An Asakusa geisha

Asakusa it certainly is. And a real geisha she most certainly isn’t. But what’s similarly certain is that the sight of her is still very striking.

Tokyo geisha


  1. Martin says

    Very nice photo. It looks like she is attracting attention even from the Japanese around her.

  2. says

    Actually the person appears to be dressed up as an oiran. That is my guess. Plus I don’t think most real geisha would be wearing red toenail polish.

    I know they have oiran processions in some places. However I know the outfits are even more elaborate than this one.

    Kind of a step back to Edo when there use to be geisha and oiran and more around Taito not too far from Asakusa.

    • says

      Ah, thanks for the info, Julie. I wasn’t aware of oiran. Just had a look at some old photos of therm, and yes, that’s certainly the look she seems to be going for. Interesting stuff. Always good to learn something new.

      I saw a TV programme a while ago doing a tour of Asakusa, and apparently there are a few geisha still working in the area. Not far from the main tourist area. Never seen any though.

  3. winnie says

    This picture is so cool and interesting!!
    The soft pink(Look like pink to me)beautiful flowers on top of the two row of shops make her even more outstanding!!

    • says

      Thanks, Winnie.

      Yes, they are all set for spring in Asakusa, hence the pink flowers. Good timing, as like you say, they add something extra to the photo.

    • says

      That’s something I hadn’t even thought of to be honest! Took another photo of her/him fairly close up, and after giving it a good look, I’m pretty sure it’s a woman. Not 100% sure though!

    • says

      That’s funny. The thought really hadn’t occurred to me. But for you both to say it, I now have my own doubts. Like I mentioned above though, I took a look at the other photo I have, and I still thinks it’s a woman.


  4. says

    I’ve heart that there are actually geishas in Asakusa. Not sure how it works, but they are real ones, and crazily expensive. I am not sure we would see them walking in the middle of those shops though :)

    • says

      Yeah, there are few there by all accounts. There’s an area not far from the main tourist area where they tend to work. Definitely not plying their trade amidst all the day trippers that’s for sure!

  5. Siobhan Marchetti says

    I’ve studied and read a lot about geisha and oiran. I could be mistaken, but, from what I’ve read, I think the difference is how she ties her obi. If it’s in the front, she’s most likely an oiran. If she ties it in the back, she’s most likely a geisha. There are different theories on why oiran tie the obi in the front, some of them not so flattering. Oiran were the geisha’s predecessor and were a sort of combination actress and prostitute while geisha focused more on non-sexual entertainment. And the oiran do have such elaborate processions! They also have a much more elaborate way of dressing and decorating their hair. Both oiran and geisha have always been expensive, though. It’s a shame that both are dying arts. I wish I could see a geisha or an oiran in person. I’ve always been fascinated by the “flower and willow world”.

    I apologize if all this sounds didactic; it’s one of my favorite subjects. And it’s such a lovely picture, Lee! Thank you for sharing!

    • says

      Not at all. It’s interesting to get more details. Up until posting this photograph, I was unaware of orian, so I’ve managed to learn quite a bit.

      It’s certainly a fascinating topic. Such a secretive world too. I’ve seen a couple of geisha and maiko in Kyoto, but amidst the crowds of camera toting tourists (myself included), quite a bit of their mystique is sadly lost.

  6. Theresa says

    My first thought was that this is a man. It is the thick neck that gives me that impression.

  7. Carrie Ann says

    My first thought was she is a he as well. The thick neck and large feet are what gave me that impression. Still beautifully attired either way.

  8. says

    Hi Lee,

    I’ve just discovered your blog by looking for pictures of Asakusa.

    No doubt this “geisha” is a “he”.

    And, there is no doubt that this “he” is dressed up as an “oiran”.

    Oiran were prostitutes of high rank who became especially famous during Edo period. You can also find the term “tayû” which is actually the higher rank for a prostitute. Taiyû not only were prostitutes but also entertainers (singers, dancers), beneficiated a special type of education, and some could escape their fate of the red-lantern districts (the Japanese term may be “yûkaku, but I’m not one hundred percent sure) by becoming famous thanks to their talents.

    Geishan oiran, kabuki actors were part of enclosed districts, more generally called “hanamachi” (flower districts), to prevent prostitution to spread around the population (a willpower from Ieyasu Tokugawa government, if I remember), all these activities driving “pleasure activities”. The name hanamachi still remains nowadays but only to depict geisha areas (geisha activities naturally developed in these flower districts, but after oiran activity took it its place).

    The oiran culture doesn’t exist anymore, of course. I think it disappeared after 1920’s. Japan laws anyway forbade prostitution in 1956.

    The “oiran parade” Julie is referring to is a festival held closed to Asakusa.

    Of course, there are still geisha in Tokyo (I think there are five areas), but it is difficult to see them, except during some specific festivals. They work in tea houses (o’chaya) and traditional Japanese food restaurants (ryôtei), located in these specific areas. And when working outside of their area, they take the taxi, which explains why we barely see some nowadays in Tokyo.

    Geisha and oiran mustn’t be mistaken. They were certainly not doing the same type of work. The difference in their clothes is not only in the way to knot the obi but also the type of kimono they wore; oirans’ kimono were of splendid and vibrant colours and with highly elaborated embroideries. Their geta also were different; as you can see on your picture, oiran geta are high-plateform black lacquered geta, composed of a board and three supporting pieces under the board called “ha” (teeth). The obi was tied on the front… I’ll let it up to your imagination, guys!

    I hope geisha culture will be kept alive not only in Kyoto though. And even if there are a lot of photographers in Kyoto waiting for them, I don’t mind until by remaining an attraction, they drain customers and keep this beautiful culture alive.

    I am actually, for some unknown reason, very interested into the hanamachi culture. I have learnt some, but I need to start a real study about it.

    Sorry for having been so long in my explanations, but I thought this picture needed some clarifications for your readers.

    Sorry also for looking too literate and maybe a bit annoying with this long comment, but I love to share about this hanamachi culture which fascinates me, and would love to talk about it more and more.


    PS : I probably made some mistakes with my English but it’s not my mother-tongue.

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