Japan is abundant in unique experiences. From learning the art of the samurai sword, sushi or sumo, to dressing up as a geisha, discovering the world of anime, visiting a sake brewery or trying your hand at calligraphy, there are so many activities to squeeze into your Japan itinerary.
Geishas in Japan
The secret world of the geisha has long been lived out behind the sliding doors of exclusive teahouses across Japan. For generations, kimono clad women have been an enduring image of Japanese tradition, culture and sophistication with their elaborate dress, striking appearance and towering wooden platforms. The geisha has become an icon of Japan’s fascinating past, a stark contrast to the country’s sleek, shiny and futuristic present.
Originating in the Edo era, which spanned the 17th and 18th centuries, geishas rose to prominence in the shadow of the courtesan. Strictly entertainers though, the geisha eventually found peak popularity by the 1920s as the first, and only, port of call of the Japanese elite and a handful of carefully selected dignitaries. Nowadays, whilst less than a hundred geisha still live and work in pockets of Kyoto, the profession remains as enigmatic as ever, and teahouses continue to be the most vaunting destinations in the city.
Girls usually enrol in a okiya or geisha house around the age of 15, studying hospitality, social etiquette and traditional arts whilst earning their position as a maiko or apprentice geisha. The maikos shadow skilled geikos, experienced geishas, observing and learning the art of repartee and reserve over the course of four or five years, eventually becoming masters of performance as well as skilled conversationalists. At first, a maiko is not expected to be as well-versed, amusing or intriguing as her senior counterpart, relying instead on ornate jewellery and exquisite dress as well as youth to enthral and entertain clients. More experienced geishas wear more subdued colours and less ornamentation, as their skill is thought to transcend their appearance.
Traditionally, an evening at an okiya is centred around performance. Typically beginning with a kaiseki dinner, geishas then dance to the tune of a traditional shamisen whilst orchestrating drinking games and playing the part of host with a certain poise. Whilst previously reserved for invitees only, the chance to meet a geisha at a teahouse is no longer completely out of reach. Take a look at our selection of unique experiences, allowing you to get a glimpse into the work and life of a geisha in Japan’s cultural capital, Kyoto.
Come face to face with a geisha in Japan on a tailor-made tour
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