December 30, 2008

Kyoto organizes to protect geishas

Kyoto residents and restaurant owners have organized to protect the Japanese city's geishas from pushy and obnoxious tourists.

Geiko, as geishas are called in Kyoto, and maiko, or apprentices, complain they are often followed on the streets and sometimes surrounded by entire groups eager to get unsolicited photographs, the Yomiuri Shimbun reported.

Higashiyama Ward is the location of Gion Kobu, the ancient city's teahouse district, where tourists congregate. The patrols go through the area at the busiest times and warn tourists of inappropriate behavior.

Some tourists seem to have the impression that Gion is a theme park, and geisha and maiko are walking the streets as part of a performance, a ward official said.

Rikiya Yamamoto, who owns a restaurant in the area, said he has sometimes seen maiko, who wear the traditional high-soled wooden sandals, come close to falling as they tried to escape tourists.

The tradition of the geisha has had a resurgence of popularity in Japan because of recent television shows. Kyoto had a record 49.44 million tourists in 2007, setting another record on one night when 920,000 foreigners stayed in the city.