I’ve always been fascinated by the geisha culture; although the truth is I understand very superficially of this culture. My knowledge of the “what/why/who/how”of a geisha was limited to what I learned from the media..and pop culture like Memoirs of a Geisha. Disclosure: I watched Memoirs of a Geisha becos of Ken Watanabe. He was so dashing and imposing and impressive in the Last Samurai. Those are moments when I would gladly be a damsel in distress, and he sweeps me off my feet. Ahhh Kennnn..
So after having visited Kiyomizu-dera, I made my way to Gion. I cycled on a quieter alley, and soon, I passed by this superbly colourful hanging pouches. I braked hard and cycled back to this shrine – Kongoji temple. After having just visited Kiyomizu-dera, this was one small temple.
It’s a monkey-themed temple, and the bunches of colourful pouches are meant to ward off evil spirits. I saw this trio of the No-Evil monkeys supporting the base of an urn at this temple.
I didnt hang around too long at this temple; I had to reach Gion before it starts raining. I started to cycle to Gion, but I came down from my bike and pushed it instead. I was admiring the neighbourhood of Kongoji temple. I loved the traditional architecture of the houses, and how well-preserved they were. The houses were primarily wood, bamboo and rice paper. The influence of the Kongoji temple was strong; almost every house in that area had pouches hanging outside the entrance door.
I knew I had arrived in Gion when I saw almost all women in whatever skin/hair colour wearing kimonos. I felt like I had just landed at a Geisha Cosplay event.
This is entrance of the Yasaka Shrine, also known as the Gion Shrine.
It i s one of the most famous shrines in Kyoto. As this shrine sits at the t-junction of Shijo Avenue, and very close to the Hanami-Koji Street, this shrine is frequented by denizens of Gion enclave, and of course tourists alike. This is also the temple to see the Gion Matsuri, the most famous festival in the whole of Japan.
I walked around the temple grounds quickly; after having seen so many shrines and temples, they have pretty much the same thing: the honden, other worship rooms, big compound of gravel, stage, lanterns and the customary commercial corner selling many types of omamori (Japanese amulets).
Then I saw this old wooden building that had ancient-looking paintings that adorned the walls like wallpapers. Unfortunately I couldn’t read Japanese; it looked like a hipster art gallery that decided to put the art in the outside instead of inside (the building).
Some of the paints were already fading. I guess that shouldn’t be a surprise, given that this temple is 1,350 years old! One THOUSAND..three hundred…. Respect. Even if the arts weren’t the same age as the temple..they’d probably still be older than me.
The rain was impatient and couldn’t wait till nightfall when I would have done all the sightseeing !@#$. I didn’t let the rain deter me, and I went to visit the famed Hamani-koji area.
The street and the side alleys were lined with traditional wooden machiya merchant houses. These houses functioned as restaurants, teahouses, shops, and this is where you find geishas and maikos entertaining guests.
I was feeling lethargic that day; and instead of having the gusto to discover this part of Gion, I was looking forward to a cup of coffee, and sitting on my bum. I walked Gion without discovering Gion. I even missed the Kenninji temple *sigh*, and I didn’t get to watch this cultural performance, altho I would not have a clue about the conversations nor the storyplay. I’m guessing this is a story about the Japanese Beauty & the Beast. This character with the big hair looked like Disney’s Beast.
And then I caught sight of a maiko. She was without make-up, but she had the sweetest face I had seen since I stepped into Kyoto. We exchanged eye contact for the briefest moment, and she hurried away. I wanted to call out, “Watashi wa not papparazzi-o desu!” And then she disappeared behind one of the wooden doors.
When I first planned for this 6-days Kyoto trip, I thought that I might try to learn the ways of a geisha and be a daily 2-hour apprentice. That plan didn’t happen. And it couldn’t anyway. This is an art that requires time and devotion to be a performing geisha. It’s not about wearing a 2kg wig, with copious clothings and flicking the paper fan. Apparently, training to be a geisha takes as long a time for one to be a doctor – 6 years. 6 days would probably get me to just drawing my eyebrow right.
I got the photo below from Wikipedia. Being a geisha is a whole elaborate affair. From the head to the toe, the geisha looked like an immaculate well-adorned package. I admit that was probably the attraction of dressing up like a geisha. Such a make-over that I would probably not even recognise myself! A bit of interesting trivia; the nape of the geisha is considered an erotic part of the body. Luckily I don’t have a hairy nape..
Important note: a geisha is commonly thought as a Japanese word for prostitute. It’s not. It’s a traditional Japanese (female) entertainer.