NHK Documentary – A Tale of Love and Honor: Life in Gion
Within Japan, there’s a place that’s like another world: Gion, in Kyoto. When night falls in this historic district, nearly 100 geiko, or traditional entertainers, make their way to teahouses to perform classical arts, such as music and dance, for carefully selected guests. Kimi Ota, 77, is proprietress of a 200-year-old teahouse. Throughout its history, it has always been run by a woman. The proprietress cannot marry, and must have a daughter who can someday take over. Peer behind the curtain into the unique and alluring world of Kyoto’s teahouses.
Gion (祇園, ぎおん)[note 1] is a district of Kyoto, Japan, originally developed in the Sengoku period, in front of Yasaka Shrine (Gion Shrine). The district was built to accommodate the needs of travelers and visitors to the shrine. It eventually evolved to become one of the most exclusive and well-known geisha districts in all of Japan. The term Gion is related to Jetavana.
The geisha in Kyoto do not refer to themselves as geisha; instead, they use the local term geiko. While the term geisha means “artist” or “person of the arts”, the more direct term geiko means essentially “a woman of art”.