The Old Capital in Bloom: Experiencing Kyoto during Cherry Blossom Season 2023

Jun 30 | Evan | Comments Off on The Old Capital in Bloom: Experiencing Kyoto during Cherry Blossom Season 2023 |

The next stop on our 2023 Cherry Blossom Photography Tour was Kyoto, the old capital of Japan and a city steeped in history, tradition, and breathtaking beauty. After a challenging start with the weather, we were greeted with sunny skies and blossoming sakura trees upon our arrival in Kyoto. However, with each passing day, the cherry blossoms were shedding their petals, slowly transitioning from peak bloom to the ephemeral beauty of falling sakura.

Yet, this wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. In fact, it turned out to be a blessing during our portrait session with a local geiko, a woman I’ve had the pleasure of photographing for several years now. She is always composed and elegant, but when a sudden “blizzard” of falling cherry blossom petals occurred, she burst into genuine, joyous laughter. The moment was pure magic, the falling sakura petals serving as the perfect backdrop to her radiant smile. It was truly a unique and heartwarming moment, reminding us of the spontaneous beauty that can occur in photography.

Kyoto, once the capital of Japan, is a city rich in cultural heritage. It boasts over 1,600 Buddhist temples, 400 Shinto shrines, and 17 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, each with its own unique story and beauty. This abundance of historical and cultural sites makes Kyoto a photographer’s paradise, providing countless opportunities for both classic and unconventional shots.

Of course, we made sure to visit the iconic sites like Kinkaku-ji (the Golden Pavilion), Ginkaku-ji (the Silver Pavilion), the Philosopher’s Path, Arashiyama Bamboo Forest, Kiyomizu-dera, Ninna-ji, Ryōan-ji, and Fushimi Inari Taisha. Each location offered its unique blend of nature and architecture, the cherry blossoms adding a touch of seasonal charm to these timeless landmarks.

But our journey through Kyoto wasn’t limited to the well-known spots. We also ventured to some lesser-known sites, hidden gems that offered unique photographic opportunities away from the crowds. Whether it was a lesser-known shrine tucked away in a quiet neighborhood or a beautiful garden off the beaten path, these hidden spots allowed us to experience and capture a different side of Kyoto.

Our time in Kyoto was filled with memorable experiences, beautiful sites, and unforgettable photographic moments. As we witnessed the city’s transition from peak cherry blossom season to the fleeting beauty of falling sakura, we were reminded of the transient nature of beauty and the importance of capturing these moments through our lenses. As we packed our bags for the next leg of our journey, we carried with us the images and memories of Kyoto, a city that beautifully blends the old with the new, the iconic with the hidden, and the transient with the timeless.

Immerse yourself in the breathtaking beauty of Japan’s cherry blossom season in 2024! Reach out now to secure your spot on our guided photography tour, or explore our 2023 cherry blossom tour of Japan posts to get a glimpse of the unforgettable experiences that await you.

What’s Different, Maiko and Geisha?

Apr 07 | Evan | No Comments |

What is the difference between the two? 

Maiko and geisha are one of the most iconic symbols of Japan. They are mysterious, beautiful, elegant, and perfect photographic subjects for your photo tour of Japan. With 300 years or so of history, we can learn so much about Japan through them. In this article, let’s learn about maiko and geisha so that when you are on your next photo tour of Japan, you have more knowledge of Japan, and furthermore, you are more prepared to photograph them and/or even become one for a day! 

Let’s learn about maiko! 

In short, a maiko is the girl who is training to be a geisha, an apprentice of geisha. Most of the girls start training to be a maiko after graduating from Jr. High School for 5 years or so. Back in the day, the training started as early as 10, but in today’s modern world, the girls who dream to be a geisha start their training as a maiko after graduating from Jr. High School, which is age 15 and then by age 20 or so, they turn into a geisha. 

So what do they do during those 5 years of training? Well, the first year is all training, they don’t even go anywhere near the customers. The girls learn traditional dance, dressing kimono, tea ceremony, flower arrangement, etiquette, and how to treat customers. After 1 year of training, then girls debut as a maiko to be in front of a customer for the first time. In the 2nd year onwards, the girls continue training as well as work as a maiko in front of customers until they make a decision to continue or discontinue working in the industry as a geisha or end the career around the age 20. 

Some fun facts about maiko is that maiko hair is not a wig. It’s all her natural hair and once the hair is made, a maiko wears the hair without washing it for a week! Additionally, a maiko wears a seasonal “kanzashi,” hairpin. If you are trying to differentiate between a maiko and geisha, check out their hairpin to see what kind of hairpins they are wearing. Furthermore, one clear difference between a maiko and a geisha is what they are wearing on their feet. Those ones with very thick platow heels are maiko. Geisha wear geta or zouri, which are much more flat compared to maiko’s footwear. 

Can you guess if she is a maiko or geisha

Let’s learn about geisha!

In short, a geisha is the woman who graduates from being a maiko. After 5 years or so of training being a maiko, then you become a geisha. Yes, everyone starts from maiko and then eventually turns into geisha. As well as a word, geisha, you also hear “geiko” and “geiki” which all mean the same. The difference is the area, which part of Japan you are in. Just to make things easy, let’s stick to geisha here. 

Geisha are the traditionally trained hospitality professionals. Not everyone can be one and those who are named as geisha have extensive training as described earlier in the maiko section. Besides its mysterious beauty and elegance, they are the living traditions who are passing down Japanese traditions.They also act as ambassadors to the world when international events take place. There is no age limit to being a geisha, thus some people continue to be a geisha even in their 80s! However, in general, once a woman marries, she graduates from being a geisha. 

If you want to meet a geisha and a maiko, you might be lucky enough to run into them randomly on the streets of Kyoto, but if you really want to spend time with them, then you need to go to ozashiki where geisha and maiko entertain guests. Back in the day, only a handful people with fame, money, connection, and power could spend time with maiko and geisha, but time has passed that there are some services offered today that with an interpreter, you can also enjoy ozashiki with geisha and maiko. I don’t know the cost involved, but if you are looking for one and only experience, perhaps request this in your private photo tour of Japan?

Maiko for a day – Let’s try to be a maiko in Kyoto! 

One of the most popular activities for females visiting Kyoto is to become a maiko or a geisha. There are many companies, which provide full make up, wig, and kimoto service to magically turn you into a maiko or a geisha for a day. You get to do a photoshoot with the full look and/or get out of the streets of Kyoto. No, you don’t need to be Japanese to be one. Anybody can be one if you use any of these services below. Don’t worry, all these companies below have English websites so you will be able to get a feel for what to expect. Additionally, if males also want to try wearing a kimono, some companies also offer services for males too. 

Maiko-Henshin Studio Shiki

Yumekoubou Kyoto Head Studio

Studio Kokoro

Gion AYA Maiko & Geisha Makeover

For those of you who want to know more about the actual experience, below is the YouTube video from Gion AYA Maiko & Geisha Makeover. This is from when American reality big family star, “19 Kids and Counting,” the Duggars girls as well as the mother and the grandmother are all trying this Maiko experience. 

So hopefully you learned something new about maiko and geisha in this article. Maybe we can travel to Japan later in 2021 or the following year on Japan Photo Tour so that you can capture beautiful maiko and geisha then. Of course, if you get inspired and interested in being one for a day, perhaps it’s not a bad idea to turn into one on your tour too. Just a note to remember is that there has been a significant number of complaints from the maiko and geisha of the Kyoto community in the recent years that some travelers have been too aggressive when it comes to approaching maiko and geisha. Besides the obvious facts, it’s not appropriate to touch their hair, kimono, and/or body, if you meet them on the streets of Kyoto or anywhere else, please be respectful and mindful. If you are photographing them, please always ask first so that it’s a pleasant experience for both sides. 

2019 Cherry Blossom Photo Tour | Kyoto Geiko Portrait Session

Jul 21 | Evan | No Comments |

In 2014 I received a request to arrange a private tour in Japan for a photographer and his family. There were a few photography opportunities requested such as spending time with a master sword smith as he worked to to take portraits of a real maiko, geiko or geisha in Japan. So it was in 2014 I first started working with this (at the time) maiko and during the 2019 cherry blossom photography tour of Japan I took portraits of her for the first time as a geiko (she finished her apprenticeship and earned new title).

I’ve really enjoyed working with her and creating portraits in Kyoto with her year after year and hope to continue to bring small groups of photographers to take portraits of her for many years to come in Kyoto.

The photo below is courtesy of and created by one of our group’s photographers, Daniel Leffel. Take a look at Daniel’s website for more excellent photography not only of Japan but all over the word.

Kyoto Japan

The 2019 Cherry Blossom Photography Tour took a small group of photographers to Japan. We started in Tokyo and continued to Hiroshima, Miyajima, Himeji Castle, Kyoto and Mt. Fuji from Shizuoka and from Fuji Five Lakes. Here is the trip report from the 2019 Cherry Blossom Photography Tour of Japan and the 2018 Cherry Blossom Photo Tour of Japan. The 2020 Cherry Blossom Photo Tour of Japan is already planned and live! Limited spots are available for the 2020 Cherry Blossom Photography Tour of Japan, with first booking already reserved!

Here is a gallery of more geiko portraits taken during the 2019 cherry blossom tour of Japan.

2018 Cherry Blossom Photo Tour of Japan | Maiko Portrait Session in Kyoto

Jun 01 | Evan | No Comments |

I’ve been photographing this maiko san since 2014 and this past photography tour will be the last time I photograph her as a maiko as she is finished her apprenticeship and became a geiko (geisha are called geiko in Kyoto) in May!  A portrait session with a real maiko is always a popular request from photographers visiting Japan with me on the photography tours.

I’ve really enjoyed the portrait sessions with her in Kyoto over the years and it’s been fun to see her grow and become a fantastic model to work with.  At this point, I don’t have say anything to her until I’m ready to move to the next location or pose.  I’ve also grown and improved as a photographer myself, so it’s been fun working with her multiples times on the photography tours of Japan.

I’m already looking forward to next portrait session in Kyoto with her as a geiko san which will include a lot of changes in her style and appearance!  I will have to put together a book for her as a gift with some of my favorite portraits of her in Kyoto over the years! 

The 2018 Cherry Blossom Photography Tour took a small group of photographers to Japan.  We started in Tokyo and continued to Hiroshima, Miyajima, Himeji Castle, Kyoto and Mt. Fuji.  Here is the trip report from the 2018 Cherry Blossom Photography Tour of Japan. The 2019 Cherry Blossom Photo Tour of Japan is already planned and live!  Limited spots are available for the 2019 Cherry Blossom Photography Tour of Japan, with first booking already reserved!  Below is a gallery of more photos from our maiko portrait session in Kyoto.

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