Geiko and Maiko visiting their patrons during Hassaku

Like every year, the first of August is a very special day in Kyoto’s various Geisha Districts, and especially so in Gion. Named after a term that designates the first day of the eighth month of the ancient Japanese calendar, Gion’s Hassaku is a special opportunity to see many of the “Geiko” (a local term in Kyoto for geisha) and “Maiko” (the apprentice geisha) from Japan’s most renowned “Hanamachi” or geisha district, wearing their most beautiful attire.

On this day, in the morning, the Geiko and Maiko visit various shops and tea houses (chaya) to thank them for their patronage.  In Gion, they do so wearing their most beautiful and formal black kimono, the famous “Kuromontsuki”. Yes, under the brutal sun and heavy heat of the middle of Summer, they walk around the neighborhood in small groups, going from one place to another, often followed by hordes of photographers running and pushing. And when they arrive somewhere, more photographers are usually already waiting for them!  The spectacle is always a surprising one for the unexpected bystanders.    

So yes, this is a perfect opportunity to capture a photo of the Gion Kobu’s Geiko and Maiko wearing their most beautiful attire, but a lot of patience and some planning are necessary. The main street, Hanamikoji, is almost fully packed and is definitely not the best spot anymore. It became such a problem with the crowd that the local police is now present to both allow the traffic to go through and to avoid eventual frictions among the photographers. Side streets, while not as obvious and visited, are definitely a better option. And again, the patron’s places are not only located in Gion Kobu, but some of them are also across the Shijo Street around the Gion Hagashi area.