A group of Geiko and Maiko walking down the street at the beginning of the year

If you walked around one of Kyoto’s Hanamachi (flower town or Geisha District), early January, you may have seen Maiko and Geiko beautifully dressed in their formal black “Kuromontsuki” kimono, and wearing a real rice stalk “kanzashi” or ornamental hairpin. Around, you also probably saw hordes of photographers, ready to capture a photo of this event.    


A young Maiko wearing her Kuromon Tsuki kimono

There are actually two different events going on in town.  First, on the fourth and the fifth of January,  the Geiko and the Maiko of each Okiya go together around their neighborhood, presenting their New Year’s Greetings to not only the Ochaya, tea houses, and other restaurants and bars where they work, but also to local shops and other local people. They go around, beautifully dressed, in groups, exchanging New Year’s Greetings, saying “Omedetosandosu” (A happy new year).  


Then, on January seventh, the formal ceremony called Shigyo-Shiki, or official ceremony for the start of the year, during which the best house and maiko/geiko receive awards, takes place in each Geisha District.  It started at 11AM in Pontocho so I was in position along the little narrow street by 10AM.  On their way to the Kaburenjo (the theater) where the ceremony takes place, the beautifully dressed woman will have to pass this way. Many did, but not all. 😉

After this, the same ceremony started at noon in Gion Higashi, then Gion Kobu at 2PM, and Miyagawa-Cho at 3PM.  Needless to say, I tried to go from one place to the next, hoping each time to get a chance to catch a photo of a few Maiko and Geiko walking around. I did quickly give up in the Gion Kobu District due to the incredibly large number of photographers. Then again, I tried my luck around Miyagawa-Cho at the end.    During these New Year’s “business opening ceremonies” or Shigyo-Shiki, the Geiko and their apprentices, the Maiko, get together and pledge to practice and work hard this year to improve their performances.  They are still wearing black kimono and rice stalk-shaped “kanzashi” or ornamental hairpins. Trying to catch a photo of them walking to or from the Kaburenjo (the theater where this ceremony takes place) is one of the big photo events of the beginning of the year for a large number of local photographers. 

Here are a few pictures I was able to capture over these few days. By clicking the thumbnail of any photo, you can access a full screen slideshow.  Enjoy, and feel free to leave a comment!

Gion Higashi

Gion Kobu




Some events may take place or not on these two days: January 4th and 5th. This is somehow random and privately decided by the various Okiya — I just do not know how it will be next year.  

Then, you have the official ceremonies at the various Kaburenjo Theaters (Shigyo-Shiki). All you need to know is the time of a specific ceremony, and then place yourself in a spot you know Geiko and/or Maiko will have to pass by.

Walking around the streets, you’ll quickly find out the good spots by the number of photographers waiting.