Kyōto – Old Town District Gion

Kyōto – Old Town District Gion

Gion is a district in Kyōto, which was only formed in the Sengoku period (“time of the warring countries”; ca. 1467 – 1600). It is directly at Yasaka Shrine (formerly Gion Shrine) and not far from Kiyomizu Temple. It has become the best known geisha quarter in all of Japan.

Whereby the geishas (“person of the arts”) call themselves geiko (“woman of the arts”) in Kyōto. A geisha is a respected entertainer and must master conversations, Japanese traditional arts, playing musical instruments, and be a good singer, dancer and hostess. The distinction to prostitution, as sometimes portrayed, is very sharp. An erotic appearance is prohibited. The training begins since 1952 at the age of 16, lasts about 5 years and is very expensive. The costs are covered by an Okiya ( tea house owner ) and then paid back with the work. After repayment many geishas become independent and at the same time successful entrepreneurs. A geisha in training is called hangyoku (“half jewel”) or oshaku in Tokyo and maiko (“dancing girl”) in Kyōto. You can tell the level of education by the clothes and accessories. Put simply, the simpler and more discreet the make-up and clothing, the older the maiko or geisha. The white make-up base is worn permanently by the maikos and by the older geishas it is only usually worn during performances or special occasions. Now I have written so much about the geishas, but have not seen any in Kyōto. At most a few Maikos, but they could have been tourists in costumes…

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