A Geisha initially starts as an apprentice known as Maiko. Maiko traditionally start their career from as young as 15 and undergo a 5 year training period where she learns to master the art of Japanese Geisha culture and entertainment. Special schools teach manners, elocution, dancing, singing, and musicianship. Once they turn 20 and have attained the mature level of artistry, they become Geiko.
Your best chance of bumping into Geisha is in Gion District, home to several traditional Japanese restaurants, ryokans and teahouses and where you are most likely to see Maiko and Geiko moving from one banquet location to another by chance. Hanami-koji street is known as a good place to wait and see.
For an authentic experience, special private “high-society” dinners can be arranged, usually in prestigious ryokans or teahouses. Whilst guests enjoy a kaiseki dinner (a traditional multi-course meal comprised of delicately prepared and highest quality ingredients), Maiko and Geiko in full costume will serve and entertain guests. This is a once in a lifetime experience but often comes with a high price tag to match.
For those on a budget, Gion Corner is the best place to go to see Geisha. It is a theater where visitors can watch demonstrations of the seven Japanese traditional performing arts: tea ceremony, flower arrangement, koto (Japanese Harp) playing, gagaku (court dance), kyogen (comic play), Maiko dance and Bunraku (puppet play). At the end of the show, one or two Maiko will dance a traditional Japanese dance. The theatre is well set-up to accommodate foreign guests with various language brochures and audio guides.
For the full immersive experience, try a Maiko studio held in a traditional Machiya townhouse where friendly staff will help transform guests into typical maiko costume using special make-up, hair styling and ornate kimonos. Guests can then walk the surrounding neighbourhood or have photos taken in their full geisha garb.