Last weekend saw another kind of paid entertainment, but this time it was at the hands of geisha. A geisha I know was in a good mood a few weeks back and offered me two places at a ryotei party last weekend. By offered I mean she foot the bill which was probably in the ballpark of 30,000-40,000 yen per person. Maybe more, who knows when it comes to lavish geisha parties! This particular party was held at a ryotei that is over fifty years old and was in honour of one particular geisha, whom I had met once or twice before that night. Due to the nature of the celebration, the party took place in the ryotei's largest room, which held around 30 guests and 8 or 9 geisha.
Other Whitie and I arrived a few minutes before the appointed time and were led up a couple flights of slippery wooden stairs to the zashiki room. When the ryotei employee opened the sliding doors we were faced with a spacious tatami room, three of its sides lined with low tables and already seated guests, with the front of the room open for the dancing and games to take place later. We were immediately plied with alcohol and the old man across from us immediately engaged us in pleasant conversation. From there the geisha who were performing came out and plied the guests with more alcohol while the ryotei staff started to bring around the first few courses that made up our kaiseki meal. By the end of the evening we had received so many courses on small dishes and in covered bowls that I couldn't keep track of how many there were.
Needless to say, when Other Whitie and I first entered the room there was a lot of who-are-they stares but by the end of the evening, the other guests were yelling out Geisha-chan and Whitie-chan from across the room at us. Definitely a good sign. Halfway through the meal, four of the geisha in full regalia (elaborate wig, white face, long kimono for dancing) gave a performance of several short dances. I have been wanting to learn Japanese dance for several years now and I think last weekend's performance sealed the deal for me. The style of dance is so controlled and calculating but I just love watching it and I particularly love the subtle head movements and eye expressions that we could pick up on from sitting so close. After some post-dance imbibing the geisha rallied the guests and we played a couple games often employed when geisha entertain, simple and silly games usually with accompanying ditties, that by the end, had one drunk middle-aged man slapping another on the ass. A smashing success if you ask me.
No sooner had the games finished with the losers taking shots of sake, then we were doing the sanbon jime clapping phenomenon that is the end of all parties. Those three hours whisked by faster than the trailing hem of a dancing geisha's kimono. How's that for a cheesy metaphor? We walked out into the nippy air and I felt exhilarated. Other Whitie and I had been a success at our very first geisha party, a chance event that not even the majority of Japanese people get the opportunity to attend. Funnily enough, the geisha who had invited me took me aside later that night because she wanted to make sure that Other Whitie and I had fared OK and weren't off-put by the old man who had taken up most of our time that evening. A true hostess with the mostess.