4 Essential Spots to Catch a Glimpse of a Geisha

by Luke - TripleLights travel specialist

If you are looking to catch a glimpse of the elegence that is a Japanese geisha, then we have selected some popular areas that might give you such an opportunity on your trip to Japan. Whether you are sightseeing in Tokyo or Kyoto, the following four places are your best bet to see these female entertainers:

Ponto-cho

4 Essential Spots to Catch a Glimpse of a Geisha

(image by flickr.com)

There is an unusual attraction which charms the hearts of people visiting Kyoto. When it comes to Kyoto, the many historical buildings which include the temples and shrines, and the local cuisine of Kyoto which is at the center of Japanese cooking are famous. On top of that, there is the attraction of the machiya townhouses with their calm and sophisticated atmosphere. Kyoto machiya are wooden houses of traditional construction which serve as residential/commercial space only found in this city. There have been various efforts in preserving this distinctly Kyoto scenery throughout the area, and Ponto-cho is that commercial district lined with Kyoto machiya. Ponto-cho, which is located in Nakagyo Ward of Kyoto, consists of very narrow stone-paved streets with restaurants, bars and establishments of long standing for geisha entertainment. The area goes alongside the Kamo River and there are machiya on both sides of the river which gives the entertainment quarter a quiet and graceful elegance. It can be enjoyed even during the day, but Ponto-cho is recommended especially at night. The scene of the machiya warmly illuminated by the soft lighting is quite the Kyoto-esque view. You may even meet up with maiko or geisha in their beautiful kimono. There are a lot of establishments which are hard to enter but since there are also very approachable restaurants and bars, please experience the atmosphere of Ponto-cho. In summer, the noryo yuka (a place to have a meal while enjoying the evening cool along a river) alongside the Kamo River is especially recommended.

There is a huge building that stands out at the northern edge of Ponto-cho. This is the Ponto-cho Kaburen-jo Theater which was built in 1927. It is there that dancing performances are held, and you can enjoy the beautiful and brilliant dancing of the Kamogawa Odori which first began as a prayer for the prosperity of Kyoto. In addition, you can also attend a tea ceremony although prior reservations are necessary.

Admission: Various

Guidebook from Planetyze about Ponto-cho
Reviews from TripAdvisor about Ponto-cho
Tours of Ponto-cho

Yasaka Shrine

4 Essential Spots to Catch a Glimpse of a Geisha

(image by flickr.com)

Yasaka Shrine was established in 656, approximately 150 years before the transfer of the capital to Kyoto. Affectionately called Gion-san, it can be visited from a walk through Hanamachi. Its guardian deity is known as Susano Kushi-inada Hime Yahashiranomiko-kami. Revered from all over Japan as the capital underwent development, even today, it has 3000 branch shrines all over the nation. The Gion Festival which is the great annual summer festival for Kyoto which lasts for almost a month from July 1st is the festival of Yasaka Shrine. It was begun in 869 as a way to ward off an epidemic. During the festival, there is a custom in which parishioners are not allowed to eat any cucumbers, the reason being that the cut end of the cucumber resembles the crest forYasaka Shrine which is greatly revered.

Facing away from Gion, you will come across the beautiful west roumon gate painted in vermillion. Many tourists enter the shrine through this gate but it’s actually not the front entrance. If you face the west roumon gate and climb up the slope to your right for a bit, there will be a stone torii gate right in front of you. The south roumon gate that is beyond it is the actual main entrance. Once you have cleansed your hands and mouth at the chozuya well on the way to the shrine, you will reach the main shrine. And then when you have made your prayers to ward off evil and hope for good health and business prosperity, don’t forget to stop by Okuninushi Shrine near the main shrine. It’s known for good luck in matchmaking.

Make your way out of the shrine through the west roumon gate. But before that, make your way to Utsukushigozensha to the right of the main shrine. For people in the know, it is the place of the god of beauty where maiko and geisha visit. It is said that if you drink the Gion spring water and sacred water at the east of the main shrine and then visit Utsukushigozensha, you will gain in beauty. In front of the shrine, there is also beauty water which is supposed to be good for the skin. Apply 2 or 3 drops to your face and then pray. It is said that for the maiko who pray atYasaka Shrine, they gain a special power for success in life. Those secrets may be hidden in these two types of water.

Admission: Free

Guidebook from Planetyze about Yasaka Shrine
Reviews from TripAdvisor about Yasaka Shrine
Tours of Yasaka Shrine

Gion 

4 Essential Spots to Catch a Glimpse of a Geisha

(image by flickr.com)

If you say “Kyoto-esque,”many tourists probably imagine maiko and geisha. Even though the figure of a geisha dressed in kimono dancing a traditional dance for a gathering in a tatami-roomed tea house can often be seen in movies and elsewhere, it is said that this image is uniquely representative of Kyoto.Gion preserves that image, and, even within Kyoto, is itself a popular sightseeing destination. To begin with, try walking down Gion’s main avenue, Hanamikoji Street. Hanamikoji runs from Kenninn-ji temple to the heart of Kyoto’s Shijo Street. The street is lined on both sides by ochaya, or “tea houses”, sweet shops, restaurants, and more.  Maiko and geisha perform dances at the Gion Kobu Kaburenjo Theater.  Gion can be enjoyed simply by exploring its streets on easy walks, but Gion Corner, which is next door to the Gion Kobu Kaburenjo Theater, is also recommended. Here, you can appreciate Japanese traditional arts such as flower arrangement and tea ceremony, as well as the traditional Kyoto dance, the Kyo-mai, danced by maiko. 

Try walking down Shimbashi Dori to the area called Gion Shirakawa overlooking the Shirakawa Canal.  Gion Shirakawa has charming cobblestone streets lined by tea houses called ochaya, to which geisha and maiko come and go.In these streets where the ochaya are, the figures of maiko here and there can be seen.The streets at night, too, the warm glow of the restaurant’s lights give off a different atmosphere and truly old-style Kyoto scenes can be enjoyed.  In particular, the area in the heart of Shimbashi Street, called Gion Shimbashi, has been designated and Important National Historical Building Preservation District.  

Kyoto’s premier seasonal festival, the Gion Matsuri, is unforgettable. The Gion Matsuri runs every year from July 1st for one month, with religious celebrations at Yasaka Shrine in Gion.In the Heian Period, when Kyoto was the capital and known as “Heian-kyo,” plague frequently afflicted the city.The Gion Matsuri began with ritual music and dancing and carrying decorated Yamaboko floats, paraded on foot through the neighborhood, in order to overcome the plague gods. For more than 1,000 years, ever since the time when Kyoto was known as Heiyan-kyo, the people of Kyoto have preserved this traditional event. Many tourists and locals flock to see the gorgeously decorated Yamaboko floats, particularly the Yoiyama Parade, which takes place in the middle of July (the Yamaboko floats are decorated on streets such as Shijo Street and Karasuma Street).The tradition of decorating these Yamaboko floats has been designated as UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage, and, even for Kyoto, it is the festival that sees the largest crowds.

Admission: Free

Guidebook from Planetyze about Gion
Reviews from TripAdvisor about Gion
Tours of Gion

Kagurazaka

4 Essential Spots to Catch a Glimpse of a Geisha

(image by flickr.com)

The area once had that background of being a lively geisha district of old, and even now it is a unique neighborhood that hints at a Japanese chic and gaiety. Recently, a lot of foreigners have come to live in the area, and a certain liveliness has risen with the younger generations coming to visit. Leaving the main avenue and going into the side streets, there is the scenery of the stone pavements along with the classy ryotei restaurants hidden away here and there. The streets are just like a maze, and it’s fun to take a walk through the winding alleys with the basking cats, the seasonal blossoms at the front of the residences and the scattered temples and shrines. 

Having said that, there are no major landmarks in Kagurazaka including any tall towers. However, it’s enjoyable enough to look out for the inerasable reminders of that old entertainment quarter while walking, dining and relaxing in an area that has changed over time. 

Kagurazaka was once an old entertainment quarter that was the most brilliant and liveliest in Tokyo of the early 20th century during the Taisho Era. Following the 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake, merchants started coming over from Nihonbashi and Ginza, and the area became filled with night shops with the slopes becoming shopping streets. It was also called The Town of Writers as the old area also became popular with authors and men of letters. In recent years, the former liveliness of Kagurazaka has faded with new shops and store chains popping up, and with the construction of condos, that old elegance has become lost, but even now, Kagurazaka still has 5 ryotei restaurants and 25 geisha to keep on the tradition of the entertainment quarter. And the fact that the flavor of that old geisha district has been retained with the ryotei on those stone-paved roads makes Kagurazaka an extremely precious commodity as the only neighborhood of its type in Japan. 

When it comes to geisha entertainment at the ryotei, there is an area rule that no first-time customers are allowed without an introduction, so it is hard to enter these places right off the street. However, there is a deeply-rooted reputation of Kagurazaka being “a town of tastes” based on the old tradition of hospitality. It’s not just the venerable Japanese restaurants, but also the newly-opened restaurants serving French, Italian and other cuisines, cafes with their own character and multi-ethnic eateries that have made the Kagurazaka of today famous as a gourmet heaven. It is a surprise that the tiny area which has its restaurants packed in together has reached a level in which 17 of them have received one star each on the Michelin guide. The prices vary from high-class restaurants to reasonable bistros. If one is asked about what to do in Kagurazaka, then “Have something delicious” is the suggested response.

Admission: Free

Guidebook from Planetyze about Kagurazaka
Reviews from TripAdvisor about Kagurazaka
Tours of Kagurazaka

 

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