Kyoto lifts lid on geisha skills

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The Independent Online

The cost of an evening in the company of one of Japan's high-class geisha is usually prohibitive for all but the most well-heeled. But in an effort to promote the skills of these ancient entertainers -- as well as ride out the downturn in business since the global economic storm broke -- the ancient capital of Kyoto has introduced a cut-price deal for a peek into their secretive lives.

(Relaxnews) -

The cost of an evening in the company of one of Japan's high-class geisha is usually prohibitive for all but the most well-heeled. But in an effort to promote the skills of these ancient entertainers - as well as ride out the downturn in business since the global economic storm broke - the ancient capital of Kyoto has introduced a cut-price deal for a peek into their secretive lives.

An evening being served drinks by a geisha, listening to traditional songs and tunes on a flute or "samisen," a type of lute, would usually cost anything from Y50,000 (€375) and up. Geisha houses in Kyoto are taking advantage of a campaign by the city's elders to raise their profile and in December introduced 30-minute "winter special" tea ceremony events for just Y500 (€3.75).

"We started this campaign in December because of the recession and economic problems in Japan, which has caused the number of visitors to decline," Osamu Ito, a spokesman for the Kyoto-based Ookini Foundation, told Relaxnews.

"We have been given extra funds to promote our activities and we can now put on these exhibitions several times a day," he said.

Visitors are able to drink green tea that is prepared in the traditional manner and take photos of the geisha and "maiko" - apprentice geisha - as they perform the intricate moves. There is a maximum of 20 visitors per session allowed.

Long a centre of Japanese culture, Kyoto officials also hope the campaign will attract more tourists to the sights of the city, which has seen an upswing in the number of visitors since the release of the 2005 film Memoirs of a Geisha - despite receiving widespread criticism here as being inaccurate. The number of visitors who spent a night in Kyoto last year was just over 926,000.

Ito said that visitors to the tea house will also be able to walk the streets of Gion, the old-fashioned quarter that is home to geisha houses and the restaurants and bars where they perform before private groups.

Sessions have been filling to capacity, according to the organizers, with approximately 50 percent foreign tourists and 50 percent domestic visitors.

Location: The Kyoto Traditional Musical Art Foundation's Gion Corner Theatre, Yasaka Hall, Gion Hanamikoji Shijyo-Sagaru, Kyoto.

The events last 30 minutes and the campaign runs through the end of February.

Further information: +81 75 561 1119.

JR

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