Seeing geisha is like catching a glimpse of a long-gone past. The white-faced living flowers represent a cultural heritage that seems largely out of touch with modern-day Japan. There are not many Japanese getting in contact with them these days.
The largest remaining population is present in Kyoto’s premier geisha district Gion. Chances to spot them on the street are best in the early evening, 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 like maiko has become a popular pastime for Japanese as well as for non-Japanese tourists. Telling them apart from the real thing is rather easy. True geisha are usually on a tight schedule; they do not have time for posing and taking selfies. Do not expect them to stop for you to let you take a shot of them.
Seeing cherry blossom is tricky too, 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 in the Japanese mindset – known as mono no aware.
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.