Geisha © Robert Young
Most visitors to Japan are fascinated with traditional geisha: white-faced kimono-clad women specially trained to entertain and spoil men in a soothing setting. Kyoto boasts one of the most famous geisha districts in the country, a neighbourhood of plain wooden buildings to the east of the Kamo River known as Gion. There were once thousands of geisha and maiko (apprentice geisha) performing their genteel tasks in this area. Today, the number has dwindled to a few hundred, but visitors who stroll Hanamikoji Street at sunset, past teahouses and restaurants, will probably catch a glimpse of one or two en route to the geisha houses in their wooden shoes and full traditional finery. The geisha houses themselves are sadly strictly off-limits to anyone not properly introduced and invited, but from behind the paper screens you will hear the strains of music and laughter. It is fascinating to read up on the geisha tradition before visiting the area but it also seems fitting that they still retain their mystery behind the paper screens. While geisha-spotting in the Gion district, take in the Yasaka Shrine, with its many paper lanterns and the Minamiza Kabuki Theatre.
Address: Gion, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto City