For many who are raised outside of Japanese culture, the country’s infamous geishas hold a magical allure. Growing up, I’d read plenty of books and watched lots of movies portraying geisha as beautiful, mysterious performers who were a thing of legend. When I had the chance to visit the city of Kanazawa in Japan’s Ishikawa Prefecture, I knew I’d be in for a treat as the city is known for having one of the most impressive geisha districts in the country.
It wasn’t long before I learned everything I thought I knew about geisha, or geigi as they are known in Kanazawa, was basically, well, nothing. While they are indeed beautiful and mysterious, I was about to learn just how incredible these amazing women are, not just in their talent but in their dedication to maintaining the traditions of their craft.
In Kanazawa House, a local tour company curating private tours of the area to preserve the local traditions for future generations, arranged a lovely evening of dinner with a geisha performance. While guests enjoyed a delicious traditional dinner of local delicacies, we were entertained by two incredibly talented geigi wearing exquisite kimonos and ornate hairstyles performing traditional songs, dances and music. Our entertainers played traditional instruments such as the shamisen, a three-string instrument similar to a guitar, and the taiko, a Japanese drum.
After our dinner and show, which took place in a 94-year-old machiya house (a traditional wooden townhouse) originally used for dying kimonos, the entertainment continued as our geigi hosts chatted with us about everything from their jobs to their daily lives, shared some saké and played games. They kept us entertained throughout the night by teaching us to play the taiko drum and how to strike classic geisha poses for our photos.
There are currently 40 working geigi in Kanazawa (the oldest working geigi is 80 years old) and they enjoy a much more relaxed approach to their careers than geisha from other more traditional regions of Japan, such as Kyoto. For example, in Kanazawa, geigi are allowed to marry, have boyfriends and have children, something they would not be able to do in the stricter Kyoto where geisha must leave home at an early age to attend school so they can learn their trade and develop skills as performers and artists. In Kanazawa, the geigi are freelancers, meaning they can perform where and when they want to, while in Kyoto the geisha work under contracts tying them to a specific tea house.
The evening with the geigi, just one of many experiences offered by In Kanazawa House, offers a glimpse into a fascinating culture ripe with tradition. While there may be plenty of places throughout Japan to enjoy such an experience, attending a geigi performance in Kanazawa, far removed from the big cities of Tokyo or Kyoto, is one experience that won’t easily be forgotten.
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