GEISHA

Daily Star Sunday - - FRONT PAGE - ■ by MATT TILLER

FA­MOUS for its Shinto shrines, Bud­dhist tem­ples and geisha girls, Ky­oto is Ja­pan’s spir­i­tual heart.

A feast for the eyes and the senses, this vi­brant city on the is­land of Hon­shu nur­tures its an­cient tra­di­tions while em­brac­ing the new.

A great way to get your bear­ings in Ky­oto is on a free walk­ing tour. Sim­ply sign up to the Face­book event for the day you want to at­tend and turn up. As long as at least one tourist says they’re go­ing, then it’s on.

Our guide shep­herded the in­ter­na­tional crowd with en­thu­si­asm, pro­vid­ing in­for­ma­tion about the city, its land­marks, the two main re­li­gions of Shin­to­ism and Bud­dhism and the geisha district of Gion. Al­though there are hun­dreds of tem­ples and shrines in Ky­oto, you must see Fushimi Inari – a place recog­nis­able from the hit movie Mem­oirs Of A Geisha.

My tip is to rise early and get there for dawn. We ar­rived at 6.30am and had plenty of un­in­ter­rupted views as we made our way from the shrine at the bot­tom through the thou­sands of torii gates.

These fa­mous red sa­cred sym­bols are pur­chased by busi­nesses to bring them for­tune and cost around £9,000.

Mount Inari is also stun­ning in the morn­ing light and as we reached the sum­mit, Ithi­nomine Sta­tion, my wife pro­foundly spoke: “There’s bound to be some rare Poke­mon up here”. And, lo, she did trap an Ivysaur.

Ky­oto is home to the geisha, or geiko as they are known here. Lo­cal guides are quick to point out they are not part of the sex trade. It was US sol­diers at the end of World War II who of­ten called sin­gle Ja­panese women “geisha girls”.

The ar­du­ous jour­ney to be­come a geiko be­gins be­tween the age of 15 and 20 and girls spend about five years as trainees, called maiko, learn­ing the art form.

The pri­vate en­ter­tain­ing of geiko and maiko in the se­cre­tive build­ings of Gion is off lim­its to most. You must be wealthy and con­nected.

And for that rea­son there are many war­dens who usher the tourists to one side to al­low taxis car­ry­ing the rich and fa­mous or trav­el­ling geiko to pass.

There are also signs telling tourists not to touch, talk to or try to take a selfie with the geiko and maiko.

How­ever you can wit­ness the geikos’ skills dur­ing the Miyako Odori fes­ti­val in April, when per­for­mances are held sev­eral times a day. The sets are elab­o­rate and the per­for­mances

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