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March, 2016

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Our city tour ended walking through the geisha district, Gion, where our guide, Chiako, told us about the difference between geiko (Kyoto dialect for geisha) and maiko (a geiko apprentice).

We saw the wooden rectangular signs near the door which denote a geisha tea house known as an ochaya, whilst further rectangular signs show how many geisha work there.

We were told we’d be unlikely to see a geisha in the streets as they usually travel by taxi or limo (they’re treated like celebrities). Hearing that they charge $2,000 an hour (and people would go for a minimum of 2 hours), you can understand why. The geisha provides food and chat and leads sake drinking games. Music would normally be provided by CD or if live musicians are required, it will bump up the price.

As well as being expensive, they’re also exclusive and you can’t just drop in for tea – you need to have an introduction from another guest.

The youngest geishas start as early as 15 and Chiako described their ‘mushroom hair’ and told us they have to sleep using a wooden pillar to preserve it as it will only be washed once a week. The style also causes baldness. The geisha will also have white faces and pink eyebrows and maiko dye their teeth black until they’re fully trained.

We were just leaving the area when we saw a geisha scuttling down the street on her thick wooden wedged clogs. Unfortunately by the time we’d got our cameras primed, we only got a shot from the back. Still it rounded our day off nicely!

Helen Jackson

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