Gion Hatanaka

From left to right; Toshiemi-san, Tanekazu-san, me, Ryouka-san. At Gion Hatanaka

At Gion Hatanaka – from left to right; Toshiemi-san, Tanekazu-san, me,  and Ryouka-san.

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).

Toshiemi-san shows us her kanzashi. Note how only her bottom lip is painted. This is because she is only a first-year Maiko.

Toshiemi-san shows us her kanzashi. Note how only her bottom lip is painted. This is because she is a first-year Maiko.

Ryouka-san stands while her ensemble is explained to the guests.

Ryouka-san regards the room while the outfit of a Geiko is explained.

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.


We are being shown how to play "Tora Tora" ("Tiger Tiger")

We are being shown how to play “Tora Tora” (“Tiger Tiger”)


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.

A happy moment as I posed with Tanekazu-san.

A happy moment as I posed with Tanekazu-san.

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.”



13 thoughts on “Gion Hatanaka

  1. Yvonne

    I hope to go to Japan next year autumn and was thinking about booking this exact same dinner experience, coincidentally. I was afraid it would be too much of a tourist trap, but reading about how much you enjoyed it, it will deifnitely be put on my to-do list! Thank you very much for sharing.

    1. juliepodstolski Post author

      Hi Yvonne, I wanted to share the experience for exactly the reason you express; to encourage other people visiting Kyoto. I had no idea what to expect either and thought it might be too touristy. I think it was done very well. There was a great atmosphere – at first people were in awe of the three performers but as the two hours progressed everyone relaxed and had fun together. I’d give it five out of five!

  2. Sina Hein

    Julie, this must have been a wonderful experience! When I was in Kyoto, I didn’t see any Maiko or Geiko at all. But as it was my first and very short trip, I could only visit the biggest sightseeing points with a short Gion stroll.

    1. juliepodstolski Post author

      Now and then I see on the internet, people saying there is no way you can have the Maiko/Geiko ‘experience’ unless you go to an ozashiki…which they then tell you is impossible unless you are invited to one. I wanted to share this evening to let you know that there IS a way people; tourists like me, can meet Maiko and Geiko and see them perform. It was a first-rate experience.

    1. juliepodstolski

      Thanks Diana, I hope to let other people know that this opportunity exists. I have been going to Kyoto for years but I didn’t know about it till two months ago. And it turns out this event has been running since at least 2009.


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