April 2, 2014, 14:00 – 15:00
Participants: Geisha 祇園甲部槇子 and Maiko 宮川町とし桃
The image of a geisha, under the guise of white foundation and red lipstick, is one that many visitors to Kyoto wish to capture on camera. Some unfortunately opt for aggressive and insensitive tactics such as stalking and grabbing. These ugly behaviors not only reflect poorly on the offenders themselves, but also cause a backlash from the geisha community and the need for new measures to protect these girls.
Those who wish to photograph geisha in a respectful manner can time their stay in Kyoto to coincide with the annual Gion Geisha Photography Club (白川藝妓攝影會), a one-hour photo shoot arranges by the local community on Shirakawa-minami Dori.
This year’s took place at 2 pm on April 2. When I arrived on time a ring of mostly middle-aged men had completely engulfed a single geisha. The level of testosterone was so intense I could almost smell it in the air. The geisha seemed unfazed by this army of photographers; she gracefully stood under a cherry tree and responded admirably to all posing requests.
This was not the crowd I wanted to associate myself with, but you gotta do what you gotta do.
Halfway through the shoot we had a new participant, a maiko (apprentice geisha) in her twenties. Immediately she drew everyone’s attention. A few men in their seventies tried to get her to look their way by hissing and calling her Momo-chan (Miss Peach, the first name of her alias) in a high-pitched voice like they were talking to an infant. One man threw her a plastic ball so she could play with it like a kitten. As a foreigner all these felt rather embarrassing. Not so for the girls – they managed their parts as professionally as imaginable and provided us ample chances to capture on camera their normally secluded selves.