Geisha in Gion

Geisha in Gion

I have a few photos I have always dreamed of taking.    Since moving to Japan photographing a geisha in Gion is one of them.   There is something beautiful and mysterious about a geisha.   They are a moving, living, breathing works of art.    Graceful, elegant and playful all at the same time.

Gion in Kyoto is one of the last places in Japan that still has an active Geisha District.   Geisha have worked in Gion for more than 300 years.   If you are lucky, you can catch a Geiko (Kyoto Japanese dialect for Geisha) and Maiko (apprentice Geikos) moving from Tea House to Tea House in the evening.     I spent the first few days in Kyoto going through temples and only on the last day late in the afternoon did I head over to Gion to see what I could find.

The very edge of Gion is one of the main Geisha Houses.  I figured this was actually not the best place to try to capture the photo I wanted and decided to walk up and down the small alleys to see what I might be able to find…

Today’s configuration:  Leica M6 with various Leica lenses shot on Kodak Ektar film.

Gion in Kyoto shot on Ektar 100 film with a Leica M6

I very quickly spotted a Maiko walking into a tea house…

Geisha in Gion in Kyoto shot on Ektar 100 film with a Leica M6

…and then a Geiko!

Geisha in Gion in Kyoto shot on Ektar 100 film with a Leica M6

Then I saw this cute Maiko heading off to perform for someone… I was surprised how fast she moves.  I was told repeatedly by people that the Geisha will not stop for photographs.  I imagine if they did there there would be a small mob forming very quickly to take photos.

Geisha in Gion in Kyoto shot on Ektar 100 film with a Leica M6

I was having a hard time nailing the focus as she was moving so fast.   Remember I am exposing and focusing manually.   I kept saying in Japanese this camera is so complicated.   This is so difficult…if you could only slow down for a second.  Poor me!  I finally got a small smile from her and knew she was going to stop for me.

Geisha in Gion in Kyoto shot on Ektar 100 film with a Leica M6

The shot I have been waiting for…

Geisha in Gion in Kyoto shot on Ektar 100 film with a Leica M6

So beautiful…

Geisha in Gion in Kyoto shot on Ektar 100 film with a Leica M6

Thank You to everyone who has entered for a chance to win a print of your favorite photograph of mine.   Thank You for helping me to share ShootTokyo.   It is greatly appreciated.  If you haven’t entered yet please do!

Win a print from ShootTokyo

I found out this week that Instagram has a webpage  with a grid of all of your photos shared with Instagram.  It is a very cool presentation.   Check out ShootTokyo on Instagram.   Thanks for stopping by today…


  • mura

    You’re so lucky, great shot!

    This Kodak Ektar looks so good, I love this film.

  • Maggie Sim

    I shared the contest on Facebook.

  • Roxana

    It is true, they have such magic in their appearance, and such grace in their movements, it is impossible not to be fascinated by them. Wonderful photos. I hope they get a chance to see them, maybe send them some prints, if you can find them. :) These are so beautiful!

  • Lilly Schwartz

    Man, the second to last is just awesome!
    And I have to say that this does look like a colour film I’d be interested in trying … and I almost exclusively do black and white. Shame it’s only ISO 100 though!

  • Dave

    Thanks Mura! Ektar is fabulous… I love this film.

  • Dave

    Thanks Roxana… Maybe they will see them one day!

  • Dave

    Lilly – I shoot a lot of color film. I really like the look you can get with it. Have you shot color positives? They are pretty special.

  • Lucas

    This second photo is amazing. My favorite photo from you. I don’t know why but there’s something special about it.

  • Dave

    Thanks Lucas. That is my favorite photo I have taken in a long time…

  • Nathan

    Beatiful shot Dave…
    I went to the samespot but it was kinda late, so only managed to get 1 or 2 shots…

  • Dave

    Thanks Nathan!

  • Alain

    Hi Dave

    I knew your blog but clicked this page through Alfie’s blog. Good pick : it’s a nice series – I like the second one, the light balance is good and the Obi is spectacular, well done. Did you know the wisteria Kanzashi (in the hair) means May?

    To shoot Geimaikos I can only recommend to try late afternoon, and in less tourist-crowded Hanamachi like Kamishichiken, you’ll get more luck asking for a pose there.
    Otherwise there are a handful of yearly events where they dance in public with camera allowed like the Gion Matsuri or Higashiyama Hanatouro (you’ll need 50/85mm at least). Have fun if ever you try again 😉

    You can take a look at my website for a few geimaikos shoots ideas, I shoot them quite often in fact – although I get a totally different rendering from that film you use as I shoot digital (Neutral). One specific issue with them is not to blow the highlights on the face, this leads to very poor results, so always expose for the face.

    I hope that helps 😉


  • Dave

    Alain – Thanks for the tips! Fabulous shots on your website.

  • Humphrey

    Dave, great shots of Geisha! How did you manage to get away from your family while taking these shots? I wasn’t able to do that last time I was in Kyoto.

  • CLF

    The maiko you took is Katsuhina-san. 😉
    I had the pleasure to took photos of her during her debut.

  • Dave

    Thanks for the feedback Alain. The second one is my favorite by far. I really like how it can out. I will try Kamishichiken next time. I really enjoyed shooting the Geimaikos. I could see going another trip there just for that.

  • Dave

    Humphrey – It was mostly a photography trip so most of my time (all) was dedicated for photography. I came home with so much film shot. I am going to do more of these dedicated short trips. I loved it.

  • Alain

    You’re welcome Dave, I wish you a lot more fun shooting in Kyoto.
    You can look up (inc archives, even if dates change a bit year to year) to find an event with Geimaikos around.

  • Levi Viloria

    Hi Dave,

    My name is Levi, I emailed you some time ago to tell you that I am a huge fan of your work and am studying in Kyoto. I was hoping that if you came to Kyoto to be able to meet you or if you had a photo walk, would’ve loved to join.

    Anyway, these pictures of geiko are very beautiful and well-done! Actually, as an aspiring photographer myself, I have been taking pictures of geiko and maiko for the last few months, hoping to get the one photo I would be happy with. It trips me out to see your images of these geiko and maiko, as I’ve seen them several times. You are so lucky that this last one stopped to let you take her photo- like you said she is quite fast!

    Looking forward to your work as always,

    Mahalo and arigatou,


  • Dave

    Levi – Sorry I missed you in Kyoto. The Maiko photos took preparation and patience. Good luck catching some.

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