Since I was a little girl of about 7 I have been fascinated with Geisha. My grandfather brought me a Geisha doll home from Japan, she was exquisite in her red kimono with dangling cherry blosom in her hair. She was posed with a slight twist from the waist coyly hiding her face behind an ornate open fan. Geiko (what the Japanese actually called them) and Maiko (the apprentices) are even more exotic in the flesh. These tiny women are works of art -their hair alone must take hours, not to mention the make up and putting on the elaborate kimonos. Two of them kindly let me take a photo of them – I asked first as many ignorant tourists chase them around like rabid papparazzi – outside the Kenninji Temple gates.
The Kenninji complex is a series of pavillions, one containing a large Buddha with two huge dragons painted on the ceiling, another with a famous screen of the wind and thunder gods. This complex was built in the 13th century and is one of the first Zen temples in Japan. All of this sits within the modern chaos of Gion the traditional Geiko area. Much of the district has been preserved and is one of the few places left where you can see whole streets of gorgeous traditional wooden houses. Some streets have even had all of the power lines and services hidden to give a more authentic look.
But there is much more to Kyoto than just Gion. There’s the fabulous original castle of Nijo, the Golden temple, the Royal palace and gardens, actually there are temples and shrines all over the city. Just beyond the city is Arashiyama, an old place with an intact bamboo forest where 5000
Japanese lanterns adorn the streets and the forest for 10 days a year. It was worth braving the cold, rain and about 500,000 Japanese to see this night time spectacle.
We spent 6 days in Kyoto and probably could have used another 6 just for the temples and gardens – we may go back later in our holiday – but I am happy having fulfilled a childhood dream of seeing a real Geisha.