While Tokyo appears future forward at first glance with its large electronic billboards, advanced railway system and inventive products, there are a few areas that focus on the past. Geisha have become popular in Japan’s capital, as demand for high class performances has increased in recent years. Having a geisha or a group of these ladies perform at or host a party or function is believed to bring good luck, as well as a sense of frivolity and sophisticated class.
Shinbashi Odori, 1908, public domain
Geisha is a label that should be used to describe professional female hosts and entertainers. These ladies are famous for promoting sophisticated cultural activities like hosting groups of people by entertaining them with conversation, games and drinks. These ladies partake in other cultural activities, such as preparing and serving the time honoured tea ceremony.
In keeping with historic traditions, these geisha live and work in an entertainment district.
There are six geisha districts in Tokyo, though they are collectively called the ‘Tokyo Roku Hanamachi’ or ‘The Six Flower Towns’, and include Shinbashi, Asakusa, Yoshicho, Kagurazaka, Hachioji and Mukojima.
Here is a quick summary of the two more popular and larger geisha districts in Tokyo:
This district is a popular tourist location as it is next to the famous Senso-ji Temple and adjacent market. Many locals and visitors also come here after working hours to rest at the restaurants and bars. The geisha teahouses (ochayas) and living accommodations (okiyas) are located behind the Senso-ji Temple, hidden away from the main streets. These buildings try to keep a traditional architecture and atmosphere, so it looks very similar to the Gion geiko district in Kyoto. Before you visit this area, permission should be granted by the teahouse host or okiya mother who takes care of the geishas and younger ladies who are in training (called hangyoku). If you inquire through the concierge at your hotel, you might be able to book yourself a meal or drinks at one of these establishments. If you take a walk down Kannonura Street next to the Senso-ji Temple, especially around dusk, you might be able to glance a geisha or two travelling to their evening’s performances.
This district is another famous tourist location as it is next to Edo Castle. Even though this area is known for its younger demographic due to the Waseda University and University of Tokyo located nearby, Kagurazaka has a handful of lavish and expensive restaurants where elite patrons and businessmen visit after hours. Some of these are kaiseki or traditional Japanese restaurants. Kaiseki means ‘The Art of Food’ and these restaurants serve a dinner made up of at least six different dishes, each one beautifully presented and meticulously prepared. Many of these restaurants have an association with a particular okiya or geisha house, so geisha are booked for certain guests as hosts or performers. Make a reservation by asking your hotel staff to book a dinner with an entertainer in this district. One location that has become popular with tourists is the Sanshuya Restaurant, as an English host will accompany you and explain the subtle rituals and practices while geisha ladies pour Japanese drinks, perform games and songs on traditional instruments.
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