Kyoto is not exactly what I expected from looking at all those Hokusai prints. It is a mid-sized, fairly modern looking city located about 2 1/2 hours by high speed train from Tokyo. There are trains, buses, cars, crowds, and the usual Pachinko parlors that seem to be everywhere in this country. But the Gion section of the city feels very much like the Kyoto I expected to find. It’s the old geisha district, where the streets are lined with one story buildings made of dark wood and paper windows; where there are red lanterns hanging from the eaves; where kimon clad geishas with parasols mince down the street in pairs.
As far as geishas go, there are still some in Kyoto, but they are becoming fewer and far between. They entertain the wealthy business men in the the tea houses and steak houses of Gion, and perform their famous Kyoto dance for tourists. Truthfully, a lot of the kimono wearing women you see in the streets of Gion are tourists or local business women and young ladies from the neighborhood, not geishas. It seems that the local textile industry in Kyoto was falling on hard times from the lack of kimono wearing Japanese citizens, and instituted a push for kimono wearing in the city. Local Kyoto restaurants and cafes often offer a discount to anyone wearing the traditional garb, so as to pump up the business of selling kimono fabrics and keep the local textile factories in business.
No matter, the effect of seeing a woman wearing a brilliantly colored kimono carrying a yellow parasol as she strolls past the red lanterns and shoji screened windows of Gion is still breathtaking. I feel like I am in the Japan I fantasized about as a little girl. Lovely.