When we talk about Kyoto, an image of traditional houses, narrow streets and people wearing kimono comes to our mind without question.

If we walk through these narrow alleys, we might stumble upon small tea houses, craft ateliers, and even a Hanamachi (or Kagai). These are the Geisha districts of the city, and Gion is the most popular, but it’s only one of them.


Geisha, Maiko and Geiko

In Kyoto there are no Geishas. Instead, they are called Geiko, which literally means Woman of the Arts.

Maiko is the name that a Geiko trainee receives during her learning years (16-20). On the picture above, you can see a Geiko on the left, a Maiko in the middle, and the Okaasan on the right.

The Okaasan is the owner of an Okiya, the house where Maiko live and learn. She  the person in charge of the girls training.

The five Hanamachi

Kyoto is the ancient capital of Japan. That’s why in here, we can find up to five different Hanamachi. Here’s the list:

  1. Miyagawacho
  2. Gion Kobu
  3. Gion Higashi
  4. Pontocho
  5. Kamishichiken

When is the best time to visit Gion?

As we just saw, Kyoto has more than one Hanamachi (Geisha District). Gion is the biggest, so the chances of seeing some Maiko or Geiko are slightly higher. Dinner is served to the clients in two turns in the ochaya (tea houses). Usually the first one is around 6pm, and the second one around 8pm. So anytime in the evening is good to see some movement. Specially on Friday and Saturday night.