Real Geisha in Kyoto’s Gion District

Real Geisha in Kyoto, Japan's Gion District

Spotting a real geisha in Kyoto’s Gion district can feel like you’re looking for a needle in a haystack. In the evenings, tourists and photographers and tourists usually go out to the Gion district in the hopes of spotting geiko or maiko, as they discreetly move from one social engagement to another.

Real Geisha in Kyoto, Japan’s Gion District

The Gion district in Kyoto is considered to be the most exclusive in all of Japan. With streets of old-style houses (or machiya), it feels like one is stepping back in time. It is here where geisha entertain high profile clients in Japanese tea houses (or ochaya) with classical music, traditional songs and dance, games, cocktails and conversation.

The world inside of the ochaya is exclusive and closed off to the majority of people. To get a glimpse of real geisha is special. More times than not, the maiko spotted walking along the historic streets of Gion are people who have paid to dress up as one for the day. So, it was a real treat for me to see not one, but several geisha.

Real Geisha in Kyoto, Japan’s Gion District

It just so happened that I was there during an annual spring dance festival that takes place at the Gion Kobu Kaburenjo Theater, called Miyako Odori. I had no idea of the festival beforehand; otherwise, I would have arranged to see the show. But, I was fortunate to see some of Kyoto’s real geisha after happening upon them exiting from the back of the theater.

In between sightings and turning into the paparazzi (or the tourists they try to avoid), I was told by another traveler who had attended one of the shows that each year 20 of the best geiko and maiko are hand-picked to perform at the dance festival. If you’re planning to travel to Japan during April, then this show may be worth while or if you want to photograph real geisha in Kyoto, go and hang out by Miyako Odori when they host the festival.

*Originally published on May 3, 2014


I am an American living in South Korea and the creator of Allured Abroad, an expat lifestyle blog focusing on expat family life, parenting abroad, and raising multicultural kids. I’ve been living abroad for nearly five years and what I have realized through travel and cultural immersion is that we’re just one in 7+ billion people. With so much variation in the world, what are the possibilities?


  1. I would be too stunned if I see a geisha in real life, they look so elegant and lovely. Thank you for sharing your experience, Tabitha. Nice blog, btw. Keep it up!

    • Hello, Therie! It’s one of my favorite travel moments. They were so elegant. Thank you for your comment and encouragement. I hope you have a splendid day.

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