Robert Schrader in Kyoto, Japan

Memoirs of a Gaysha

I was so certain I would see a geisha as my train rolled into Kyoto station that I didn’t even allot time for it as I mentally planned out my evening.

“They’ll be everywhere in that one district, what’s it called?” I looked at my map. “Gion. I’ll just stroll through Gion on my way up to Kiyomizu Temple and be done with it.”

The receptionist at my guest house was kind enough to aid me further. “Avoid the main avenue in Gion,” she advised, and circled an adjacent, smaller road within the district. “You’ll see lots of geishas here, but not so many tourists.”

In spite of the extent to which she fed my optimism, the young woman did reveal the sobering fact that geishas don’t tend to emerge until after nightfall, so that it would be best for me to watch sunset first and head down to Gion later.

Need a little extra help planning your trip to Japan? Hire me as your travel coach.

 
 
 
 
 

The dusty orange and rose hues of the sky proved the perfect accompaniment to the pale, pink sakura trees rising through Kiyomizu, an eight-century Buddhist temple complex that provides perhaps the best sunset view of Kyoto.

But as I walked down crowded Matsubara Dori Street back into the city, I was as indifferent to the fading daylight as I was to the matcha tea rooms, takoyaki vendors and the special edition Hello Kitty plush I probably should’ve bought for my sister: I wanted to see a geisha!

(I should mention at this point that I don’t have any particular emotional tie to geishas – I simply wanted to snap some amazing pictures of one or many roaming the streets of Kyoto, perhaps assembling an entire photo essay dedicated to them.)

Back to the story, I got to Gion as fast as I possibly could, to precisely the street my guest house receptionist had told me to go. She was right about one thing: There were absolutely no tourists here!

Unfortunately, there were also no geishas.

 
 
 
 
 

Initially, I thought it might’ve just been a matter of waiting, kind of like spotting orangutans in Indonesia or the “Big Five” African game on a safari. But minutes turned to tens of minutes turned to hours – and very slowly at that, due to the unseasonable cold passing through Kyoto that particular night – and I saw nary a single geisha, except of course the occasional young, female Asian tourist who was half-heartedly dressed like one.

I couldn’t help but feel disappointed as I walked back to the guest house. On one hand, it wasn’t shocking – I’m certainly no expert on the nighttime migration patterns of females – yet it was still a failure of sorts.

But this is a pretty nice consolation prize, I smiled as I bit into my very first takoyaki, which was drizzled in ume plum sauce.

To be sure, the lesson I learned not seeing a geisha in Kyoto is that these white-faced women, as iconic a symbol of Japan as they might be, are superfluous when it comes to the larger story I picked up on the ground in Kyoto.

Which is that, in spite of how compelled you might feel to stalk geishas, or to see every single shrine and temple in the city, or take so many day trips you’re better off sleeping in the train station, Kyoto is about carving your own path through the history, heritage and chaos, not following the established tourist trail.

 
 
 
 
 

This is not to say I saw or did anything revolutionary while in Kyoto. Kiyomizu Temple notwithstanding, I spent my second morning seeing temples (and a giant, but far from obscure bamboo forest) in Arashiyama, in the northwestern part of the city. I finished the day at the Ginkakuji Pavilion and then, with a walk along the sakura-lined “Path of Philosophy,” accompanied by no less than 1,000 other tourists – probably many more.

But in spite of how typical the sights I visited were (and perhaps because of the fact that I defied typical tourist logic and cherry-picked the ones I wanted to see, rather than enduring them all), I was able to create my own narrative about a city that’s almost become cliché in the years since the movie whose name inspired the cheesy title of this post.

(I mean, not to toot my own horn or anything, but it’s kind of difficult to be upset about not seeing a geisha when you have photos like the ones in this post.)

Leave Your Daily Hell   Filed under: Japan

About The Author

is the author of 734 posts on Leave Your Daily Hell. Robert founded Leave Your Daily Hell in 2010 so that other travelers would have an entertaining, reliable source of information, advice and inspiration at their fingertips. Want to travel more often? Subscribe to email updates today!

 

informs, inspires, entertains and empowers travelers like you. My name is Robert and I'm happy you're here!

 
 
 

Get Email Updates

Like what you're reading? Sign up to receive my weekly email newsletter – it's like a trip around the world to end every week!

Upcoming Trips

  • Singapore March 27-28
  • Kyushu, Japan March 29-April 5
  • Middle East TBA April
 
 

{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

Raphael Alexander Zoren April 9, 2014 at 9:29 am

I saw a few Geishas during my stay, contrary to popular belief, they do not walk the streets at night. The only glimpses I got was of the Geishas boarding a black van along with their matron on the way to an assignment.

That being said, there are tons of young Japanese girls pretending to be Maikos (Geisha’s apprentices) during the day and they are perfectly willing to pose for a photo.

Robert Schrader April 9, 2014 at 5:04 pm

Congrats on having seen some, Raphael! I saw a lot of Chinese/Japanese/Korean girls dressed like geishas but alas, nothing like the real thing.

Robert-Gilles Martineau April 9, 2014 at 5:04 pm

Dear Robert! Greetings from Shizuoka! I’ve been to Kyoto countless times and there are certainly a lot more to Tokyo than geishas! For all their beauty and mystery they are after all high class entertainers and spotting them is one thing, but watching them would cost a dear amount! LOL I must say that your beautiful photographs prove you saw enough of Kyoto to please anyone. One tip for your next photo essay: look at the scenery along your feet, you will discover something on seemingly meaningless manhole covers for example! Enjoy yourself!

Robert Schrader April 11, 2014 at 7:19 am

Robert, thanks for your comment and also, of course, for reading. How is Shizuoka? I really appreciate your compliments – next time, I will be sure to look down.

Marcel Votlucka April 11, 2014 at 9:12 am

Don’t forget to visit the Iwatayama Monkey Park! I got lucky and was able to follow one of them up the hill to the main feeding area – a cage of sorts for tourists while the monkeys roam all over outside grabbing your food 🙂

Robert Schrader April 15, 2014 at 9:43 pm

Good tip!

creativenomad April 22, 2014 at 12:43 am

however you did manage to get some beautiful photos!

Robert Schrader April 22, 2014 at 10:43 pm

Thank you 🙂 I like to think I did

Aytan Garibli August 2, 2014 at 11:40 am

Robert, your blog is very inspiring, and the photos are beautiful. I’ve been reading it non-stop since I discovered it yesterday! I see that your next trip is to Caucasus, let me know if you need any help in Baku!

Robert Schrader August 3, 2014 at 8:22 am

Thank you, Aytan! I will only be in Baku a couple days, but any recommendations are welcome, especially for hotel!

MissAdventure Travel August 5, 2014 at 9:45 am

Sounds like a classic example of how the journey can trump the destination. Or, in your case, how the search is more fun than the success! Great photos.

Robert Schrader August 6, 2014 at 9:13 am

Thanks 😀

Dreamer August 22, 2014 at 1:30 pm

You should visit Fushimi Inari Taisha the next time! One of the most surreal and amazing temples in Kyoto to visit, especially at nightfall!

Robert Schrader August 25, 2014 at 6:31 am

Yes, I can’t believe I missed it.

Iza December 26, 2014 at 2:39 am

It’s a slow day at work for me (which thankfully does not qualify as daily hell – yet, at least) and I decided to research on what to do during me and my partner’s upcoming new year trip to Jogja while waiting for new support ticket to show up in my dashboard. I’m a native Indonesian, but I decided to use English keywords while googling, mainly because I wanted to know what you foreigners say about travelling to Jogja.

I stumbled upon your site, and before I knew it, I already spent three hours on this site. I’m definitely more of an indoor person – by choice, mind you – but reading about your travels has made me happy too. I don’t know how to word this better but it’s like your passion and enthusiasm oozed out of my screen. My partner and I are also planning to visit Japan someday, so thank you for sharing your travel experience. Loove the cherry blossom pictures. Great tips, beautiful pictures, bookmarked – keep up the good work, Robert!

Robert Schrader December 26, 2014 at 6:24 am

Wow Iza, what a kind and thoughtful message. Also, I’m sure you know this, but your English is absolutely perfect. You write like a native American!

I hope that when your trip to Japan finally comes, you will use my site as a resource. Until then, I’m jealous: Jogja is one of my favorite cities in the world!

{ 7 trackbacks }

Previous post:

Next post: