When I headed to Gion on my first day in Kyoto, I was hoping to snap a couple of photos of elusive geishas in the wild, like I failed to do with Yakuza gangsters in Kabukichō. But I wasn't planning on being too obvious about it - a blurry, over the shoulder stealth shot would satisfy my sightseeing checklist, without getting in these women's way or making them feel like freak shows.
But I forgot this is Japan, where taking photos is as necessary as going to the bathroom (camera functions are often easier to get your head around than their complicated sci-fi toilets too), and these painted ladies seemed happy/resigned to stand around for five minutes each time they turned a corner and were swarmed by a new crowd of Japanese and foreign tourists.
Come and gawp then.
Not being a listless housewife going through a midlife crisis, I didn't know much about geishas before coming to Kyoto and seeing them in the porcelain flesh, but like Scientology or Twin Peaks, this tradition seems to be one of those things you can't ever hope to really understand unless you're actually involved.
The main thing I gathered is that they're not glorified prostitutes, like you Western idiots think, which is a shame as nothing gets me going like the thought of getting it on with what looks like a cross between a corpse and an ornament. (This is coming from someone who's gone on record confessing a prepubescent infatuation with Wednesday Addams).
I also learned that in Kyoto these would technically be geikos, not geishas, which sounds more like you'd find them clinging to a wooden beam outside your window, making honking sounds and futile attempts to catch cockroaches in their jaws. Like I said, it's a mysterious enclave.
Yeah, that little one's cute and everything, but I was a little concerned that she might be getting forced into a niche and restrictive lifestyle/career before she's old enough to make those decisions for herself. Reading up on it, I was glad to find out that hand-picked geisha girls have pretty normal childhoods before they have the choice of enrolling full-time after high school's over. Because this is Japan, and unlike some of the countries I've visited, women actually have rights and stuff. Refreshing, isn't it?
Now I'm really confused
Alright, you can have another cute photo.
Don't say I'm not good to you