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Gion

Hanami-koji, Gion

My first impression of Hanami-koji was that it was clean and orderly. Wooden machiya merchant houses line this street of ochaya (tea houses) and expensive restaurants serving Japanese haute cuisine. It was late afternoon but the machiyas were still shuttered from the world. It was relatively quiet as I walked up the street hoping to see a geiko (term for geisha in Kyoto) or two.

A side street in Gion

I passed by somnolent alleys where not even a cat stirred. I reached the end of the street and looked up at the houses to check for signs of life. No such luck.  I retraced my steps to Shijo Dori past Gion Corner where one can pay to watch maiko (apprentice geiko) perform traditional Japanese arts like the tea ceremony, ikebana, music, and dance. Then suddenly I noticed a maiko coming towards me from an alley to my right. She was walking fast in her geta sandals. I had to move faster to get that fleeting image. What I saw was an exquisite woman in a beautiful kimono. Her nape was as white as her face and the red collar of her kimono identified her as a maiko.Then all the tourists converged on her like a hound of paparazzis and I genuinely felt sorry for her as she walked past them without looking directly at anyone.

A maiko (apprentice geisha)

"Now I understood what I'd overlooked; the point was not to become a geisha but to be one.  To become a geisha....well that was hardly a purpose in life.  But to be a geisha.....I could see it now as a stepping stone to something else." Quote from Sayuri in Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden.

Buses 100 and 206 go to Gion area from Kyoto Station.

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Images by Charie

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