photo: geisha.or.jp

There are many geisha in Hakone, Japan. Geisha are closely linked to the image many of us have of Japan. They are refined personifications of Japanese aesthetics, culture, art, and beauty. The geisha are women who practice the and perfect the art of entertainment and cultural immersion for their guests and patrons. They were once found throughout Japan, but with the changing dynamics of society their numbers have dwindled dramatically.

photo: sakata-web.co.jp

Hakone has many geisha who use the Hakone Yumoto Kenban as a place to practice, perform, and gather. The kenban is a short walk from Hakone Yumoto Station. From Hotel Okada you can take the local bus back to Yumoto and take a short 5 minute walk to see the kenban. The walk from Okada Hotel is also a pleasant 15 minute downhill stroll along the Sukumogawa River and past other ryokan and places of interest.

photo: hakone-ryokan.or.jp

The geisha of Hakone are usually reserved for performances for guests at the area ryokan and hotels, but there are performances throughout the year. The geisha house opens for public showings, special events, and can be entered on guided tours. Please check the front desk or Hakone tourism board for specific information during your time in Hakone.

photo: Odakyu Romance Car Facebook page

Walking by the kenban you may notice the hanging lanterns on the lower roof. These lanterns have the names of the geisha houses in the Yumoto area. Geisha are usually each a member of a different geisha house that provides guidance, training, and accommodation. Hakone is a rare place in Japan because there still many geisha houses in the area.

The geisha are embodiments of the refined arts of music, conversation, and entertainment. If you are lucky you when walking by the kenban, you can hear the geisha practicing their shamisen or koto.

photo: hakone.or.jp

The inside of the kenban was recently remodeled and has preserved its original look and structure with a new fresh design on the outside. There are reused obi, the thick sash used with the kimono, hanging from the walls giving the interior an artistic and modern look.

A typical day for the geisha starts with practice of their arts in the day, preparation for the evening in the afternoon, and performances in the evening. Walking around Yumoto you can discover places that cater to the geisha hidden in the back alleys. You can see the geisha getting their hair set early in the evening at a small local hair salon, walking the streets in their private clothes, but distinguishable from their beautifully set hair.

photo: onsen.surugabank.co.jp

A typical geisha performance during a ryokan visit starts with polite greetings. The performances can be arranged one week before check-in date by mail and are subject to a separate fee. The geisha performs a dance to traditional music played on a shamisen. All the dancing moves are coordinated and have been refined over years of practice. Take your time to watch and appreciate the movements and grace of the performance. Geisha are also about making your time together valuable and enjoyable. Another part of the experience usually includes playing traditional games together, followed by a chance to converse and more entertainment.

Jeff Mizuta

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