Tuesday, April 18, 2006
Hunting Geisha's in Kyoto, Japan
Ever since Troy and I went to Tokyo 3 years ago, I have always wanted to go back to Japan. I especially wanted to go to Kyoto where the last of the famed Geisha's are known to reside. We decided to kill two birds with one stone and try to time our trip with the blossoming of the cherry trees. I am happy to say we succeeded in killing the two birds.
Timing the cherry blossoms is like timing the Aspen trees in Colorado. Only the time frame is much, much shorter and all the blossoms can easily be blown off with a very short windstorm. I thought we had missed the blossoms from watching the news and talking to friends from Japan. So I was very surprised when we saw cherry blossoms everywhere. They were absolutely beautiful and was something completely different from anything we have seen in any other country.
Japan is similar to China in that they have shrines and temples everywhere for people to pray at. Japan actually has more per square mile then China. On any given street you will come across either a very small shrine that takes up only a few dozen square feet, or you will come across a huge one that takes up a city block. It is at one of these larger shrines that Troy and I went to watch an event called Jusan Mairi. This is when 13 year old girls dressed in brightly colored kimonos visit large shrines to pray for wisdom and a beautiful voice. I dragged Troy along to see what it was all about. He was slightly uncomfortable with the idea. He said if he was in the US and was standing around waiting to take a picture of a 13 year old girl in her kimono he would be arrested. He's probably right.
Like I said before, my main goal in Kyoto was to see a Geisha. As we're walking around the Gion district, which is the most common place to see one, we felt like we were stalking wild animals. We would pass other Westerners and hear them say "Quick, there is one just up the street around the corner. If you hurry, you might catch her." The streets were not lit very well at night so if we saw something that even hinted at being a Geisha, we took off after her. We saw one in the late afternoon as she was on her way to a party. To tourists, she is like a celebrity. Everyone taking pictures of her while she stands there waiting to cross the street. As soon as the light turned green, she took off running, holding her umbrella and little bag and trying to keep her shoes on.
I have learned a few things about the Geisha. The girls we saw with the white painted face and complicated hair style and beautiful kimono are actually apprentice Geisha's called Maiko. The girls start their training as a young teenager and spend 6 years studying manners, music and dance. The senior Geisha's, or Geiko, are more subtle looking and very hard to spot because they don't wear the white make up or the fancy kimono. If you look closely at the picture on the right of the backside of the Geisha, you can see that her white makeup forms a "W" on the nape of her neck, exposing her skin. This area is considered an erotic part of the Geisha.
Today's Maiko and Geiko are hired to entertain guests and only a foreigner can go to a Geisha tea party if they are willing to pay a lot of money. Geisha's is a dying culture in Japan. In the 1930's there were over 80,000 Maiko. Today there are less then 100.
The one thing I didn't like about Kyoto (and Japan) is how expensive it is. In two days we spent over US$200 on food. At one restaurant, we expected our dinner bill to be roughly $35 plus the beer. Think about how cheap beer is and guess how much the beer was? The beer alone was almost as much as our dinner. Troy and I just about crapped our pants when we learned how much they were charging for beer.
One evening after dinner, we were looking for a small bar to have a drink. Most everything is hidden away in back alleyways or on the third floor of a building so the only way to find something is to look for a sign.... written English is helpful. I was tired of looking so I pulled Troy into the next bar I saw. It ended up being a whisky bar that sold expensive beer. It was also a karaoke bar which we discovered as soon as the bartender gave us a song book and the microphone. I immediately apologized to Troy for bringing him in there. We were the only ones in there until two Japanese guys walked in. They were obviously regulars with the way the bartender treated them and how they immediately started singing karaoke. As I was flipping through the song book (not sure why) I came across one of my favorite songs and thought hmmmmm.... I sang karaoke once about 12 years ago and swore I would never do it again. That oath lasted 12 years. After the two local guys sang more songs, I got the courage up and told the bartender the song I wanted to sing. Now picture this, the songs the two local guys were singing were sappy love songs. Even though they were in Japanese, you know a sappy love song when you hear it. What did I choose to sing? A heavy metal song by a group called Iron Maiden that was about war and fighting and dying and blood and guts and all kinds of stuff that just horrified the Japanese (see and hear Shelly sing it). I then did another song by Guns n' Roses that was about drugs and bitches and other things the Japanese didn't like too much. Believe it or not, the songs were very popular back in the 80's and 90's. I guarantee you those songs have never been sung in that bar and will probably never be sung again. Troy told me after we left that they turned the sound down while I sang. Bastards!!!! I suppose at any place here in the blog Troy will insert a link to a video he took of me singing so everyone can join Troy and laugh at me. But you know what, I sang, he didn't! So as bad as the singing is, as least I had the guts to sing!