I usually have a good say on where we travel, as I am always reading blogs, books or watching TV/films that have a lot of influence on our choices, for example Vietnam was influenced by the movie Platoon along with historical studies, Bora Bora, the movie South Pacific, the Middle East was Laurence of Arabia and Vegas well how many films can I name? I am truly indoctrinated by anything that is able to captivate my wandering mind and harness my imagination. Therefore I usually come up with the idea, and Megan has a bit of a look and sees there is animals she likes, or a nice beach and pretty much agrees or disagrees. Granted this mentality has changed over the years, but it all started in 2010, after I dragged her around Africa and Central America, she finally said ‘enough is enough’ I want to go to Japan.
Japan had never really appealed to me, I have no idea why. I mean if you think about it is full of history, clouded by mystery and wonder, what is there not to be excited about? Megan was right and Japan was a true wonder.
The Wandering Memory I want to share with you today is the experience of Geisha spotting in the truly magnificent city of Kyoto.
Kyoto is incredible with a unique mix of modern and traditional architecture and age old culture. On one side of a bridge there was the shopping centre, market and cinema, on the other was a host of traditional temples, tea houses and quaint local stalls. It was literally like stepping back in time, truly fascinating. The traditional area of Gion housed a real cultural feel and a break from the city life, just minutes away. Its windy streets and minor alleyways were complimented by overhanging roofs all designed in traditional Japanese architecture. For me, it was truly exciting as it felt as if I was walking the streets in the sixteenth century, where by a samurai could walk passed at any point.
Interestingly, an age old culture still resides in these streets which is that of the Geisha. Geisha’s recently rose to modern acclaim due to the Hollywood film Memoirs of a Geisha, but before that I knew very little about them. Viewing a real life Geisha is rated as a once in a life time experience, as they are very private people, rarely seen in crowds and suppporters of the traditional respectful Japanese culture. We heard that viewing a Geisha became even rarer after the film, as hundreds of tourists flocked to the area to see these real life marvels, and a number of inappropriate incidents occurred. From then on, the Geisha’s started to use secret exits and entrances to visit the tea houses and even started to adopt an evening only mentality, creeping quickly through the streets in the cover of darkness. The majority of Geisha’s do not all follow the myths that have surrounded them as prostitutes, but instead are traditional ceremonial entertainers, trained in Japanese arts, culture and communication.
Unfortunately being a foreigner or Gijin as its commonly known, we were informed by locals that it is near impossible to get into a Tea house, as they are reserved for the elite Japanese or long serving patrons. We were also told by a local that the stories relating to Geisha prostitution are merely myth and although it may have happened through history, it is now very extremely rare.
We frequented Gion on a number of times during our stay, not simply for the opportunity to encounter a Geisha, but because it was just such an amazing place to be. We had but given up on seeing this once in a lifetime site. As we were heading back to our hostel, crossing the road, Megan tapped me on the arm and her head nodded in front of me.
There plain as day dressed fully head to toe in ceremonial clothing was a Geisha (or a trainee geiko), waiting to cross the road. Yes I know how lucky are we? The lady in question was magnificent, with full traditional kimono dress and painted white face, she looked incredible. As she shuffled by us and into the windy streets, Megan took a sneaky photo so not to invade her privacy. Wow what a thrill, what a level of excitement, it was just when we thought it was never going to happen and bang there she was.
Kyoto offers more than simply Geisha’s; it is home to a traditional bamboo forest, ancient temples, quintessential markets full of Japanese treats, and of course the iconic Golden Temple. The views from the surrounding streets and hills are probably my favourite in all of Japan.
Japan hit me with many marvels but two of our favourites were the food and the people, such amazing friendly courteous people all throughout this incredible country.
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