A view of the side alley near Shirakawa Tatsumikyo (Photo: Shozo Fujii)

History of Kyoto's Gion 3

An evening in the teahouse with maiko and geisha

A view of the side alley near Shirakawa Tatsumikyo (Photo: Shozo Fujii)
Justin Velgus   - 3 min read

What should you do if you want to enjoy the teahouses but don't have someone to introduce you? The Okini Kyoto Traditional Arts Foundation (京都伝統技芸振興財団) has you covered.

In order to preserve the passed-down traditional arts of Gion, the Kyoto City Tourist Association and the Kyoto Hanamachi Federation launched the Okini Foundation in the eighth year of Heisei (1996). If you don't have the required teahouse goer to introduce you to a teahouse, you can overcome this obstacle by becoming a member of the Okini Foundation. The annual fee is 30,000 yen. With a membership, you are not only granted an introduction to the teahouses, but you'll receive invitations to private members-only social gatherings complete with geisha and maiko (however, the party itself is a separate charge).

When entering a teahouse, there are several points to keep in mind.

There is a required minimum standard of dress code. Clothing such as T-shirts, jeans, and sneakers should be avoided. This is not only bad manners but it could also cause the person that introduced you to become embarrassed. Similar to entering an upscale French restaurant, men should come in jacket and women are to wear something of sophistication showing adult taste. Shoes should be polished. If shoes are to be taken off before entering the restaurant, make sure you are not entering barefoot. Therefore, do wear socks just in case.

Unless told otherwise in advance, photography is generally allowed. Still, you should be mindful of who you show such photos to protect guests' privacy.

The most important thing is to not touch the geisha and maiko, not even their clothes, in any way. The accessories and clothing are very valuable and often times borrowed from the landlady. Also, do not mistake the geisha and maiko for companions offering any romance, and do not look at them in such a suggestive manner.

Paying no attention to the still setting hot sun, I find my Gion exploration winding down. The radiating reds from the west fill the sky. I am in the mood for some drinks and pickled vegetables. The evening is just starting. I continue my stroll around Gion.

This is one of a three part series about the history of Kyoto's Gion.

1. The creation of Gion

2. Entertainment, tea, and the performance

3. An evening in the teahouse with maiko and geisha

Justin Velgus

Justin Velgus @justin.velgus

Justin Velgus (ジャスティン ベルガス) is the Miyagi Prefecture expert for Japan Travel and a long-term contributor since 2012 with a focus on the Tohoku region.  Justin has written extensively for JT, and other publications such as VisitMiyagi and Sake Today, amassing over 350 published articles...