Kyoto is a city replete with ancient treasures and cultural delights. It’s also the setting for Arthur Golden’s famous Memoirs of a Geisha, a powerful pre-WWII story of two abandoned sisters, one of whom becomes a protege of the most successful geisha in Kyoto’s Gion district. The book comes to life as you stroll along the banks of the Kamo River to Hanami-koji and Chotie Moloney couldn’t imagine a better way to spend her last days in Japan…
“I was walking through the pages of the book, imagining what life was like for Sayuri and the other geisha; dressed in their magnificent silk kimono, the cherry blossom gently dancing in their hair as they walked along the footpaths of Shijo Avenue, teetering on their okobo. Imagining sounds of traditional shamisen strings and their melodic voices. And after sunset, when the red lanterns glow, seeing visions of these poised performers outside the doorways of the ochaya, local tea houses.
In spite of my best efforts, the elusive geisha was not to be seen until Gion Corner. A small theatre has evening shows that allow you a brief appreciation of the geisha arts: playing the koto (a 6 foot Japanese zither with silk strings), tea ceremony, dance and flower arranging.
On the stroll back to our ryokan I was rewarded, I saw geisha on three separate occasions. Actually, in Kyoto dialect they are known as geiko and meiko are apprentice geiko. Some local teenage girls had gathered in a circle and were squealing with delight. I thought they had spotted a rock star, but no, it was a geiko walking between teahouses. She politely stopped and bowed before continuing on her way. I was fumbling with my camera but no time. She was gone. I saw her again a few moments later and was still stunned by her beauty. The last time, as I crossed the road at the pedestrian lights, I looked up to see a geisha sitting in a taxi. I was happy, my wish had been fulfilled. I have my own memories of geisha in Kyoto!”
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* photo by Brent Coupar – Intrepid Photography Competition