Kyoto – 6th February

The first destination on today’s agenda was the city of Nara, a place recommended by Aunty Jean.
From 710 to 784 the capital of Japan, Heijokyo, was located in present day Nara.
Nara has many beautiful gardens, temples, shrines and of course deer!
According to legend, when Kasuga Taisha Shrine was founded as a family shrine for the Fujiwaras, a dominant aristocrat clan in the 8th century, they invited a mighty god from Kashima Shrine (in present day Ibaraki Prefecture). The god is said to have come to Nara riding on a white deer. Since then, deer have been respected and protected as divine messengers by local people.
The deer were friendly and the town was so pretty. It was absolutely freezing today, both in Nara and Kyoto!


On my return train trip I made a short stop in Inari to see the shrine “Fushimi Inari”.** It was magnificent!
I ate dinner at an Indian restaurant in Gion and walked around the streets for a short while, hoping to see Geisha. I was thinking I was out of luck, but then I heard the ‘clip clop’ of the sandals and heard a bit of a commotion. There were two Geisha* walking down the street. They were very beautiful!


Now I have seen Geisha, I feel my mission in Kyoto has been completed!


* Modern Geisha
Modern geisha still live in traditional geisha houses called okiya in areas called hanamachi ( “flower towns”), particularly during their apprenticeship. Many experienced geisha are successful enough to choose to live independently. 
The elegant, high-culture world that geisha are a part of is called karyūkai (“the flower and willow world”).Before the twentieth century, geisha training began when a girl was around the age of four. Now, girls usually go to school until they are teenagers and then make the personal decision to train to become a geisha. Young women who wish to become geisha now most often begin their training after completing middle school, high school, or even college. Many women begin their careers in adulthood.


Geisha still study traditional instruments: the shamisen, shakuhachi, and drums, as well as learning games, traditional songs, calligraphy, Japanese traditional dances (in the nihonbuyō style), tea ceremony, literature, and poetry. Women dancers drawing their art from butō (a classical Japanese dance) were trained by the Hanayagi school, whose top dancers performed internationally. Ichinohe Sachiko choreographed and performed traditional dances in Heian court costumes, characterized by the slow, formal, and elegant motions of this classical age of Japanese culture in which geisha are trained.By watching other geisha, and with the assistance of the owner of the geisha house, apprentices also become skilled dealing with clients and in the complex traditions surrounding selecting and wearing kimono, a floor length silk robe embroidered with intricate designs which is held together by a sash at the waist which is called an obi.

Kyoto is considered by many to be where the geisha tradition is the strongest today, including Gion Kobu. The geisha in these districts are known as geiko. The Tokyo hanamachi of Shimbashi, Asakusa and Kagurazaka are also well known.In modern Japan, geisha and maiko are now a rare sight outside hanamachi. In the 1920s, there were over 80,000 geisha in Japan, but today, there are far fewer. The exact number is unknown to outsiders and is estimated to be from 1,000 to 2,000, mostly in the resort town of Atami. Most common are sightings of tourists who pay a fee to be dressed up as a maiko.

A sluggish economy, declining interest in the traditional arts, the exclusive nature of the flower and willow world, and the expense of being entertained by geisha have all contributed to the tradition’s decline.

Geisha are often hired to attend parties and gatherings, traditionally at ochaya (literally “tea houses”) or at traditional Japanese restaurants (ryōtei).The charge for a geisha’s time (measured by burning incense stick) is called senkōdai (“incense stick fee”) or gyokudai (“jewel fee”). In Kyoto, the terms ohana  and hanadai, meaning “flower fees”, are preferred. The customer makes arrangements through the geisha union office ( kenban), which keeps each geisha’s schedule and makes her appointments both for entertaining and for training.In recent times a few non-Japanese women have also become geisha. Liza Dalby worked briefly with geishas as part of her doctorate research in 1970s, though she did not formally debut.



In 2007, Australian national Fiona Graham formally debuted under the name Sayuki in the Asakusa district of Tokyo. She has been reported to be the first Caucasian to become a full-fledged geisha.As of 2012 there are two foreign nationals working as geisha in Japan who are formally affiliated with Japanese geisha associations: Ibu, a geiko of Ukrainian ancestry working in Anjo, and Fukutarō (Isabella Onou), a Romanian national working in the Izu-Nagaoka district of Shizuoka.

** Fushimi Inari


Fushimi Inari Taisha is the head shrine of Inari, located in Fushimi-ku, Kyoto,Japan. The shrine sits at the base of a mountain also named Inari which is 233 metres above sea-level, and includes trails up the mountain to many smaller shrines.
Since in early Japan Inari was seen as the patron of business, each of the Torii is donated by a Japanese business. First and foremost though, Inari is the god of rice.
Merchants and manufacturers worship Inari for wealth. Donated torii lining footpaths are part of the scenic view.
This popular shrine is said to have as many as 32,000 sub-shrines (bunsha) throughout Japan.
The shrine became the object of Imperial patronage during the early Heian period. In 965 Emperor Murakami decreed that messengers carry written accounts of important events to the guardian kami of Japan. These heihaku were initially presented to 16 shrines including the Inari Shrine.
From 1871 through 1946, Fushimi Inari-taisha was officially designated one of the Kanpei-taisha  meaning that it stood in the first rank of government supported shrines.
The earliest structures were built in 711 on the Inariyama hill in southwestern Kyoto, but the shrine was re-located in 816 on the request of the monk Kūkai. The main shrine structure was built in 1499. At the bottom of the hill are the main gate (“tower gate”) and the main shrine (go-honden). Behind them, in the middle of the mountain, the inner shrine (Okumiya) is reachable by a path lined with thousands of torii. To the top of the mountain are tens of thousands of mounds (tsuka) for private worship.


Nara Deer Park
Nara – 5 level pagoda
Nara Deer park.
Imagine how old this tree must be!
Nara Deer Park


Fushimi Inari
Fushimi Inari
Fushimi Inari
Fushimi Inari
Fushimi Inari


Geisha in Gion

6 thoughts on “Kyoto – 6th February

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s