Geisha company in Japanese city of Niigata bets on crowdfunding to survive coronavirus downturn

An ultra-modern online crowdfunding campaign has come to the rescue of one of the most traditional and uniquely Japanese businesses in the north coast city of Niigata – its geisha community.

Japan’s famous female entertainers have been struggling for years, with fewer young women willing to put in the long hours of studying musical instruments and dance to become geisha, while there are also fewer wealthy patrons willing to support the “willow world” and growing competition from alternative sources of entertainment.

Niigata’s geisha quarter has a long and storied history, but the tea houses, restaurants and banquet halls where they would traditionally perform have been hit hard by the Covid-19 pandemic, particularly after government calls to avoid dining and drinking out and being in close proximity with other people in a relatively small space.

“For geisha, that is exactly what they are meant to do, so the coronavirus has been very difficult for us over the last year,” said Miyuki Tanahashi, who oversees the 12 geisha who work for Ryuto Shinko Co. in Niigata city.

Established in 1987, the company is the first in Japan to take a slightly more modern approach to the training and employment of geisha, using a website to introduce its entertainers and then dispatching them to perform at one of over a dozen venues around the city. That came to a grinding halt in late spring last year.

“At the beginning, we hoped the problem would be over soon, but it soon became clear that it was going to take a long time,” Tanahashi told This Week in Asia. “It was not long before there was simply not enough work for all the geisha that we employ and I estimate that we have lost 90 per cent of the business we were doing before the pandemic.”

The short-term solution, she said, was a crowdfunding campaign that the company hoped would raise enough funds to keep the firm sufficiently solvent to ride out the worst of the crisis. The response, however, has been phenomenal. - South China Morning Post