Wealthy male customers haven’t been coming in droves lately to the traditional geisha establishments. So the restaurants have instead started to focus on attracting female clientele after “joshikai,” or women’s drinking parties, are becoming more popular in Japan now. The women seem to be enjoying what has traditionally been a male-exclusive experience.
Hamacho, a “ryotei” (traditional high-class restaurant) in Kochi, has started offering girls-only dinner plans, with “ozashiki asobi” or games and entertainment with a geisha thrown into the mix, all for around $50 per head for two hours. Ryotei restaurants normally have an air of exclusivity for their male customers who want to spend time with geishas, or women trained to provide entertainment through traditional arts. But some Facebook posts from women who said they were interested in trying out the ryotei experience convinced Hamacho manager Misako Hamaguchi to expand their clientele to women. 10 groups each month avail of their “ozashiki asobi”, where geishas join the gathering halfway through to dance, play games and chat with the customers, just like they would for their male counterparts.
The geisha tradition is a slowly dying industry, with “hanamachi” entertainment districts continually disappearing and the number of geishas on the decline. But the recent increasing interest from female customers might provide a much-needed infusion of life for the hanamachi culture. Last July, the Japan Ozashiki-Asobi Association started organizing dinners with geisha entertainment in Tokyo, charging $96 per head. Women guests outnumbered the men, partly because of a discount offered if you came to the event wearing a kimono. Even tourist groups are getting into the act, with sightseeing programs organized in Atami, Shizuoka Prefecture to give visitors a glimpse into the geisha world. Again, women are the more frequent customers on this kind of tour. Kyoto’s “miyako odori” festival which features geisha dances also draws in more female attendees now.
More than just getting a peek into the normally male-exclusive world, the fascination of women with geishas probably comes also from seeing them as “models of elegance”. Yuko Tanaka, a Hosei University professor who studies Edo Period culture said that during the Tokugawa shogunate, women from wealthy families also had the privilege of being entertained by geishas. He thinks it’s good that the women of today are showing interest in this traditional Japanese culture.
[ via Kyodo News ]