Think geisha are only in Kyoto? So did I once upon a time. In the intervening years, I’ve learned that cities like Kanazawa, Tokyo and even Atami on the Izu Peninsula boast their own geisha communities. Most of the opportunities to meet an actual geisha occur only in Kyoto but an enterprising organization in Tokyo has begun to offer geisha evenings for tourists at a fraction of the cost of a typical encounter in Kyoto.
Called ozashiki asobi (basically meaning a large party in a traditional-type room), the geisha evening is hosted by the Nihombashi Tourism Information Center (known as Omotenashi Nihombashi). For one hour, guests are treated to a variety of dances by two young geisha from the local Nihombashi Yoshicho geisha quarter, who are accompanied by three older women on the shamisen and drums. I’m still not sure if it was a translation error or not (I don’t think so) but one of the older women as allegedly been a geisha for around 80 years!
During the hour, guests are also invited to participate in a number of traditional party games. I was excited to see the inclusion of tosenkyo on the agenda, but the other two games were new to me. The first game was tora-tora, a type of charades game meets musical chairs where participants had to wait for the music to stop before choosing to portray either a tiger, a samurai or an old woman. The winner received a small gift while the loser had to take a sip of sake. (So really, were there any losers? 😉 ) The other game was called konpira fune, where participants sat opposite each other and had to carry out a tapping rhythm, while occasionally picking up an object from the table. Definitely not the easiest game but a LOT of fun!
After a final dance, we were allowed to take photos with the geisha. You could also take photos at any point during the evening, so long as you were sensitive to both the flash and the shutter noise.
Dinner is not provided but you are allowed to pick a package of snacks and a free drink (water, tea or beer) to enjoy during the hour’s entertainment. And I commend the staff for their excellent English. Everything during the evening was bilingual and even one of the geisha herself read a note to welcome us in English.
As geisha experiences go, I feel this has to be one of the most accessible and truly foreigner-friendly opportunities out there. The “emcee” (Nihombashi staff), the elderly geisha musicians, and the younger geisha were all incredibly friendly and welcoming and it almost felt – for better or worse – as if some of the mystique and impenetrability that exists between geisha and their guests was gone. I’ve longed wondered what happens at an actual geisha event and this comes pretty darn close.
The best part is the price. You can book your experience for only ¥5500 and reservations are made online. The process was seamless and we didn’t have to pay until we showed up that evening.