Seeing geisha seems like catching a glimpse of a long-gone past. They have become such a rarity today that even most Japanese never get in contact with them.
The largest remaining population is present in Kyoto’s premier geisha district Gion. Chances to spot geisha on the street are best in the early evenings, when they are on their way to dinner appointments with clients. Failing that, you can see them first-hand at public shows like Gion’s Miyako Odori (dances of the capital). These performances present an arrangement of traditional music and dances, painstakingly choreographed and carried out by more than two dozen geisha and maiko (geisha in training).
During the day, you will see a number of young women who look like maiko but are not. Dressing up maiko-style has become a popular activity in recent years. As you would expect, fake geisha are posing and taking selfies all the time. True geisha who are on a tight schedule do not have time for this. They won’t stop for tourists that are snapping away.
Seeing cherry blossom is no less tricky, just in other ways. The cherry trees’ petals are so fragile that full bloom will only last for about a week. That way the blossom became a symbol of life’s impermanence – known as mono no aware – in the Japanese mindset.
When to Go
Assuming you plan to visit the main tourist areas around Hiroshima, Kyoto, and Tokyo, I suggest that you start your journey in Tokyo. Arrange for an arrival at the end of March, then continue with your route westwards. This itinerary worked out perfectly well for me on two trips and is backed by meterological records. When laying down your itinerary, checking out japan-guide.com’s daily reports and other blooming forecasts can be useful too.