Before I travelled to Kyoto last month, I perused the internet to see if there were any new activities on offer. I found “Kyoto Dining with Maiko“. That looked just the thing for me to try. I booked myself a place at once.
The venue for the dinner and performance was Gion Hatanaka Ryokan in Higashiyama; a dignified and aesthetically lovely establishment. I turned up 20 minutes before the starting time however I was the last to arrive. There were approximately 30 guests seated. I was shown to my seat at a table for four. My table-mates were from Canada and America. We quickly launched into conversation; why we were in Japan, what we had done so far, where we were going next.
On the dot of 18:00 the performance began. We were introduced to Ryouka-san from Gion Higashi. She glided in and danced for us.
Ryouka-san was accompanied on the shamisen by a senior Geiko called Tanekazu-san from Miyagawa-cho. Tanekazu-san must have been in her 80’s or perhaps even older. She played and sang during the dances and later during the games. [A friend showed me a photo of her as a young Geiko in 1952, hence my calculation of her age.]
After the dance, it was time to be introduced to teenage Toshiemi-san from Miyagawa-cho. We were shown how to tell the difference between a Maiko (Toshiemi-san) and a Geiko (Ryouka-san).
In the following two photos you can compare the obi lengths of Maiko and Geiko. Also note the very different hair styles. To sum up, a Maiko is dressed in the style of a young girl – cute and colourful. A Geiko has grown into womanhood. Her style encompasses sensuality and refinement.
After the education, it was Toshiemi-san’s turn to dance. She performed “Gion Kouta”.
The serious part of the evening was over. (Oh – I forgot to mention the food was absolutely delicious and I left NOTHING.) But now it was time for games. I have never been much of a game player so I didn’t participate but most of the guests had turns. We were shown two drinking games. Usually the guests lost so had to drink a small glass of beer as punishment (though one could choose green tea if one didn’t drink alcohol). There was much hilarity as Ryouka-san and Toshiemi-san repeatedly got the better of their opponents.
As well as performing, Tanekazu-san, Ryouka-san, and Toshiemi-san circulated around the tables, meeting all the guests, asking questions and chatting. There was an interpreter on hand. Tanekazu-san was like one’s favourite grandmother. She looked stern but when she smiled her face lit up. She hovered over us, concerned that we were enjoying our culinary courses. She put her arm round me when we had our photo taken and I felt honoured.
There was time for group photos. But then it was all over. How quickly the two hours evaporated – in a happy haze. I loved every minute and I will most certainly repeat the experience. Who can I rope into coming with me next time?
“Ookini, Tanekazu-san, Ryouka-san and Toshiemi-san.”