The 50 Things You Must Do in Asia

By Hanya Yanagihara - 2013-07-23T16:27:10Z

Photograph by Darren Keith

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Glimpse a Fading Cultural Icon in Kyoto's Gion Neighborhood: Japan

If Japan has a face, it's to be found in this small district directly adjacent to Yasaka Shrine, for it's here that the geisha—or geiko, as they're known in Kyoto—live and work. Contrary to popular belief, geiko are not prostitutes. Yes, many of them once came from poor families—especially in the nineteenth century, when the geiko community was at its height—and yes, many have had powerful male patrons. But they are trained in the arts of dance, song, and especially conversation. Today, very few geiko remain; fewer than 1,000 still practice in Japan. “Geisha are so stunning and shocking to see in the streets,” says photographer Darren Keith. “They’re stoic, with amazing posture considering their high clogs. Sometimes they’re surrounded by crowds, but for the most part they walk around totally unbothered.”

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