Icons of Japan

Geisha are a sort of rare and secretive mystery in modern Japan. Even most Japanese are unlikely to ever get in touch with them.

 

The largest remaining population of geisha is present in Kyoto’s Gion district. Chances are that you spot them on the street in the evening, when they are on their way to dinner appointments with clients. Failing that, you can see them first-hand at 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. Telling the wannabees apart is easy. True geisha neither take selfies, nor do they pose for tourists on the street.

 

Seeing cherry blossom is equally tricky since full bloom only lasts for about a week. The short-lived nature of the blooming makes it a perfect embodiment of mono no aware, a thought that refers to the impermanence of life. This thinking may provide an explanation why – apart from the pleasant sight – cherry blossom is that highly regarded in Japan.

Let’s assume you plan visiting the main tourist areas around Hiroshima, Kyoto, and Tokyo. Following that, I recommend that you make Tokyo your first stop, aiming for the end of March, and then continue with your route westwards.

 

This schedule is backed by meterological records and worked out well for me on two trips. I recommend to check out japan-guide.com’s daily reports and other blooming forecasts when finetuning your itinerary.