A Dinner Date with Two Maiko and a Geiko

A trainee Geiko, a Kyoto Geisha, called a Maiko at the evening dinner dance performance

They were the most beautiful things I had seen – though to label the two girls as ‘things’ seemed rude – with their perfectly combed hair and painted faces they were more akin to an Ando doll than human. We were enthralled; thrown into an ancient Japanese world, a world of karyūkai – the flower and willow world – the reality where the Geisha permanently reside.

Of all thing, it is the powdered face and painted lips of a Geisha that has always been the image I associate most closely with Japan; the red circular lips on white face reminiscent of the countries flag and the Geisha culture part of the rich cultural background that the country possesses. So to be in a room with these mythical creatures I was immediately placed under their spell.

Each movement was slow and precise, each angular hand placement practiced for years before they could perform for an audience with the title of Maiko – apprentice Geisha. Rolling back the sleeve of their kimono they exposed just enough wrist skin to flirt with the audience, smiling at us, playfully the Maiko continued their dance whilst the Geiko sat in the corner diligently playing the shamisen, a three-stringed guitar-like instrument.

Geiko playing shamisen in Kyoto, Japan

In Kyoto, the countries former capital and now the cultural capital of Japan, the term geisha is a title not fit for these artisans and instead preferring to be called ‘Geiko‘ – Kyoto-style Geisha – as the hanamachi – the name of the geisha districts – within Kyoto are considered the most prestigious to train in and are frequented by wealthier clients. Tonight we were visiting Gion Hatanaka to take part in a dinner of Kyoto Cuisine and Maiko experience.

Beautifully presented Japanese dinner at Maiko dinner in Kyoto, Japan

Beautifully presented Japanese dinner at Maiko dinner in Kyoto, Japan

Throughout the Maiko’s performance we were encouraged to open and eat our bento box. Inside was a beautifully presented meal sectioned into three different serves of  kaiseki food – traditional Kyoto-styled food.
Despite admiring the beautiful presentation of the Japanese food, having not grown up eating seafood – a staple of the Japanese diet – I spent the evening not truly appreciating the taste and the time spent preparing each of our delicate meals; however, I can tell you that warm sake is somewhat potent on an empty stomach!

Asking questions to the Maiko and Geiko at the Maiko dinner in Kyoto, Japan

The primary role of a Geiko is to be a hostess and so we were delighted when they joined us at our table to pour drinks and answer our probing questions on what life was like within a hanamachi, what did their family think of their profession, and of course who their favourite musician? – it seems that Lady Gaga has managed to permeate into Maiko culture, and was the favourite of both girls.

The girls spoke very little English so a translator came to our aid to help us communicate. To be a Geiko is akin to becoming a celebrity – if they are good they become well-known and revered amongst the community, and can also ask for top dollar for their hostess services. To reach this title the girls are trained in poetry, literature, tea ceremony, dancing, conversation and musical instruments – just to name a few.

Drinking Games at a Maiko dinner in Kyoto, Japan

Perhaps my favourite aspect of the evening was the drinking games and not for the reasons you’re thinking. Another part of training to be a Geiko involves learning games to play with their customers for entertainment. Our group spent the evening playing two games with the girls in hope of winning a small prize if we beat them, or a shot of beer if we lost!

The first game was called Konpir, a test of rhythm, memory and reflexes.

The second game we played was Tora Tora Tora! (Tiger, Tiger, Tiger!) It was a fun game to play because it made us all let down our hair and have fun being ‘old women’, ‘tigers’ or ‘samurai’.

Drinking games with Maiko at dinner in Kyoto, Japan

The world of the Maiko and Geiko is different to what the Western world promotes and believes, our perceptions coming from movies such as ‘Memoirs of  Geisha’, and with the economy not doing well as well as a decline in the Japanese people’s interest in culture, the future of my dinner dates may become just a memory in Japanese history sooner rather than later.

Would you like to have a dinner date with a Maiko or Geiko?

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Japanese Restaurant & Ryokan – Gion Hatanaka
505 Gionmachi Minamigawa,
Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto City
Kyoto, Japan

Website: Kyoto Cuisine and Maiko Evening

We took part in the Kyoto Cuisine and Maiko Evening which is prices at  ¥18,000 (AU$200) – reservations are essential!

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  • Reply
    December 17, 2012 at 5:54 pm

    I love this piece. I find Japanese culture in general really interesting – it’s so different from what I know. The Geisha and Maiko seem to come from different times and – however cliché – make me think of dragons and flying martial arts masters (thank the movies for that:/). They also seem to have some sort of intimacy, secrecy around them.

    • Reply
      December 17, 2012 at 8:14 pm

      They really are such intriguing people, and the way the Western world has painted them just adds to that. Hope you get to explore more of Japanese culture soon. =)

  • Reply
    Runaway Guide
    December 18, 2012 at 4:14 am

    How cool! Great videos. Like being in Memoirs of a Geisha. Kyoto is incredible. I love how the modern juxtaposes with the traditional. How you been Nicole? Are you in Japan right now? All the best, Leif

    • Reply
      April 1, 2013 at 4:34 pm

      Thanks Leif! Geisha’s have such a fascinating culture.
      No, I wasn’t in Japan when this post came out but I can’t wait to make a return trip. Such a beautiful country and I’ve barely scratched the surface.
      Hope you’re enjoying your travels!

  • Reply
    Runaway Guide
    December 18, 2012 at 4:17 am

    Hey Nicole, not sure if my last comment went through ><(frustrated asian) How cool you got to see this. I love Kyoto, how the traditional juxtaposes with the modern is really something. Hope youre doing well.-Leif

  • Reply
    December 18, 2012 at 5:22 pm

    I’m so jealous! It’s my dream to have a dinner date with a geisha. From the food to the music to the games, it looks like such a fun time. I hope the youth of Japan continue on this beautiful tradition.

    Driftwood and Daydreams

    • Reply
      January 9, 2013 at 4:17 am

      Thanks for commenting, Aryn!

      Hope you get to have your dinner date with some geiko or maiko soon.
      The youth of Japan are actually beginning to show a renewed interest in Japanese culture so lets hope that the tradition continues to be passed onto future generations.

  • Reply
    December 19, 2012 at 7:03 am

    mmm that looks delicious

    • Reply
      January 9, 2013 at 4:18 am

      It looked delicious, Hogga! Only wished you could have been there to sample it for me.

  • Reply
    Steph (@ 20 Years Hence)
    December 30, 2012 at 7:15 pm

    What an amazing experience! We were lucky enough to interact with some geiko & maiko in “the wild” while we were in Kyoto (largely because a Japanese couple with crazy connections took us under their wing for the night) and I remember thinking the entire time how surreal it was that they still exist. It was like gazing into the face of ghosts & I can only imagine how insanely cool it would have been to spend the evening in their company. I’m sure we’ll return to Kyoto one day, and this would certainly be a splurge I’d consider investing in!

    • Reply
      January 9, 2013 at 4:19 am

      Steph, it’s definitely worth the splurge but your experience sounds amazing as well!

      Can’t wait to hear about both your past and future experiences with the Maiko and Geiko of Japan. =)

  • Reply
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  • Reply
    May 20, 2013 at 12:16 pm

    Wow, so intriguing! Great to know where you can go along for this kind of experience – I was totally lost about where to go when I was in Kyoto!

  • Reply
    September 4, 2014 at 9:34 pm

    This looks amazing, could you please tell me how you booked for it? I can’t seems to find where to book anywhere on the website!

    • Reply
      September 6, 2014 at 7:01 pm

      Hi Olivia,

      I didn’t book the dinner personally but from what I see on the website it suggests you call them at +81 (0)75 541 5315

      Hope you enjoy your Maiko and Geiko experience. 🙂

  • Reply
    January 17, 2015 at 12:24 am

    Hello Nicole!

    I was searching for this performance and your blog post came up! We are definitely keen after reading your post!
    I read from a previous post that you didnt book them personally, may I ask who did you book it through with? I’m not in Japan and unfortunately, my knowledge of japanese is not great enough for me to be able to book with them I’m afraid.
    Thanks for your help!


  • Reply
    June 22, 2015 at 10:27 pm

    The experiance of meeting Maiko and Geiko is just fascinating. If you come to Kyoto please try it! The price is reasonable, the food is good, the entertainment is wonderful! It might be one chance in a lifetime after all.

  • Reply
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