Exploring Kyoto, we realized we were in the center of Japanese culture and tradition. This city of approximately one million residents, with its distinct neighborhoods and gracious people, felt cozy and intimate compared to the vastness of Tokyo. With a river running through the middle, mountains with deep forests nearby, and a springtime explosion of cherry blossoms, Kyoto is a very special place. In 794, the imperial court moved the capital to Kyoto, opening the doors to a cultural explosion steeped in the ways of their ancestors. As we walked the streets of Kyoto it was impossible not to feel the impact of its culture; one that has been brewing for 1,200 years, presenting itself in art, food, religion, architecture, and the very soul of its residents.
Everything about this city is beautiful, including one of its longest traditions still practiced, that of the geisha. These beautiful and talented women work for years to learn their art before gaining the revered title of geisha. Unfortunately, it is an art that is in steep decline. It is estimated that in 1980 there were some 3,000 geishas living and working in Kyoto and today there are approximately 200. The standards one must uphold in this profession are extremely demanding, with few young women willing to pursue this path. We were blessed to spend several hours with a geisha, to have the opportunity to learn from her, and to see Kyoto through her eyes.