Other than seeing the Gion Corner dances, as well as the 15 minute Maiko presentation at the Traditional Craft Museum, this event is, to the best of my knowledge, the only opportunity in Kyoto to interact with real Maiko for anyone who is not a VIP businessman.
This is not a tourist trap for Westerners either - the setting is quite intimate, at 28 maximum capacity (7 tables, 4 seats each). In fact, on the night of our visit, we were the only non-Japanese in the room. And as proof that there's nothing overtly sexual about Maiko or Geiko these days, the attendance included a family with a 10 year old boy, a group of female school teachers, and two Bhuddist monks! The kaiseki dinner was on par with what we had in other highly-rated places in the city. Unlimited beverage service (including alcohol) was included in the total price.
During our visit we were incredibly lucky to also meet a Geisha (Geiko), as usually only Maiko participate in the event. The reason for the Geiko's appearance might have been a crew from a Japanese Tea company photographing part of their ad campaign. Since an older Geisha who doesn't dance, plays the shamisen (three-stringed musical instrument), we ended up meeting two Geiko and a Maiko that evening!
The 2-hour dinner consists roughly of 4 parts - first, the host explains (in both Japanese and English), the various aspects of Maiko/Geiko tradition - then, the 2 Maiko (or Maiko and Geiko, if you lucky as we were), perform several dances, while the older Geiko accompanies them on the shamisen and sings. The Maiko and Geiko then go around the tables and make conversation. In our case, the Geiko did not speak English and the host acted as interpreter. Some of our questions, unfortunately, got "lost in translation", but it was still an amazing conversation. The Maiko was incredibly sweet and spoke English well enough to talk to us on her own. The last part of the evening were drinking games - everyone who wanted to, got a chance to play. I will not spoil them for you, but suffice it to say that non-alcoholic drinks were an option, and that everyone enjoyed themselves immensely - the women in the audience just as well as men.
To sum it up, the dinner was the highlight of our trip to Japan, not tacky or gimmicky at all, and worth the price to experience this unique cultural heritage.
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