After hiking the Fushimi Inari Shrine, the group worked up an appetite for lunch. We decided to try another Kyoto cuisine, tofu! Since the JR line does not extend to the Gion district, we decided to take a taxi to the restaurant and spend the rest of the day exploring Gion.
Being relatively new to tofu, we ordered one of everything and shared the tofu lunch. Regardless of the amount of foreigners we saw in the restaurant, the wait staff does not speak English and became very frazzled when English was used as a form of communication. We found it very entertaining, however, I don’t think the staff shared our humor…
To walk off our lunch, we decided to tour the Kiyomizu-dera temple within the Gion district. The temple was crowded with foreign visitors, school children and regular worshipers. The entrance fee was $3, we bought a ticket and followed the crowd of tourist toward the temple.
Most visitors coming to Gion district knows the area is known for its geikos(geisha) and maikos (geisha in training). Do not get too excited about the maikos you see taking a leisure stroll during the day in Gion, they are mostly foreigners dressing up for the day for a full experience of Gion. If you listen closely, most of them speak Chinese! We saw a few at the Kiyomizu-dera temple and found the women very entertaining and the dressed up men looking miserable.
To conclude our day in Gion, we found a walking tour held by the Kyoto City Tourist Association. No reservation is required for the walking tour. The tour takes place every Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 5PM, see link at the end of this article for additional information. The meeting place is at Gion Kitaza, be sure to bring 1,000 yen ($10) per person in cash with you for the tour and wear plenty of warm clothes in the winter time, we were FREEZING!
The entire tour takes about an hour and a half, the English tour guide walks the tour group around Gion to talk about the history of gekos, maikos and their life styles. We learned a lot about these mysterious women, and the tour guide cleared up some misconceptions westerns have about gekos or geishas, thanks to the Hollywood movie, Memoirs of a Geisha.
According to the tour guide, maikos are apprentices of geishas. They are usually teenage girls who are aspiring geikos. They live in boarding houses like the one in the photo below, their daily expenses and education are paid by their boarding house. While geishas earn quite a bit of income, most of the maikos earnings go towards their education and expenses. They wear more elaborate kimonos and hair pieces while the geikos wear plainer kimonos and less makeup. Below is a photo of a house where maikos are living in. The plaques on the upper right side of the door indicate each maikos names.
About an hour 15 minutes into the tour, numb with the cold, we were ready to give in to the bitter cold and head back to our hotel when we heard exciting exclamations from the other tour guide about a maiko sighting. Everything happened so fast, I was only able to get the blurry photo below of a maiko moving surprisingly fast in her wood clog heels towards her next appointment.It was like a celebrity siting in Hollywood. 🙂
Gion is such a beautiful part of town with so much history. I wish we had more time to explore the area and enjoy more Kyoto cuisines. More information on the city tour can be found at the link below: