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Monday, April 13, 2009

Geisha Etiquette for Tourists

Kyoto Maiko on Pontocho京都の舞子さんを道で出会う相応しい行動

Camera-wielding tourists from around the world have become more and more aggressive in stalking Kyoto's geisha.

As at the Tsukiji fish market - which just recently let tours back in after banning them because of the many problems caused by the visitors - Kyoto's Gion and Pontocho areas have in recent years been swamped with ever more tourists. Unfortunately, many of these tourists seem to lose any sense of restraint in the presence of frozen tuna or geisha.

Like the fish mongers and auctioneers in Tokyo, Kyoto's geisha (and their clients) are none too happy. Unlike Tsukiji, however, banning tourists from these areas is not an option.

To combat the pushy foreigners, and protect the women, patrols have been created to escort the geisha from tea house to tea house.

A bit of common sense and restraint, though, could solve the problem.

When visiting Kyoto, try to keep in mind the following:

1. Gion, Pontocho, etc. are not theme parks. The women are not dressed up for you.
2. The geisha are working. They will not pose for photos. They are going to an appointment. They are on a schedule. Stay out of their way.
3. Never touch the geisha. It takes hours - literally - to get dressed and prepare for an evening.
4. Never follow them.
5. Do not go into a tea house or private residence.
6. Respect their space. Do not thrust your camera inches from a geisha's face or body.
7. Take your picture and move on.

You are not on a safari in search of a cheetah. Stroll, enjoy the vibe of the neighborhood, take a few pictures from a respectful distance, then go out for dinner and a beer.

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