Japan, Landscape

Nihon no Aikon

Seeing geisha seems like getting 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. You are most likely to spot geisha on the street 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).

第143回都をどり  143rd Miyako Odori

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 these days. Telling the wannabees apart is easy. While tourist fake geisha are posing and taking selfies all the time, true geisha are unlikely to do any of this.

Seeing cherry blossom is tricky in other ways. The cherry’s petals are so fragile that full bloom only lasts for about a week. In the mindset of the Japanese, the blossom became a symbol of life’s impermanence, 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. A great source of advice when laying down your itinerary are japan-guide.com’s daily reports and other blooming forecasts.