Written by Mitsuko Takahashi
Akasaka Kinryu (2) - The People Who Keep the Ryotei Tradition Alive
Akasaka Kinryu is one of the few traditional restaurants in Tokyo where the guests can enjoy a performance by geisha. The owner of the restaurant and the star performers at Akasaka Kinryu have kindly given us an exclusive interview!
A stunning beauty even though she is 75 years old. When I gave her my name card, she bent her knees a bit and extended a small Japanese fan to receive it. I was knocked out. She is a renowned geisha and we call her Ms. Ikuko.
You can watch Ms. Ikuko's graceful dance performances at Akasaka Kinryu, an elegant long-established ryotei (exclusive Japanese traditional restaurant) located in Tokyo's Akasaka area. I introduced the features of this unique and very elegant restaurant in my previous article, so please check it out.
Who Is A Geisha and What Does She Do?
Do you know what a geisha actually is? I had a chance to interview Ms. Ikuko, whose geisha career spans over more than half a century. She is still active in duty at Akasaka Kinryu. She is the first geisha to have received imperial recognition for her exquisite performing art skills in May 2016. She is the holder of an Imperial Medal.
"Geisha" literally means a woman with skills in performing arts such as dance and music. In olden days, since the geisha were beautiful, they often became concubines of powerful and wealthy men. This is what probably stands at the origin of the wrong image that people living outside of Japan often have of geisha. In fact, they are persons who are very skilled in the Japanese traditional performing arts: dance, musical instruments and songs. Ms. Ikuko, 75 years old now, confessed she adored the beautiful and flamboyant geisha as a child and practiced these performing arts in Kumamoto, on the southern island of Kyushu, in order to become one.
Her father opposed to her becoming a geisha, but her will was so strong that he eventually gave in. He told her to become the best geisha, and she kept her pledge. She is still active entertaining customers, practicing dances and musical instruments as well as training and nurturing younger geisha. They will have a grand performance called "Akasaka Odori" on March 10th - 11th, 2017, at TBS ACT Theater. For more details on the show please refer to this website.
Ms. Senshu Yamazaki - A Master of Japanese Musical Instruments
Let's not forget about the performers who accompany the geishas' dance with their musical instruments.
Ms. Senshu Yamazaki is a master performer of koto (a Japanese stringed instrument similar to a harp), shamisen (a three-stringed instrument) and kokyu (a stringed instrument played with a bow; pictured above). She teaches playing these instruments to geisha and other pupils. Her classes are held on every Monday afternoon at Kinryu and are open to music enthusiasts. Ms. Yamazaki has been playing these instruments more than half a century.
A Closing Word from Mr. Akiba
Mr. Yoshinobu Akiba, the director of Akasaka Kinryu, was kind enough to talk to us after showing us around the ryotei. In addition to the detailed explanations on the history and present of the ryotei system, he also gave us some recommendations for travelers to Japan. Asked about what he recommends foreign visitors to see in Japan, Mr. Akiba insisted that the Japanese traditional festivals, matsuri, is something that should not be missed. He also mentioned he recently visited Tokushima to see the famous Awa Odori Festival, where he even enjoyed dancing himself.
There will be a number of interesting festivals all around Japan in the autumn. I hope you will enjoy some of them.
At Akasaka Kinryu you can enjoy not only the best of Japanese cuisine and a wonderful art collection, but also dance performances by geisha and music played by professional performers. These artists are the preservers of the elegant culture that flourished in the second half of the 20th century in Japan. Visit Akasaka Kinryu and get a glimpse of this unique, high class culture.
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