An Evening Amongst GeishaJul 20th, 2009 | By Shane Sakata | Category: Events, Tokyo and Vicinity
The arts of the Geisha are not often witnessed by foreigners or even the ordinary Japanese, so I was told by my host Takehara-san. The six Geisha districts of Tokyo, Shinbashi, Akasaka, Asakusa, Kagurazaka, Mukoujima and Yoshicho, have teamed up with Muromachi Fukutokujuku to present performances that are a great way to “feel” Japanese culture through these traditional arts.
Our host for the evening stressed the concept of “feeling’ the culture, and while it may sounds trite it is a good way to approach the evening. The beating of the taiko and tsuzumi (hand drum), the haunting melodies of the fue (bamboo flute) and shamisen accompany traditional dances and songs performed by Geisha that will transport you back to the Edo period or earlier when Geisha were in high demand at parties and tea houses across Japan.
“A Geisha is a woman trained in the traditional arts of Japan which include dance, song and the playing of musical instruments who must first serve as a Maiko or apprentice Geisha. Maiko training involves a four to five year commitment and a passion for traditional Japanese arts and culture. So is the Geisha lifestyle for you?”
Learn more about the incredible commitment of these women with a passion for traditional Japanese arts and lifestyle in So You Want To Become A Geisha?.
As you dine on tsumami (traditional Japanese hors d-oeuvres) made with seasonal ingredients and sip sake you will be introduced to the traditional arts that are part of the cultural heritage of Japan through the skilled performances of kimono clad geisha.
Omotenashi is “the act of providing detailed service in a variety of ways for allow guests to spend a relaxing and memorable time” and this standard of service is reflected in the name of the program, “Nihonbashi the Omotenashi Experience”.
As we dined upon nasu dengaku (eggplant broiled in miso), anago-bou sushi (grilled eel on rice), houzuki-shinjo (deep fried shrimp dumpling), edamame (boiled soybeans) and other tasty delicacies we were treated to six acts of ohayashi (music and games) over almost two hours.
The Geisha on this evening were from the Asakusa district and treated us to three dances with songs accompanied by the shamisen. The dramatic movements of the Geisha told the stories of their daily life, about summer in Asakusa, the historic Hanayashiki amusement park, the Sanja Matsuri and other seasonal events and sights in the area. The last dance was the Sawagi which is said to be one of the most popular dances performed at traditional banquets.
Next, the fue and tsuzmi player took to the stage to perform a haunting song about the summer rain that was the highlight of my evening. The talented flautist used two different styles of bamboo flute during her performance that was charged with emotion and, for me, the provided the “feeling” that our host for evening described.
Two entertaining Geisha games rounded out the evening. After a brief explanation of the rules and a demonstration, guests were invited to join the Geisha on stage and join in the fun.
The first game, Tosenkyo, involved throwing a Japanese folding fan at a small “butterfly” target set upon a pillow (pictured above). It was a lot of fun, but not as easy as you might think!
The second game, Tora-Tora-Tora (tiger-tiger-tiger), is similar to Jan Ken Pon (rock, paper, scissors) but involves a lively dance performed by two players on opposite sides of a folding screen and culminates with each opponent striking the pose of either a samurai warrior, a tiger or an old woman. The samurai beats the tiger, the tiger beats the old woman, but the old woman beats the warrior as she is his mother.
After the entertainment portion of the evening the four Geisha made a visit to each table and were very happy to answer questions (through bilingual hostesses) and show off their beautiful kimonos.
While the performances were all in Japanese, our host for the evening offered introductions in English that enhanced our understanding and enjoyment of the dances, music and games. The evening was a lot of fun and offered a rare and interesting look into the world of the traditional Geisha arts.
You too can spend an evening amongst Geisha in Tokyo! In fact, Muromachi Fukutokujuku is offering a Summer Special in for the month of August where the usual fee of Y12,000 per person is cut in half, to Y6,000.
Muromachi Fukutokujuku “Nihonbashi the Omotenashi Experience”
Schedule: April & May – 2nd and 4th Saturdays, June through September 1st and 3rd Saturdays.
Fee: Y12,000 per person – performances below at special Summer rates of Y6,000 per person:
August 1, 2009 features Geisha from the Kagurazaka district and a performance of Shinnai, a style of joruri (narrative singing), accompanied by the shamisen.
August 22, 2009 features Geisha from the Kagurazaka district and a performance of Daikagura, a performing art that pays tributes to the Gods and exercises evil spirits on behalf of those who may not be able to visit Shinto Shrines in person and includes performances of koma mawashi (top spinning) and kasa mawashi (umbrella spinning).
Programs: Ohayashi (the program I attended), Houkan (male Geisha, of which there are only five in Japan), Shinnai and Daikagura (both described above). The six Geisha districts listed at the beginning of this article rotate through the different programs.
Time: Registration starts at 5:45PM and the program runs from 6PM through to 7:30PM or slightly later.
Dress Code: Smart Casual (no shorts, ripped jeans, t-shirts or sandals for men)
Access: Two minute walk from Mitsukoshimae Station on the Hanzomon line of Tokyo Metro.
Information: Download the PDF for Nihonbashi the Omotenashi Experience Access and program information (page 1 & page 2)
Reservations: Via email to rsv [at] tokyo-kimonoclub [dot] com or via fax to 03-5642-6087 (Japan)
Many thanks to Takehara-san and Etsuko from Tokyofoodcast for providing me with the opportunity to attend “Nihonbashi the Omotenashi Experience” and share it with you.
Image Credit: Personal Collection