Geisha are one of the most iconic yet secretive symbols of Japanese culture. With 400 years of mystery and allure under their obi, witnessing the gorgeous Geisha draped in their dazzling kimonos and painted to perfection whilst performing ancient arts of Japanese entertainment is a exquisitely extraordinary experience you will never forget.
But how do you get to see a real Geisha or Maiko in Kyoto? Let me count the ways…
Being Mesmerized By The Maiko
I’m not going to lie, watching a real Geisha was a magical and mystical experience for me. It was one of those moments when you pinch yourself that this is your life and you are actually watching this mind blowing stuff for real. Ever since I saw Geisha on TV as a little girl I was in complete awe of their exotic and ethereal identity. Seeing and learning more about them was my sole purpose of visiting Kyoto.
You do not have to be a fashion or culture connoisseur to appreciate their presence. Nothing can really describe the perfection, poise and precision of their performance when seeing it in person. For me it was incredibly beautiful and it felt borderline emotional to watch. If there is only one thing I would recommend doing in Japan it would be to see a Geisha which is why I have put together this list of ways to make it easier for planing your trip to Kyoto.
Why is it so hard to see them?
Due to the exclusivity and secrecy of the Geisha world, seeing and meeting a real Geisha or Maiko can be both very difficult and expensive. A fully trained Geisha can cost the Okiya approximately $500,000 in classes, kimono and living expenses, with a single kimono ensemble can ranging anywhere between $10,000 – $30,000.
Ochaya (tea houses) are the most popular venues to experience traditional Geisha entertainment but they have strict exclusivity rights based on the wealth, trust and status of their clients. An invitation to a Ochaya must come from somebody who is already an established and reputable customer as the bill for a evenings entertainment is sent to the customers address at the end of every month. This makes visiting a Ochaya to see a Geisha extremely tricky for tourists who have no connections.
“An invitation to a Ochaya must come from somebody who is already an established and reputable customer. This makes visiting a Ochaya to see a Geisha extremely tricky for tourists who have no connections.”
Here are 5 ways you can see Maiko and Geisha in Kyoto depending on your patience, timing, budget and connections.
1. Walk through the back streets of Gion in between 5-7pm. This is the prime time when Maikos and Geisha will be leaving the Okiya on route to a tea house or banquet.
BUDGET $15 – $50 ish
2. Gion Corner ($24) is the most popular and well known place for tourists to see Maiko dancing alongside other traditional Kyoto arts including tea ceremony, court music and burnraku puppet theater as part of a all-in-one show. I experienced this first hand and was really impressed, see the video below.
3. Seasonal Dances in Kyoto from ($15 – $50)
● Kyo Odori First to Third Sunday in April at Miyagawa-cho Kaburen-jo Theatre
● Miyako Odori 1st – 30th April at Gion Kobu Kaburen-jo Theatre
● Kitano Odori 15th to 25th April Kamishichiken Kaburen-jo Theatre
● Kamogawa Odori 1st to 24th May at Ponto-Cho Kaburen-jo Theatre
● Kyoto Go Kagai Godo Dento Geino Tokubetsu Koen One weekend in Mid June at Kyoto Kaikan Daiichi Hall
● Gion Odori 1st to 10th November at Gion Kaikan Theatre
MID RANGE $230
EXPENSIVE $650 up
5. Gion Hatanaka Ryokan offers Maiko, Geiko and shamisen performances with the evening meal. Rooms start at $650 and meals are included.