Kyoto. On the hunt for a Geisha and a Maiko.


Kyoto. On the hunt for a Geisha and a Maiko.

IMG_4895-2I would never have imagined that trying to photograph a Geisha would be worse than trying to photograph a Hollywood star.

I was in Kyoto, home to the Gion district, the city’s most famous Geisha quarter, where, with a little luck, you can bump into a Maiko (apprentice Geisha) or a true Geisha herself.


Geisha translates as ‘artist’ or ‘performing artist’ and, in fact, these women put on artistic displays of dancing, singing or music.

Unfortunately, in recent years, the number of Geisha has gradually diminished, though it is still possible to see them, especially in Kyoto.


In order to photograph a Geisha, all you have to do is go to the Gion district; but what I didn’t anticipate was that, in the quarter’s main street, intersected by other smaller streets, I would find a crowd of tourists and professional photographers, all waiting to follow and take pictures of them.


It’s a sort of Geisha hunt… consisting of hours of waiting, of seconds when you glimpse them from afar, and then they disappear into a teahouse, or jump into a taxi and head off into the distance.


If you manage to photograph just one, you’ve done well, a real stroke of luck; all she has to do is step into view, and two seconds later she is surrounded by a mob of tourists. The incredible thing is that hardly anyone ever speaks to her, because it is forbidden to bother them in any way.


During my days in Kyoto, I lay in wait for two evenings, in the hope of managing to get a few decent shots. I have to say that I was extremely lucky, as I managed to see both a Maiko and a Geisha. The best time to see them is from 5-30 to 6pm until about 9pm.


On my first evening waiting to see them, I was lucky enough to see two Maiko in the space of an hour. The effect these artists have on you is really amazing: they are fabulous in all of their loveliness, from their perfect make-up and hair, to their brightly coloured kimonos. They way they walked and moved was truly mesmerising.


The whole of the Gion district is traditional and beautiful, with lanterns, little specialised restaurants and teahouses, in and out of which the Geisha move at certain times of the day.


It is a true honour to see a Geisha at least once your life; so, if you find yourself in Kyoto, make sure you don’t miss out on the Geisha hunt!


All of the photographs are taken using natural light and 24-70 and 85mm lenses, in a Canon 5D Mark II camera.

Guest Blogger: Sara Pretelli


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