Geisha Fever: Changes in the Traditional Entertainment Districts in Kyoto in Response to Excessive Attention from Western Tourists

Keywords: maiko, geiko, Kyoto, stereotypes, commercialisation


In the popular discourse, geiko districts are described as places where traditional culture is preserved in a living form. Although this statement may be considered as true, the geiko community is a part of Japanese society as a whole and does not exist in complete isolation. Being able to survive as guardians of the Japanese tradition, in the 21st century geiko are discovering new opportunities, such as using new media to promote themselves in order to protect their lifestyle. However, outside world has forced them to change the way they manage their business in the districts. By using their own Internet sites, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts to reach new customers, they display their daily routine, one in which traditional culture meets modern ideas. This paper shows the reception of usage of the Internet in traditional entertainment districts of Kyoto and the response of Western tourists to the geisha phenomenon. It appears that overwhelming attention on the part of tourist industry, as well as commercialisation, are becoming a threat to the values which have cemented relationships between customers, geiko and teahouses owners. For instance, while during the so-called “geisha hunting”, tourists often try to take photographs of them at all costs. Considering the aspects of geiko life and processes mentioned above it is worth analysing how the image of the geiko is perceived by Westerners.


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