KYOTO — It's a freezing December night but tourists are out in force in Kyoto's Gion district, on the hunt for one particular attraction.

On Hanamikoji-dori, the main street, a taxi pulls up and a "maiko" apprentice geisha steps out, drawing gasps from a nearby group of Asian tourists. Two of them start pointing. "Geisha, geisha," they cry, as the startled maiko heads quickly toward one of the teahouses.

Several others chase after the woman, surrounding her and snapping photos like paparazzi, the flashes highlighting the white makeup she's wearing. Less than 30 seconds later, the maiko turns down a side street and the tourists give up their pursuit.