Although little known compared to Kyoto, the tradition of Niigata geishas dates back over 200 years (Credit: Niigat a Visitors & Convention Bureau)
"The prince was very friendly ", she remembers. "He made a lot of jokes. I'm not sure if I'm supposed to mention it, but he was playing mahjong with the senior geigis. I watched them while I served sake and tea.
While the activity of geishas ceased during World War II, it rapidlynot resumed thereafter. Although it has never returned to the peak of its glory days, it still offers a fascinating insight into traditional Japanese culture and arts. Unlike Kyoto's overly touristy geisha area, Furumachi is one of the few areas in Japan where travelers can still savor the authentic surroundings of a traditional hanamachi or Flower Town, as the geisha quarters are called. .
You may also be interested in:
• forgotten indigenous people of Japan
• Why Japan values 'naked communion '
• Why you have never eaten 'real ' sushi
"Today maybe'it cannot be experienced in Kyoto, Kanazawa [the capital of Ishikawa prefecture] and Furumachi "said Aritomo Kubo, staff member of Furumachi Kagai Club , which helps preserve the traditional streetscape of Furumachi by maintaining its heritage architecture. "Plus, many of Furumachi's ryoteirestaurants are the original buildings, dating back to the 1800s " he added.
Furumachi has the added benefit that many of its ryotei accept first-time visitors, while many other famous geisha areas require an introduction from a regular customer. Niigata is also home to the Ichiyama School of Tradi National dance, a unique style practiced by Niigata geigis which has been the basis of local performances for over 100 years and which is designated as intangible cultural good. The Geigis interpret this sDance tyle by singing songs like "Niigata Okesa ", which was brought to Niigata by sailors sailing the Kitamaebune trade route.
However, with the advent of television, movies, and other alternative forms of
At that time, far fewer young women were interested in devoting eight years of their lives to learning essential geisha skills: shamisen; songs; the dances ; the mores. As a result, the rate of new interns has not kept pace with retirements.
Also, unlike Kyoto - the refined capital of Japan for over 1,000 years (794- 1868) - Isolated Niigata is a place few tourists visit, further limiting the demand for geisha shows. And in the 1980s, a lack of activity forced many ryotei to shut down.
Visitors to Niigata pcould make a reservation at a ryotei in Furumachi district to see the geigis play (Credit: Niigata Visitors & Convention Bureau)
However, things started to improve in 1987, when a enterprising company decided to help keep Niigata 's geisha tradition alive. Ryuto Shinko Co , Ltd has become Japan 's first geigi recruiting company, aiming not only to train new geigi but also to act as a go-between, connecting them with ryotei and other establishments. Supported by sponsorship from 80 local businesses, Ryuto Shinko engages geigis as full-time salaried workers, providing health care and other benefits. They also hope to raise awareness and boost tourism through products such as t-shirts, calendars, fans and even images of Furuma.chi Geigi carrying sake.
Yui - the apprentice who danced on the tatami - is one of their recruits. “I enrolled after graduating from high school. This is only my ninth year, ”she said. "I started to learn traditional Japanese dance when I was little, so I was already passionate about kimonos and the sound of classical Japanese instruments.
Ryuto Shinko a introduces an attitude of innovation into the traditional world of geishas. They abolished the rule of mandatory retirement after marriage and reached out to families, women and tourists to broaden their audience from the traditional Japanese male clientele. Nowadays, the Furumachi geigis dance and teach their culture at conventions and perform at weddings and even funerals, where they perform the favorite song of the deceased. Although it is quite common to see geigis on the streets of Furumachi, walk to ryoteis or their classes, visitors to the city can make a reservation at a ryotei restaurant to see them perform or go to one of the many annual festivals held in Niigata throughout the year.
The company has also developed new ways to
"customers in the old days were regulars and knew how to run us, ", Nobuko said. "They often started to sing traditional songs, and the geigis followed their lead, playing the shamisen and dancing to their song. This was before the karaoke. Today's customers are mostly new and have becare to be guided. Taruken is a good way to
Yui (right) was recruited by Ryuto Shinko Co after high school and has been a geigi for nine years (Credit: Sakura PR)
However, Furum's fragile recoveryachi has suffered yet another blow with the coronavirus outbreak. In the months following May 2020, when the Japanese government declared a state of emergency, advising people to avoid bars and restaurants, the number of ozashiki banquets fell by 90%. . Currently there are only 24 Furumachi geigis.
"I 've not experienced anything like it. The pandemic is like an invisible war " said Nobuko, who has seen the geigi scene survive two major earthquakes. "After the earthquakes, Ryuto Shinko sent geigis to hospitals and nursing homes to perform for free, to boost patient morale. We can't even do it now.
But Ryuto Shinko came up with an ingeniously contemporary way to save the age-old culture of geigis: online crowdfunding. They set an ambitious target of 10million yen (around £ 66,000) and a 52-day deadline by June 30, 2021) to raise it. Surprisingly, they exceeded their goal in just 11 days, receiving 15 million yen, contributed by a wide variety of people keen to help preserve this intrinsic part of Japanese culture. They then raised 30million yen (around £ 191,000).
In light of this wave of popular support, there is reason to be happy about Geigis 'future once Japan will reopen to international travel.
"I think geigis will stay the same, but our customers may change," Nobuko said. "There are many uncertainties ahead ... We must be prepared to adapt to any new demand.
Whatever the future holds, Nobuko does not regret his career, even if it does not was not her choice. "It was my mother 's idea. She had been a geigi in her hometown. I had a lot of siblings, so I guess the reason was financial.
Nobuko is sou comes to have been frequently scolded by her elders during her apprenticeship time, but this never took her away from the geigi world. "Is there any other job that gives you the opportunity to meet so many people, including a prime minister, and talk to them on an equal footing?" She declared. "I have never been happier in my life than when I meet and learn from guests.
Our unique world is a journey of the Hfrance.fr series which celebrates what makes us different and distinctive by exploring quirky subcultures and obscure communities around the world.
Join more than three million Hfrance.fr Travel fans by liking us on Facebook , or follow us on Twitter and Instagram .
If you liked this story, subscribe to the weekly newsletter on the functionalities of Hfrance.fr.com called " The essential list ". A handpicked selection of stories from Hfrance.fr Future, Culture, Worklife and Travel, delivered to your inbox every Friday.