Icons of Japan

In modern Japan, geisha are a rarity even most Japanese never get in touch with. You can find the largest remaining population in Kyoto’s Gion district. Chances are high that you spot them on the street in the evening, when they are on their way to dinner appointments with clients. Failing that, there are public geisha shows like Gion’s Miyako Odori (dances of the capital). It is an arrangement of traditional music and dances, performed by more than two dozen geisha and maiko (geisha in training).


During the day, you may see a number of young women who look like geisha but are not. Dressing up as a maiko has become a popular activity in recent years. Since true geisha are unlikely to pose for tourists or take selfies, it is no problem to tell the wannabees apart.

Seeing cherry blossom (sakura) is equally tricky because full bloom only lasts for about a week. In Japanese thinking, the blooming’s short-lived nature makes it a perfect embodiment of mono no aware, a thought that represents the impermanence of life.


Anyway, assuming you plan to visit the main tourist areas around Hiroshima, Kyoto, and Tokyo, here is what I recommend: Make Tokyo your first stop, aiming for the end of March, then continue with your route westwards. This schedule is backed by meterological records and worked out well for me on two trips. When finetuning your itinerary, japan-guide.com’s daily reports and other blooming forecasts may come in handy.