Maiko, or apprentice geisha, are one of the main attractions of the ancient capital of Kyoto. Young maiko in their elegant kimonos, with their white-painted faces and Japanese coiffures, complete with flowery kanzashi hairpins, can now be found sitting with Western tourists at small tray tables playing “Kompira Fune Fune,” a traditional geisha dinner game.
Until very recently, first-time customers were unwelcome at the exclusive “tea houses” where maiko do their entertaining. And the extravagant prices made it even more difficult to get in the door.
But lately real maiko have been making appearances at various events around town, playing games and making merry with tourists from Europe, Asia, and all over the world.
At a recent event held in a hotel in Kyoto’s Shijo-Shinmachi district, roughly 50 tourists from around Japan and overseas played games with the maiko in attendance. Western tourists were overjoyed, with one person happily commenting, “Getting to play games with these beautiful maiko was such a precious experience, and also really fun.”
Maiko are said to have originated in Kyoto about 300 years ago in the Edo Period. Girls in their teens underwent training to master dance, shamisen, and a unique style of deportment. Then they entertained visitors to shrines and temples in Kyoto with their dances and other artistic performances.
The unique culture and beauty of the maiko have become a symbol of Kyoto. But until recently they performed only for a very limited range of customers at a small number of tea houses and traditional restaurants. They were viewed as “high class” and only entertained seasoned customers with access to their exclusive circle.
Now, times have changed. Opportunities are rapidly increasing for everyday people to interact with maiko, who participate in PR events around Kyoto.
This most recent event, entitled “Learn about Kyoto’s Traditional Industries from Maiko,” gave visitors 90 minutes of enjoyment as they played games, took photos, and watched maiko perform dances wearing costumes made of products from traditional industries.
Every month around the third week of the month (details vary so please double check) Intergate Kyoto in Shijo-Shinmachi gives tourists/guests a chance to watch maiko perform dances wearing costumes made of products from traditional industries.
Although the hotel was only opened in March 2018, in a recent event, a hotel representative commented, “We have gotten very favorable reception from visitors from around Japan and overseas who really enjoyed spending time learning about maiko. We hope many people who come to tour Kyoto will make their stays more memorable by experiencing the world of maiko.”
Fees for hotel guests are ￥3,500 JPY and ￥4,000 JPY for visitors. Commemorative photos cost an extra ￥1,000 JPY.
Call 075-255-2221 for inquiries and reservations.
Author: JAPAN Forward