Are you currently planning a stay in the classical capital of Kyoto, Japan, or possibly already staying in Kyoto now? Regardless of your reasons, you likely are already wanting to know more about the legendary historical area known as the “Gion” (phonetically gee-ohn), so make sure you read on to be more properly prepared to understand and enjoy this spectacular cultural gem!
The Gion is the primary home of the “Geiko” (pronounced “Gae-ee-koh”) and also the “Maiko” (pronounced “Mah-ee-koh”) of Japan. It is as a capitol of Japanese cultural beauty and is truly exhibited in these two graceful forms which can often be seen walking to or from a performance in the Gion area. Let’s learn some more about the Maiko and Geiko to understand a little more about this wonderful area in the city of Kyoto.
The Geiko are professional musicians, singers, and entertainers who have graduated from the apprentice training level of Maiko to the graduate status of Geiko. The word Geiko is the actual term for such a person in Kyoto rather than “Geisha” which is a western misunderstanding and actually only applies to the vague equivalent in classical Tokyo.
The differences are all very controversial and way beyond the scope of this article. The Geiko are actually what most people associate with the word Geisha. They are refined, skilled, and graceful artisan entertainers who delight their audience with song, dance, and companionship.
Although they are still adorned with a beautifully styled headdress and traditional kimono attire, they are actually the simplest in dress compared to their apprentices in the area. Their kimono is most likely rather simple in its style, a testament to their skill saying that they need not rely on lavish adornments to maintain the attention of their audience. They and the Maiko both wear white facial makeup and gorgeous red paint on their lips. You may have time to actually see some Geiko perform at Gion Corner, a theater in the Gion area.
These are young and rising starlets of the Kyoto area and they are truly a beautiful sight in the Gion, so one can easily have an instant appreciation of the praise and admiration they receive. They are essentially apprentice Geiko so they are actively studying and training in the arts of Shamisen (a Japanese string instrument), dance, delightful conversation, and other similar ways to entertain their audience. They have floral decoration throughout their attire and also a delicate sprinkle of flowers in a headdress adorning their adorable heads. They wear lavish kimono with beautiful embroidery and even silver or golden threading as an accent to dazzle the eyes. They are as graceful, delicate, and gorgeous human flowers walking through the streets of the Gion to and from their performances with an incredibly adorable gate, so you will hopefully instantly know a Maiko when you see one.
One note that is rather important to state is that the Gion is not just a museum of the past, but an actively functioning area of Kyoto. The Geiko and Maiko are not just there for tourists to photograph. They are actually professional artisan entertainers and when you see them in their full dress they are likely going to or from a performance. Be respectful of this and do not leap out in front of them, impeding their path for a photo opportunity. The photo will likely not be a very happy face and the smile of a beautiful woman is likely what a photographer is truly seeking. If they are not in a hurry, and you ask politely “Soo-mee ma-sen, sha-sheen onay-ga-ee-shee-mas” (Excuse me, photo please.) then you just may get a really nice photo.