New Book: A Blogger’s Guide to JAPAN


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Japan: Hachioji Geisha

Even if you have never visited Japan, you must be familiar with Japan’s geisha culture. With their distinctive white face, red lips and elaborately decorated hairstyle, the geisha remain an enduring symbol of Japan. The word geisha means performance person.  The geisha are the entertainers of Japan and their existence can be traced back to the 1600s (Edo period).  To become a geisha, it takes years of training. Geisha typically begin their training as early as sixteen years of age and are called maiko (geisha in training). The maiko receive extensive coaching in singing, dancing and playing traditional Japanese instruments as well as the use of proper customs and social skills.

It was estimated that Japan had over 80,000 geisha at one time, today that number has dwindled down to 1,000 – 2,000.  The geisha can primarily be found in Japan’s cultural capital of Kyoto.  They continue to work in traditional teahouses as they have always done, entertaining and charming their clientele with their highly cultivated skills. But you do not have to travel to Kyoto to see the geisha.  Hachioji, in western Tokyo, also has its own geisha culture.

Hachioji City is often overlooked by many people living in central Tokyo, but it is more densely populated than central London and has a vibrant city center.  Easily accessible by the central JR Chuo Line from Tokyo or Shinjuku stations, the city is renowned for its traditional Japanese festival, the Hachioji Matsuri (八王子まつり).

The three-day festival is held in the beginning of August and includes a parade of mikoshi (portable shrines) and nineteen dashi (floats), music and dance performances and over three hundred food and gift stands. It is the largest festival in Hachioji.  The festival also features performances by Hachioji’s geisha.

The geisha culture at its peak had 200-300 geisha working in over 30 restaurants in Hachioji, which was a busy transportation route to Edo (Tokyo). Today, there are less than 20 geisha working in the city. The geisha house in Hachioji is known as Yukinoe okiya, where 54-year-old geisha, Megumi is the okaasan (mother).

The geisha also participate in a series of geisha parades held in September.  The women, dressed in their traditional kimonos, dance and play music as they weave through the streets just north of Hachioji Station.  The parades are usually held between 6:00 to 9:00 PM and last 30 minutes.

So whether you are interested in learning more about the geisha culture or if you want to experience a traditional Japanese summer festival, take a quick trip to Hachioji.  Hachioji Station is just 51 minutes from Tokyo Station on the Chuo Line.

Web page:


Hachioji Matsuri








Megumisan helping a young geisha get ready



JAPAN: Kyogen, Traditional Comic Theater

There are four forms of traditional Japanese theater which include, Kabuki, Noh, Bunraku and Kyogen.

Noh is the oldest theater art form still regularly performed today. Its stories are derived from traditional literature and it features only male actors. Noh integrates elaborate masks, costumes and various props in a dance-based performance, requiring highly trained actors and musicians. Emotions are conveyed using stylized gestures and masks are utilized to represent the various roles such as ghosts, women, children and elderly people.

Kyogen which literally translates to “mad words” or “wild speech” developed alongside Noh and was performed along with Noh serving as a break between acts. To this day, it retains close ties with Noh and is sometimes designated as Noh-Kyogen. Kyogen, like Noh, features only male actors however, that is where the similarity ends. Where Noh theater is formal, symbolic and solemn, Kyogen is comical, satirical and presents humorous stories of daily life. Its primary goal is to make its audience laugh. The performers do not wear extravagant costumes, make up or masks. Instead they are dressed in simple kimonos and are accompanied by a chorus.

It is said that Kyogen was a major influence on the development of Kabuki theatre. It was adopted as the official form of entertainment during the Edo period and was subsidized by the government. Further, since Kyogen was performed along with the Noh, it was patronized by the upper class.

There were once three schools of Kyogen which included the Sagi School, the Okura School and the Izumi School. The Sagi School was closed down leaving only the Okura and Izumi schools to quietly cultivate their art. After World War II, many forms of Japanese traditional arts were revived. Consequently, Kyogen’s popularity increased once again and today it is performed and practiced regularly throughout the country and is featured on television programs. In 2001, Kyogen was designated by UNESCO, along with Noh, as one of the Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.

One interesting fact is that during the post-war period, foreigners were allowed to participate in Kyogen as amateur performers. Today, foreigners who reside in Japan and possess sufficient Japanese language skills are afforded the opportunity to practice this traditional art form with amateur troupes.

There are many places to see Kyogen performed including Tokyo and Osaka but what better place to enjoy this traditional art form than in a town that is dotted with traditional Japanese houses and where geisha and maiko roam the streets? Gion Corner located within the Gion district of Kyoto presents several of Japan’s traditional performing arts including the Kyo- mai dance performed by maiko dancers, Gagaku court music and Bunraku puppet theater all on one stage. While you are there, be sure to visit the Maiko Gallery where videos of dances, maiko hair decorations and other items are on display.

Admission to Gion Corner is ¥3,150 for adults, ¥2,200 for audience members between the ages of 16-22 and ¥ 1,900 for those between the ages of 7-15.

The theater is easily accessible from the JR Kyoto Station, via city bus 206 or 100. Get off at the Gion bus stop and the theater is merely 5 minutes on foot from that point. Alternatively, you can take the Keihan Line train to Gion Shijo Station and again the theater is only 5 minutes away on foot.









Maiko Gallery

Maiko Gallery


Web page:                     

Address:                                  Yasaka Hall, 570-2 Gionmachi Minamigawa, Higashiyama-ku

Japan: Kanazawa

Kanazawa located in the Ishikawa prefecture, is a historic capital city where the samurai, merchants, geisha, and lords have all left their mark. It is perhaps the best preserved Edo-era city in the country and one of the most overlooked treasures in Japan with regard to foreign visitors.  The city’s relatively remote location has perhaps unfairly contributed to this phenomenon.

Due to its location, Kanazawa cuisine, particularly its seafood, is renown throughout Japan. Crab is a local favorite, either served cold with light vinegar or in nabe style hot pots. Sushi made with fish caught fresh in the neighboring sea is popular as well, as is the amaebi (sweet shrimp).

Assorted fresh sashimi

Assorted fresh sashimi

Fresh crab

Fresh crab

Typical dinner served at a Ryokan (Traditional Japanese Inn popular during the Edo period)

Typical dinner served at a Ryokan (Traditional Japanese Inn popular during the Edo period)

The most famous attraction in Kanazawa is the Kenrokuen Garden (Garden of Six Attributes).  Constructed by the ruling Maeda family over a period of nearly two centuries, it was once the outer garden of Kanazawa Castle. The garden was opened to the public in 1871 and today ranks as one of Japan’s top three landscape gardens.

Kenrokuen features numerous ponds, streams, waterfalls, bridges, teahouses, trees, stones and flowers. The water supplying streams and rivers of the park is diverted from a distant river by a sophisticated water system that was constructed in 1632.

Garden in May

Garden in May

Garden in winter

Garden in winter

Located on the southwest corner of the garden is the Seisonkaku Villa, one of the most elegant remaining samurai villas in Japan.  Built by a Maeda lord for his mother, the villa is a large two-story structure with a number of expansive tatami rooms. One of the villa’s highlights is the roof which covers its garden viewing deck. It was constructed without supports as not to obstruct the view of the garden in any way.


Situated next to the Kenrokuen Garden is Kanazawa Castle. Founded in 1583, the castle burnt down numerous times throughout its history.  The most recent fires of 1881 were survived only by the castle’s Ishikawamon Gate, the Sanjikken Nagaya and the Tsurumaru Storehouse. The gate, which dates back from 1788, is the main entrance to the park.

For several decades, Kanazawa University occupied the former castle grounds.  When the campus was relocated in the early 1990s a project to slowly rebuild the historic buildings of the former Kanazawa Castle was undertaken.

The first buildings to be reconstructed were the Hishi Yagura, a turret overlooking the northern part of the castle, the Hashizume-mon Tsuzuki Yagura, a turret guarding the entrance to the central area of the castle grounds, and the Gojukken Nagaya, a 90-yard-long storehouse running between the two turrets.

The three buildings were completely restored to their original appearance in the 1850s, using traditional techniques and materials. They were opened to the public in 2001 and contain excellent displays on traditional carpentry and construction methods.

In the spring of 2010, reconstruction of the castle’s former main entrance gate, the Kahoku-mon Gate was completed together with the restoration of a water filled castle moat.





Photo Credits: Rocky Andoh