Monday, August 3, 2009

Higashi Chaya (Geisha Entertainment) District, Kanazawa

Me and ma at a wet Higashi Chaya District, Kanazawa

Higashi Chaya District, Kanazawa (taken on a sunny day a few days later!)

In the pouring rain me and mum caught a cab to the Higashi Chaya district, another famous area in Kanazawa. It was such a shame it was raining, I had purposely picked Sunday because you can often spot ladies all dressed up in their Sunday gear (i.e kimonos) or if you’re really lucky spot a wedding party.

The Higashi Chaya district is the largest of 3 chaya districts in Kanazawa and is definitely a must see if you’re visiting Kanazawa.

A chaya (literally meaning teahouse) house is an exclusive restaurant, where geisha (traditional female Japanese entertainers) entertained people by performing dances and playing Japanese traditional musical instruments. If you don’t know much about geishas then I’d definitely recommend you read Memoirs of a Gesiha, written by Arthur Golden, to learn more about this ancient Japanese custom or just watch the film if you're feeling lazy!

The infamous willow tree in Higashi Chaya District, Kanazawa

The Higashi Chaya exudes charm with its wooden latticed geisha houses and paved streets. You will notice a big willow tree at the bottom of the main street in Hiagshi Chaya (you will notice it by the hoards of tourists having their photo taken in front of it) The willow tree marks the boundary point for geishas during the Edo period. Geishas would wave off their clients at the willow tree but were not allowed to go past this point.

Make sure you go into the Shima Teahouse, a 2 story preserved geisha house turned museum, which is a few metres up from the willow tree on the same side. Since we went on a wet Sunday we had the house to ourselves.

The waiting room where guests would wait to be entertained by geishas

The upstairs of the house is for the guests and performances. Cross the creaky floorboards and you’ll find the performing room where Geishas, we were told, used to perform many Japanese fine arts; the koto (Japanese harp), dancing, tea ceremony and sing noh songs The proprietress quarters and Geishas dressing room were on the ground floor.

On a quiet day in Hiagashi Chaya you can really soak up the atmosphere; the steaming wood aroma from the ancient teahouses, the little cobbled streets and the sounds of the koto being played in the distance. OK, OK I know I'm sounds like a bloody tourist guide so I'll leave it at that!

More about the Shima Geisha Teahouse in Kanazawa's Higashi Chaya District here

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