News On Japan

Talents, Influencers, and Social Workers: A New Approach in Nara’s Geisha District

NARA, Jul 05 (News On Japan) - In the early Showa period, Nara’s "Motoryu" geisha district was bustling with activity. However, over time, it has gradually declined, leaving only Kiku, the mistress of the teahouse Tsuruya, as the last geisha. To prevent the lights of the district from going out, she has launched an innovative initiative to break tradition. We followed her efforts closely to see if this bold step could turn the situation around.

Kiku, while working in her primary job, has started a new project in her tea house. This project involves women from different professions, such as talents, influencers, and social workers, training to perform traditional arts. These women, unlike traditional trainees, continue their main jobs while participating in the project. This hybrid approach is meant to attract new interest in the geisha culture.

The women participating in Kiku’s project come from diverse backgrounds. One of them is an influencer with a large following on social media, another is a social worker at a hospital. Kiku is not looking to train traditional geishas but to foster a new kind of apprentice, combining traditional arts with modern careers. This approach allows participants to learn about Japanese traditions and culture while engaging directly with it.

In the early Showa period, the Motoryu district had over 200 geishas. However, as time passed, the number dwindled, leaving Kiku as the sole geisha. To revive the district, Kiku turned Tsuruya into a corporation, hiring geishas and apprentices as employees with guaranteed salaries. Though there was a period when the number of aspiring geishas increased, the COVID-19 pandemic brought new challenges, and many left due to the uncertain future.

Kiku received 30 applications for the project and selected three women. One of her selection criteria was having over 100,000 followers on social media, aiming to leverage their influence to promote the traditional culture of the geisha district.

Despite being a modern initiative, the participants are required to master the arts and etiquette of a geisha. They undergo rigorous training, practicing dances and learning the proper manners expected in the profession. Kiku has high expectations but acknowledges the challenges in balancing their main jobs and training.

Kiku, who debuted as a geisha at the age of 15, inherited Tsuruya from her late aunt. She has lived in Motoryu for 36 years and remains committed to preserving the geisha culture despite being the last one standing. The project aims to bridge the traditional and modern worlds, making the culture more accessible and appealing to a broader audience.

On the day the project officially launched, over 50 people attended to witness the women’s performance. The event marked a significant step towards reviving the district, with Kiku hopeful that this new approach would breathe life back into Nara’s geisha culture.

The project has garnered support from various quarters, and Kiku remains determined to push forward, driven by her mission to keep the district alive. As the women continue their training and performances, there is a renewed sense of hope that the traditional yet evolving culture of the geisha will thrive once again in Nara.


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