My trip to Kyoto, Japan was an extraordinary experience. I was always fascinated by the contrast of the grand heritage and centuries old traditions and the hyper modernity and uniqueness of Japan.
I had the pleasure to travel with my good friend Carlo from Palermo. He is a photographer himself and we were both researching and preparing this trip for months especially as we wanted to get in touch with the ancient world of Geishas in Kyotos district of Gion.
We arrived in Osaka and took a short train ride to Kyoto where we had checked in to the beautiful Hyatt Regency Kyoto.
First it seamed impossible to get introduced to the inner circle of the Geisha culture, let aside to take photographs. Until the day of our arrival we had no real contacts. On the first night though we were so fortunate to start a conversation with a Restaurant owner in Gion which after she understood our motivation and saw our work then vouched for us and called someone with connections to a Geisha and her Maiko, which is an apprentice Geisha.
In Japanese culture it is custom to always get introduced to someone foreign through someone local who can vouch for you and introduce you. This was especially necessary for us as foreigners trying to see more of the secretive world of Geishas in Kyoto.
Two days later we had arranged our first meeting and decided to take some pictures in the incredible hotel lounge which had walls made out of stacked books. A perfect backdrop. We had a wonderful conversation with our guests and learned so much about the centuries old trade of Geishas which originated over 1200 years ago in Kyoto. The name Geisha translates to “Woman of Art” and defines Japanese women who entertain through performing the ancient traditions of art, dance and singing,
The following days we explored the narrow street of Gion, had fantastic meals and witnessed traditional Tea ceremonies in Ryokans in Gion.
Walking in Gion after dark is your only change to see some Geishas publicly where they swiftly commute from one Ryokan to another or into a waiting car. It is a very secretive and exclusive act to see a Geisha perform and having met and photographed with them is a true highlight of my career.
Kyoto was the former Imperial capital of Japan for over 1000 years and it is just fascinating to try to understand the history in this city. Further more Kyoto is famous for its multiple Buddhist temples and Shrines.
We hiked the Fushimi Inari Taisha shrine one morning. It is the head shrine of the god Inari which has been worshiped as the patron of business. Each of the red gates or torii at the temple has been donated by a Japanese business.
The shrine is built along a hillside and has multiple spots with beautiful views over the city. You can also enjoy some tea at a local tea parlour half way up to the hill top.
Returning to the city centre we wanted to dive into the pop culture and venture around some of the arcades and Manga figurine stores and Manga themed cafes. A full clash with the old history of Japan but as intriguing.
The interesting thing is that we could see every age group in those countless arcades. Young and old crowds were gambling, chatting hanging out at every hour of the day. If it was midnight or 6am, those places didn’t really have any off hours.
We ended up in a Manga figurine mega mall and it was pretty fascinating to look at all those dolls. I am sure it multiple hundreds on the walls. This was probably a collectors dream.
The nearby Nishiki market offered a great selection of local food, farmers and fish monger. Just a great spot to catch a delicious lunch at one of the stalls and witness the crowds streaming through the market running errands and getting groceries.
The Ryozen Kannonis a war memorial located in Eastern Kyoto. It commemorates the War dead of the Pacific War. The 24 m high statue of Bodhisattva Kannon embodies the compassion of all Buddhas. There is also a memorial hall on site in honour of the unknown soldier killed in World War II.
On our last evening in Kyoto we headed back to Gion and enjoyed some outstanding Sake in a tiny Sake tasting bar. The owner gave us a true lesson on the specifics of traditional Sake and we reflected on all the things we saw and all the amazing people we met and photographed.
Back out in the alleys of Gion we tried to find another glimpse of a Geisha and indeed we were lucky enough to run into one of the Geishas we photographed at the beginning of our visit. A perfect ending to an extra ordinary trip.
Arigato gozimasu Kyoto and thank you Carlo.
Copyright, Florian Innerkofler.