Rare Real Geisha Sighting in Kyoto

Geishas… if you’re like me, I am very curious about them and fancied a chance to be up-close with one.

So while planning our Kyoto itinerary, I made sure that I get to experience Kyoto of old and new. Our first two nights in Japan were spent in Kyoto before heading to Takayama and Shirakawa-go. After these, we went back to Kyoto to explore the city some more and stayed for another two nights. In one of those nights, we decided to eat at a place recommended by the staff at our inn. We borrowed their bikes and off we went to eat a very affordable teshoku meal. I ordered a set of chicken karaage. After dinner, we headed to Gion hoping to see Kyoto’s geisha or geiko, as they are known locally.

Meeting a Real Geisha

‘Gei’ means art and ‘sha’ means person. The word ‘geisha’ means, a person learned in the arts, or more accurately, a woman learned in the arts. Seeing a real geisha in Kyoto is very difficult because there are only a few of them. We traveled in February, not really a time for festivals. Kyoto’s geisha usually perform on the stage during Gion Festival in summer. Without a festival in cold February, our best bet is catching them on the streets of Gion in between private performances.

The Geisha in front of us
The Geisha in front of us

The Chase

Riding our bikes, armed only with our mobile phones, instant cameras, and an unbelievable resolve to get close to a real geisha, we hoped for the best. And guess what?

We got the best. Our serendipitous encounter with the geisha’s driver feels like we were the best straw in a barn full of hay. When the driver saw us beating the crowds, (I think to him, we looked the most desperate) he told us where his boss was, (the geisha) and which door she’ll be using as exit. About a few meters from the restaurants’ back door, we saw her limousine. In my mind, this was an act of good will on his part even though it may appear like he was squealing his boss’ whereabouts. In whatever etiquette he decided to break, I am glad because we were able to get close to a real geisha as a result. Ayee hee hee.

The Geisha her back to us
The Geisha her back to us

After tens of blurred shots, I was able to capture this video and get up close.

I console myself that she’s busy and hurriedly wants to get away from us. And we wanted to be respectful. After all, this looks like a private time for her. I think this is already asking more from her since we kinda ambushed her. But all in all, this is a great encounter I will always remember when thinking about Kyoto.

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