Problems Behind a Beautiful Image

April 14, 2009

by Airi Okubo; Ayumi Yamamoto
Maiko and geiko are fascinating for us and they are proud of their profession. However, when we researched about them, we realized that not everything in their lives is bright. They are annoyed with the attitudes of tourists who disturb them on the street. Therefore we will introduce some trouble between maiko, geiko and tourists in Kyoto. Below is a short extract from an article that appeared in the Japan Times on Tuesday, January 13th, 2009. In it, reporter Eric Johnston tells about some recent trouble in Gion.

Japan Times

Tuesday, Jan. 13, 2009

Respect ‘Maiko’ privacy, don’t act like paparazzi, Kyoto tells tourists


Staff writer

Groups of Asian tourists chase after the woman, surrounding her and snapping photos like paparazzi, the flashes highlighting the white makeup she’s wearing. Less than 30 seconds later, the maiko turns down a side street and the tourists give up their pursuit.

“There are bad-mannered Japanese tourists who harass maiko. It’s not just foreigners,”said a former member of Kyoto’s geisha community.

The worst case of Maiko harassment in Gion he knows of was when a Japanese tourist hit his subject in the face with a camera lens while trying to take a closeup.

Kyoto has stepped up efforts to promote tourism abroad because domestic tourism has stagnated. But the city gave little thought as to what might happen if it turned lots of people loose in Gion without clearly explaining that geiko and maiko are professionals who need to get to work, not theme park attractions for the amusement of tourists, he said.

On Kyoto’s Web site, messages in Japanese, English and Chinese read: “Please respect the Maiko’s privacy and do not follow them in the streets or touch their kimono.”

Japan Times;
We have read various comments about maiko and geiko in Japan and from foreign countries. We would like to

introduce a few of the main ideas concerning maiko and geiko we gathered from people from foreign countries.

― People from other countries think maiko and geiko are part of the attractions of Japan.

― Gion is a theme park, and maiko and geiko are walking the streets as part of a “performance.”

― They are performers walking in the street dressed for their next appointment.

― They should close off Gion like they did Tsukiji (the large fresh fish market in Tokyo that has been overrun by tourists in recent years).

― What is not normal about a geiko or maiko walking along a street in Japan?

― Why should local people be bothered by tourists when they are going to work?

Maiko and geiko don’t seem to be as well-known in the world as we expected. So, tourists don ’t understand how to treat them. Since they have their own image or preconceptions of maiko and geiko, tourists often show bad behavior. Gion is a place where maiko and geiko live and work. They are on their way to an ochaya or “teahouse.” Therefore they must walk along the street to get to their job; it is not for a performance. Kyoto wants to maintain its distinctive Japanese culture, so there have been attempts to preserve the Gion area in Kyoto. We can’t lose Gion, because it’s very important for us. And we must protect the special geiko culture.

Japanese also hardly get the chance to meet maiko and geiko. We didn’t know how to treat them before. But we must observe etiquette, and we want you to know about Japanese culture, and be careful about how you treat maiko and geiko.

We discovered a manga that shows etiquette to use around maiko and geiko. If you go and see maiko and geiko in Kyoto, please draw upon this site, and please become a good-mannered person!

The manga above is from a bilingual PR magazine published by the “International Hospitality and Conference Service Association”

Tokyo photojournalist;

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