles.
What I wish foreigners knew about geiko culture is:That we are not just beautiful women. We have studied and continuously devoted ourselves to traditional performing arts for years. Most mornings, we go to a special performing arts school and study the shamisen (a three-stringed instrument), the Japanese flute, the Japanese drum, traditional dance, tea ceremony rituals and more.
When tourists see a geiko, proper etiquette dictates: That they refrain from taking photos of us as we walk. We are usually with a guest, and we worry about privacy. We may be in a hurry, so we ask that tourists please do not stop us or coerce us into taking photos with them. Also, please do not grab us by our kimono sleeves.
(*Note: This interview has been translated and edited for clarity.)
The DetailsKyoto City Tourist Associationwww.kyoto.travel