Those who desire to travel to Japan, especially those who are interested in Japanese traditional cultur, usually has the similar questions. Those are like “where can we have a real tea-drinking ceremony?”, “does ninja really exist?”, and “where can we see a geisha?”
I would like to talk about tea-drinking ceremony and ninja on other time. This time, I would discuss about geisha, starting from a brief history regarding the proffession of geisha, and where can you see a geisha while travelling to Japan. If you are curious about geisha, let’s get to know more about them.
Geisha, the entertainers who got often misunderstood.
The proffesion of geisha sometimes got misunderstood in negative conotation, which is related to prostitution. But in reality, geisha is actually an art performer, an artist.
A geisha needs to go through a training of traditional art for several years and has to go on an internship first before got proclaimed officially as a geisha and is permitted to entertain the guests.
They must learn many kinds of traditional dance, music, singing, and understand the art of tea-drinking ceremony, and much more. Although at the end of the day, a geisha would master in one specific field of art instead of every field.
Geisha is an entertain, and this is what a geisha do for you.
Basically, a geisha is an entertainer. In modern entertainment world, geisha is a kind of hostess, in traditional way.
Geishas will accompany the guests (usually during a feast), have conversation with the guests (that is why geisha needs to be sociable and has great knowledge), pour some sake drink, and make sure the sake glass never gets empty, and entertain guests while they are eating by performing arts.
They can dance with traditional music on the background, singing, and even playing games with the guests which will end up with drinking bet for the losers. So, don’t expect to get some extra services when you are entertained by a geisha.
Geisha, Maiko, and Oiran, and the difference between those three.
About geisha, you might already have got the ideas regarding that proffesion. Well, as mentioned above, before being a geisha, someone needs to have to go through a series of internship. When on a geisha internship, the geisha-to-be is called a maiko.
A maiko needs to learn a lot about how to treat guests, including how to get a job and much more. A maiko has a different style of clothing than a geisha.
If an official geisha appears more classy and simple, a maiko appears in a bright-colored kimono and super-long obi. Other difference lays on the hairstyle and accessories worn, but we can skip it for next time.
Geisha is different with oiran. Oiran is actually an art performer. But, oiran is more famous as a courtesan, or a high-class entertainment lady. You can recognize an oiran from her obi which is facing forward. For now, oiran has same activities as geisha, but the population of oiran is now much less than geisha.
Geisha, and a brief of exclusivity that would drain your tourism budget.
It is difficult to be a geisha and you need to go through a series of exhausting and expensive training. So don’t get so surprised if the tariff to be a geisha could be so shockingly high.
It is said that booking a geisha through a travel agent will require you to spend at least 50,000 yen per maiko or geisha you book. That doesn’t include meal, room rates, or translator fee, as most geisha and maiko (almost all of them) can’t understand English.
Then, where can we see a geisha?
Geisha lives in a house called okiya, and the district where okiya is at is called hanamachi (literally means “flower city”). In another word, visiting hanamachi will open up a chance to see a geisha in person, or at least see them on their way to work.
Unfortunately, the number of hanamachi is getting lower and lower as the number of geisha decreases. From so many towns in Japan, only Kyoto that has a strong tradition of geisha. There, the geisha is mostly known as geiko. I would like to review about some hanamachi left in Kyoto along with its uniqueness and advantages the geisha has on that district on my next article.
Living in okiya doesn’t mean guests can just come to okiya and get to see a geisha. To get accompanied and entertained by a geisha, guest needs to invite the geisha to an ochaya (tea-drinking house) or ryotei (Japanese traditional restaurant).
Guest can make a reservation in ochaya or ryotei, and can order to be accompanied by a geisha. But know this, not every guests can simply make a geisha reservation, as most ochaya and ryotei has exclusive system.
Only regular customer can invite geisha to accompany them. New customer can get introduced by regular customer. That is because most ochaya and ryotei doesn’t charge the bill for meal and entertainment as soon as the guests done eating. Instead, they accumulate it fo a certain period of time and then charge it via bank (so it requires mutual trust).
That is a classic system in the business of ochaya, ryotei, and geisha. Considering that geisha proffession is getting more and more critical, there are many ochaya and ryotei have difficult time to survive. That leads the system to be made more flexible.
Some ryotei and ochaya is now open for many kinds of customers, including the foreigners. Lately, geisha performance is not only a monopoly for certain groups of people, but for everyone who has quite plenty of budget.
What if you have limited budget but still want to see a geisha performance? There is still another alternative to see the performance of geisha and maiko in a cheaper way. Just come to a theater which provides art perfomance of geisha and maiko, just like the Gion Corner in Kyoto.
The ticket price to see the performance of geisha and maiko is much more affordable than to invite a geisha to a dinner. It is only around 2,000 – 4,000 yen.*
Or, you can gather information regarding various festivals that often show performances of geisha, and the ticket prices are usually quite afforable. But, it is important to remember that a geisha is an art performer. So if you are not interested in Japanese traditional art, watching such kind of art performance would bore you to death and waste your time.
Wait for the next article regarding the district of geisha in Kyoto!
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