The final part of our time in Kyoto was spent on a private photo shoot with a real working geisha. This has always been a highlight feature of our autumn tours and gives our tour members a rare opportunity to meet a geisha up close. With increasing numbers of tourists to Kyoto there has been increasing poor behaviour and manners by tourists just to get that elusive geisha shot. The appropriate way to see and photograph geisha is either through certain public events (e.g. erikae), or in a private booking.
The term geisha is often used in the West and refers to a traditional Japanese female entertainer skilled in various arts such as classical music, dance, games, and conversation. At the height of their popularity in the 1920s, there were over 80,000 geisha. The geisha profession experienced gradual decline after WWII; today, there are an estimated 1,000-2,000 geisha remaining.
In Japan, Kyoto is regarded as the centre of geisha culture and is the most traditional and prestigious of the geisha areas in Japan. Kyoto geisha prefer to be called geiko (芸子), reflecting their local dialect and to differentiate themselves from geisha from other parts of Japan. The term geiko also doesn’t have the negative and inaccurate historical connotations associated with “geisha”. Apprentice geiko are called maiko (舞子).
This year Toshinaho from the Miyagawacho geiko district joined us for our photoshoot. Toshinaho is still a junior maiko, having only made her debut in May 2019.