I had always considered Japan to be too expensive for a family of 5 so when the prospect of a girls trip was floated I knew I had to convince the others that Japan was the perfect spot. Luckily it didn’t take too much convincing. First thing on my bucket list for Japan ia a Kyoto Geisha experience.
Many moons ago my high school was the first in Australia to engage in a sister school arrangement with a Japanese school. Each year we would exchange students for a period of time but for various reasons I was never able to take part but since then I have always had a fascination with the country. This fascination was put a side for a while as I backpacked around Europe and then settled down to have a family but the underlying yearning to visit was still there. My interest was further fuelled with the release of Memoirs of a Geisha 10 or so years ago, I read the book in less than 24 hours, I just couldn’t put it down.
Seeing as this was going to be a girls trip and I was leaving 2 of the 3 kids at home with hubby I had a pretty tight schedule and a list as long as my arm of things to see. At the top of my list was seeing a geisha in Kyoto. Our itinerary only allowed 24 hours in Kyoto so I knew I had to be organised.
I spent months researching possible tours and options, most consisted of either a walking tour of Gion, which did not guarantee seeing a Geisha, costing around $50AUD per person, a dinner with a Maiko (apprentice Geisha) including a photo costing around $100AUD per person or a full dinner and tea ceremony with a Geisha which costs around $2000AUD per person. I was so tempted to save every penny and book the dinner and tea ceremony with the Geisha but I also knew it wasn’t the wisest way to spend my money. That left the Maiko dinner as I wasn’t going to risk the walking tour and not get the opportunity to see one. We only had 24 hours in Kyoto so we had to use our time wisely, see our post 1 day itinerary for Kyoto for tips on how to see at much as you can in a short time frame!
There are many tours to choose from but most of the tours were only scheduled up until 30 September, our one night in Kyoto was October 2. I emailed a couple of tour operators and they advised that they wouldn’t be releasing dates for October until mid September. This was causing me a great deal of stress as I like to be organised.
I eventually settled on Veltra Japan, they have quite a number of tours available in Japan which is a good indication that they are well utilised. I put the feelers out in some of the social media groups that I belong to and a few people had used them before with no issues. I chose the Maiko Dinner Show at Shozan Garden & Night Sightseeing in Kyoto tour, which was a perfect fit. It covered what I wanted to see and do in 4 hours which gave me the rest of the day to see other things on my ever increasing list of things to do in Kyoto.
Now this tour fit all my requirements except one thing, it was conducted in Japanese only…! This didn’t bother me, I have travelled enough to know that sometimes you just have to make do, but I was a bit concerned that my travel buddies would have an issue with it. It was a bit of a standing joke leading up to the tour but when we arrived we were provided with a recorded english narrative with head phones which was perfect and provided all the information we needed. We were the only english speaking people on the tour. The tour guide spoke minimal English but it was enough to get by and we knew what was going on and where we needed to be.
The trip out to Shozan Garden included a small tour of Kyoto, there was a video presentation on the bus that, along with our English narrative, detailed where we were and what was out the window.
When we arrived we went straight to dinner, our Maiko came out as soon as we were seated and our meal was already laid out for us. It was a 15 course bento box style dinner at a traditional Japanese table which meant we had to sit on the floor. I tried to explain that I don’t eat seafood but that was not comprehended very well which I expected and had no issue with. Every course included seafood so I ate everyone else’s steamed rice and was happy with that, I was there for the experience not the food.
The Maiko performed a few dances and played an instrument while we ate our dinner.
At the end of dinner the Maiko stayed around & we were all able to have photos with her. She was very patient and provided us with a written piece of paper which I assume was a thank you note. She looked exquisite and watching her dance and her movement was spellbinding. I wondered how long she had been doing this and how much longer until she would be a Geisha. I had a million questions for her and would have loved to have just sat and spoke to her for a while.
The Shozan Gardens are traditional Japanese Gardens and they are beautiful. We only had 45 mins before the bus was leaving so we had a quick look in the souvenir shop and a short walk around the gardens. I got a few lovely shots of Japanese Maple trees being lit up from behind. Ornate concrete lanterns lined the path and while it did look beautiful, lighting the path at night, I think the garden would be breathtaking during the day.
After dinner the bus took us out to Higashiyama lookout which was about a 30 minute drive from the dinner, it has a view right across Kyoto. Kyoto is relatively flat and surrounded by mountains so the view really is quite spectacular. We had a beautiful clear night and you could see the lights of the Kyoto Tower Hotel, which is where we were staying.
We only stayed up at the lookout for 15 mins and then jumped back on the bus for the return trip to Kyoto Station to conclude the tour. The lookout was quite busy so make sure you jump back on the right bus or you might end up in Osaka!
As I previously wrote, there are so many tours to chose from so there will be one to suit just about any budget. I chose this tour purely on what was included and the time frame that we had to do it in. The price was also exactly what I was expecting to pay so it was perfect.
Adult $77.00USD ($101AUD at the time of writing)
Child $66.00USD ($87AUD at the time of writing)
I felt that was a reasonable price for meal, show and transportation. The duration of the tour was 4.5 hours which allowed us to fit in another tour during the day. It guaranteed we got to have a photo with the Maiko so ticked all my boxes considering we only had 1 night in Kyoto.
It was perfect. It was exactly what I was looking for and while the Japanese speaking guide was at first a bit of a concern the recorded English narrative worked perfectly. We all really enjoyed this tour and I found Veltra to be easy to deal with and their meeting directions suitable. We found where we were suppose to be without any issues. Just a small tip, make sure you wear pants, shorts or a long dress as you will be required to sit on the floor.
Kyoto is an amazing city to visit, we also took a tour with the Good Samaritan Club when we had a private tour with a student from the University of Kyoto. We used out JR Rail Pass to get to and from Kyoto, my post on the Japan Rail Pass – is it worth it, will help you decide if this is a good value option for your trip. They are expensive and you need to know how to utilise them best. If you are looking for something a little different, head off for a day trip to Hiroshima, take the kids, it only takes about 2.5hours each way and it’s definitely worth a visit.
Have you been to a Maiko/Geisha dance and dinner? What did you think, leave your comments in the section below, I would love to hear about it.
Sal & Co.