The Geisha of Gion

Japan's traditional and modern worlds intersect where Shijo-dori crosses Hanami-koji-dori in the district of Gion. To the south, stone streets lead past wood-fronted teahouses displaying red paper lanterns; on the north side of Shijo-dori are high-rises filled with bars. Eastward is Yasaka Jinja's commanding orange-and-white arched gate; westward are the city's best department stores.

Gion remains Kyoto's center for high culture such as Kabuki theater, but perhaps more famous to foreign visitors is the world of the geisha, referred to as geiko in Kyoto, brought into the spotlight in recent decades by the novel and subsequent film Memoirs of a Geisha. Wandering around Hanami-koji-dori at dinner time you might see maiko-san and geiko san, the modern equivalents of apprentice and senior geisha, on their way to appointments at exclusive teahouses behind curtained doorways.

The practiced gait of these women and their gorgeous apparel marks them as the most refined and talented in the traditional performing arts. The spring and autumn dance revues entertain hundreds of admirers. Several restaurants and inns can arrange for private parties to have a maiko-san or geiko-san sing and dance while you dine.

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