Gion and Pontocho

This is short mini-excursion that is stroller-enabled and can turn out to be quite interesting for older children.

Gion and Pontocho are a short walk from Shijo-Kawaramachi, and are the last remaining areas where the geisha live and work. There are few geisha left, victims of rising costs and changing society, but they played an important role in Kyoto's history, and their story is part of learning about this city (there are also many misconceptions about the geisha, including that they are prostitutes; for an interesting, scholarly-valid and readable look at their world, try Geisha by Lisa Dalby. Dalby, as an American graduate student in anthropology, joined the ranks of the geisha in Kyoto and apprenticed in the famed Pontocho district).

During the day these areas are fairly bland, though Gion has some attractive old buildings and shops. After dark, both areas, especially Pontocho, can get a bit sleazy, and are worth passing by entirely. The magic time is around 6:30 at night, especially on Saturdays, when, if you are lucky, you just might catch a glimpse of a passing maiko (an apprentice geisha) on her way to work. Pick a side street corner and wait. Keep an eye out for knots of Japanese photographers, who seems to have a sense of where the maiko will appear. This is something special, something truly, uniquely Japanese when those phrases are overused, and something very few people in the world have a chance to see. The maiko are a delicate piece of living history, young women living a life identical to their sisters from hundreds of years back, deliberately eschewing the modern world around them like some cultural Mennonite.

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