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Gion District

  The traditional entertainment districts of Gion, Pontocho, Shimabara, Miyagawa cho and Kamishichiken have especially beauti ful restaurants and chaya (establishments which offer geiko and maiko performances). The refined gait of a maiko, gorgeously attired in kimono with lacquered paper umbrella in hand, passing the dark fronted houses, presents an exotic opportunity to appreciate a moment of grace. The refined bow of a geiko as she enters a place of entertainment, a glimpse of a flowing silk en sleeve as the door slides quietly shut, bring another dimension to beauty in these districts.
  In Kyoto, geisha are known as geiko, the term meaning a woman accomplished in the arts. Her understudy is a maiko, a young woman who apprentices, usually from age sixteen, at the okiya in the geiko districts of Gion, Pontocho, Miyagawa cho and Kamishichiken.
  The Western sexualization of this ancient practice is both unfortunate and inaccurate. The gei in geiko refers to the arts, usually the performing arts of singing, dancing and playing musical instruments, including the shamisen, a three stringed banjo like instrument. The mai in maiko means dance, one of the first skills a young woman learns, because moving gracefully in a kimono requires practice, good posture and elegant, con trolled bearing.
  But to see kimono at their most magnificent, the beautiful streets that traverse Gion and Pontocho districts and their adja cent theaters are the places to go. There, you can step back hundreds of years to glimpse a maiko passing the elegant old wooden teahouses on her way to her music lesson or hairdresser.
  It is almost like spotting a rare bird, and as the maiko comes into view, throngs of camera wielding tourists congregate, seemingly emerging from nowhere, to capture the excitement of the moment. On occasion, so many people gather that volunteer guides must keep them from impeding the maiko’s elegant passage.
  The buildings lining the streets of Pontocho and Gion are another of Kyoto’s treasures. The softcolored wooden lattice doors that slide soundlessly open to reveal miniature gardens and stone paths are as beautiful as they are distinctive. The chaya teahouse differs from the dwellings of ordinary residents. The buildings are constructed of many small rooms, some with alcoves dis playing a treasured object and flower arrangement. Within these rooms, guests assemble. The crystal clear flow of sake as it is poured into tiny delicate cups and the many courses are accompa nied by the swish of a silk kimono and the graceful demeanor of the server. The seemingly effortless elegance by which a dinner pro ceeds defines an evening well spent and encompasses the essence of the geisha districts.