Kyoto’s Gion district, a 15-minute drive from Four Seasons Hotel Kyoto, is one of the few areas where spotting these women in their exquisite kimonos is less of a rarity. You might see them walking in pairs between the okiya (geisha house) and the ochaya (tea house) to preside over a dinner meeting.
Delight your senses with a Kyoto-style kaiseki dinner sampling a multitude of small dishes highlighting the season’s best ingredients. As you enjoy your meal, Geiko and Maiko host you with their best performances, some of which accompanied by a shamisen playing traditional music. Fun ensues with the rest of the evening dedicated to old drinking games and private conversations with both Geiko and Maiko. Ozashiki Asobi is a definite must when visiting Kyoto!
The enigmatic charm of Geishas, or Geiko and Maiko as they are called in Kyoto, is known the around the world, but a first-hand experience is elusive to most. Enjoy a memorable evening of traditional entertainment with Geiko and Maiko in nearby Hanamachi, “flower towns,” in the city.
Part diplomat, part entertainer, part cultural preservationist, the geiko (the maiko is her apprentice) is the product of up to five years of training. “Geisha” translates best as “performing artist,” and her studies cover etiquette, all forms of Japanese music, dance, games, flower arranging, the tea ceremony, and the fine art of conversation. In short, she is the perfect hostess.
How can you tell a geiko from a maiko? Look for subtle differences in attire, from head to toe. Here are a few.
First, the geiko will be wearing a stylized wig, while the maikowears her own long hair, elaborately dressed with decorative pins.
Next, look at the neckline of her kimono. A geiko’s under-collar is pure white, while a maiko’s will be red, either plain or patterned.
Another difference is in the obi, or the sash around her waist. The ends draping behind the geiko’s obi will be shorter than those of her apprentice – as will the height of the wooden shoes she wears.
It’s still possible to experience dinner with a geiko, but it requires an introduction from a trusted source. Four Seasons Hotel Kyoto would be pleased to make arrangements.
And, if you do happen to meet a geiko or maiko in the street, please be as gracious as she would be.
Kyoto, Japan’s former Imperial capital with more than one thousand years of exquisitely preserved history is home to two thousand temples and shrines, complete with authentic Japanese gardens and a kaleidoscope of festivals, ceremonies and rituals year-round. Seventeen are UNESCO World Heritage Sites, living evidence of golden age Japan. Yet, the city is also modern, pulsing with up-to-the-moment arts, design and culture.
Temples, Shrines & Gardens
There are said to be over 1000 Buddhist temples in Kyoto. You’ll find true masterpieces of religious architecture, such as the retina-burning splendour of Kinkaku-ji (the famed Golden Pavilion) and the cavernous expanse of Higashi Hongan-ji. Within the temple precincts are some of the world’s most sublime gardens, from the Zen masterpiece at Ryōan-ji to the riotous paradise of moss and blossoms at Saihō-ji. And then there are the Shintō shrines, monuments to Japan’s indigenous faith. The mother of all shrines, Fushimi Inari-Taisha, has mesmerising arcades of vermilion torii (entrance gate to a Shintō shrine) spread across a mountainside.
Few cities of this size offer such a range of excellent restaurants. Work your way through the entire spectrum of Japanese food, from impossibly refined cuisine known as kaiseki to hearty plebeian fare like ramen. There’s also a wide range of French, Italian and Chinese restaurants, where the famed Japanese attention to detail is paired with local ingredients to yield fantastic results. Best of all, many of Kyoto’s restaurants are in traditional wooden buildings, where you can gaze over intimate private gardens while you eat.
The Japanese Way of Life
While the rest of Japan has adopted modernity with abandon, the old ways are still clinging on in Kyoto. Visit an old shōtengai(market street) and admire the ancient speciality shops: tofu sellers, washi (Japanese handmade paper) stores and tea merchants. Then wander through the old streets of Nishijin and Gion past machiya (traditional Japanese townhouses). That’s not to say there’s nothing modern about Kyoto – arriving into futuristic Kyoto Station is a stark sign of that. And throughout the city, young Kyotoites don the hottest new fashions, while craft beer and single-origin coffee is taking over.
The Changing Seasons
No educated Kyotoite would dare send a letter without making a reference to the season. The city’s geisha change their hair ornaments 12 times a year to celebrate the natural world. And Kyoto’s confectioners create seasonal sweets that reflect whatever is in bloom. Starting in February and lasting through the summer, a series of blossoms burst open like a string of firecrackers: plums, daphnes, cherries, camellias, azaleas and wisteria, among many others. And don’t forget the shinryoku (the new green of April) and the brilliant autumn foliage of November.