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Travel bucket list idea:

Last updated: 18 March, 2024
Expert travel writer: Rob Goss

Geishas (translation: artist) are female performance artists trained in dance, music, singing, conversation and hosting. Famous for their distinctive appearance – dressed in colourful kimonos, complimented by elaborate hairstyles and oshiroi make-up, they’ve been entertaining Japan’s wealthy and well-connected for centuries.

Kyoto’s historic Gion quarter, one of the world’s best known geisha districts, is the place to see them. The world of geishas is exclusive and mysterious, but a walk around Gion gives fleeting glimpses into their lives and this remarkable, uniquely Japanese tradition.

The most famous of Gion’s streets, the flagstone-paved Hanami-koji, is a beautiful relic, lined with old wooden chaya (teahouses) where many geishas entertain. While chaya are off-limits without an invitation, you can stroll Gion in the early evening and spot geisha heading to work in their finest kimonos.

Also stop by the Gion Corner Theatre for the nightly one-hour shows. They’re touristy but fun, and include geisha dancing, traditional music, flower arranging and more.

While you’re there

Beyond the geisha, Gion’s warren of streets hold temples and shrines, as well as less exclusive (non-geisha) bars, restaurants and stores. There are also places to see geisha perform without needing a fat wallet – the admittedly touristy Gion Corner theatre has geisha dances in its nightly shows.

Logistics

Price: Free
Minimum age: Any
Age suitable: 13+
When: All year around

Getting there & doing it

If you see geishas in the street, be sure to follow etiquette or you might get a 10,000 yen fine. Don’t stalk or ask for photos and don’t follow the geisha onto private property.

If you want to experience a dinner performance with a geisha that goes beyond a tourist show, you’ll need help and a generous budget. For guests, the Aman Kyoto is one high-end hotel that can arrange an afternoon or evening of entertainment at a geisha teahouse.

Destination guides

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Destination guides including or relevant to this experience

Kyoto

Kansai, Japan

Geisha woman with white face paint

Ancient temples and shrines, sublime cuisine, manicured gardens, colourful geishas and living history in spades – Kyoto is traditional Japan at its best.