「新潟の芸妓遊び」Geigi (Geisha) Banquet Experience in Niigata


Recently I started to make some effort to see a little more of Japan.

Some of you may have noticed from my social media, that I visited Niigata. (Actually for the second time.)

Last time I learned that Niigata is one of the biggest locations for Geisha/Maiko culture in Japan. (They are actually called “Geigi” in Niigata!)
Many may instantly think of Kyoto (and you are quite right in doing so ofc) when hearing about Geisha/Geiko. However, Japan still has several areas famous for Geisha/Maiko besides Kyoto e.g. Tokyo, Niigata, Nagoya, Ishikawa, Yamagata to name a few. Of course, unfortunately today this art is not as visible as before.







Niigata is perhaps one of the three largest locations in Japan. I co-organized some Geisha events in Tokyo before and also have several good friends in the Geisha world, but I hadn’t met Niigata Geigi before!

To my wonderful surprise, upon our trip to Niigata this time, we had a chance to have a nice dinner at a restaurant for which the host arranged the Geigi to chat and play with us.

Let me share my Geigi experience! 芸妓さんと会えた!!

(I bet you already know it was amazing!! But a bit more details..) 

The restaurant visited is one of the most famous ones in the city, with an old building and new one called Oohashiya. This time we went to the new building which has larger banquet halls. The traditional building is across the street and looked very lovely! If there is another chance, I’d like to visit too.

すんごく嬉しく、楽しい時間だったということは、読んでらっしゃる方は既にお分かりと存じますが 笑・・・一応(!)、どんな感じだったか、ご紹介致します。


Starting with a colorful set of appetizers 見事な前菜

Firstly we were greeted by the female owner of the restaurant and enjoyed some drinks and appetizers. The food was not only delicious but also such a sight!
I really love that Japanese traditional dishes are such a piece of art. Almost a crime to eat it haha!


30 minutes later, we started hearing the sound of the shamisen (three stringed guitar) being tuned outside our tatami room – the weapon of Geigi/Geisha! 😉
I could feel my heartbeat getting faster! Literally so exciting!!

Soon after, two gorgeous ladies in kimono entered the room to take my breath away!
They introduced themselves. Ayame-san in Irotomesode kimono and Nao-san in Furisode kimono were smiling at us while sitting down next to us at the table.




Ayame-san has been a Geigi for over 20 years (who could tell so much about the Geigi life and history) and Nao-san joined the world last year. 

We asked how they got interested in this rather rare profession. Ayamesan was a ballet dancer and from there got interested in Geigi profession. Nao-san was from Okinawa originally and applied from there.

If you are serious about becoming a Geisha/Geiko/Geigi, Niigata is one option. Unlike other regions, Niigata has a company to hire/train one to be Geigi. The payment is like a regular employment with social security. In the past people joined the Geisha world from 16 years old but now you can join after you finish university. (Other cities/okiya have other rules)





Ayame-san and Nao-san sharing insigths: 芸妓さんのあれこれ、あやめさんと那緒さんに聞いちゃいました

For example, the word “Geigi” means basically the same as “Geisha” is a kind of dialect for Niigata and surrounding areas. (In this article, where applicable, we use Geigi including Maiko, Geisha etc.) Also note that ladies of the same profession are called Geisha in Tokyo area and Geiko in Kyoto. The apprentice in Kyoto are called Maiko, however in Niigata they will be Furisode-san, for only 3 months though! Maiko carry their name for a much longer time before debuting as Geiko.. You see the systems are very different from location to location.

Even though Niigata was influenced by the Northern trade route (with the close connections with Osaka and Hokkaido) Geigi culture in Niigata is influenced by Edo culture. This means a lot of the Edo (Tokyo) based rules apply.

There are different titles for Geisha/Geigi. For example, Tomesode-san (Ippon-san) and Furisode-san (Hangyoku-san).
In the past the incense was used as a measurement of the time for the service, so Ippon means “one stick” of incense. Hangyoku literally transcribes as “half egg” meaning a half of a Geisha / resulting in half of the pay (in fact 60% or so) for the beginner.

Ayame-san wears a Tomesode kimono and Nao-san Furisode. Ayame-san’s status can be seen instantly by the rank of kimono as she is more experienced and a veteran of her craft.







As explained earlier, Niigata has a Geigi company (Karyu) but also several Geigi are working independently on their own. In our case, Ayame-san is independent. Nao-san works for the company.



After a lively chat and a lot of laughter at the dining table, the Geigi proceeded to give us a small live performance. Ayame-san played the shamisen and sang whilst Nao-san enchanted us with her dance. They played 3 songs in total using different accessories.



あやめさんが三味線、お唄。 那緒さんが舞います。左の屏風も美しいですね。

They brought a Oke barrel and a wooden hammer. We wondered what they were for.

It is meant for a game, perhaps uniquely for the Niigata area. Stone, paper, scissors will be played while turning around oneself and hitting the barrel with the hammer. If you lose, you drink a small glass of alcohol (of course, if you can not drink, you can just tell and have a soft drink or so). There are many more fun games at an ozashiki party. (See previous post about Tokyo Geisha)



今回の木の桶と木槌は、新潟らしい遊びだそうですよ。芸妓さんと二人で、「トトンがトン」のリズムで、桶の横で体を回しながら、桶をたたき、じゃんけんをします。負けたほうは、一回回り、またじゃんけん。負けたら回るのと、勝ったら木槌をたたくっというところが中々覚えられず、ぎこちないw。三回負けると、お酒を飲みます(飲めない人は、ソフトドリンクで大丈夫ですよ)。これ、ちょっと難しいけど、楽しいぃ。説明は下手なので、下のビデオで見てみてください。 この遊びなんていう名前なんでしょうかね?


Let the games begin! ゲーム開始!
Nao-san lost against me, so she has to drink sake! 那緒さんが負けたので、お酒を注ぎます!どうぞー。

This is a “ozashiki” or so called “Geisha-asobi” (game with Geisha) which means spending time with a Geisha including a game where you compete against a Geisha. Regardless the game, if you lose, you drink usually. What a fun way to consume alcohol!

これをお座敷遊びとか芸者遊びと呼び、芸者さんとゲームをします。負けたら飲むが原則ですよ (笑) このお仕事をしている人は、お酒に強いんですね。

I also made a little video from the night. Please have a look 🙂
  Anyone know what the name of the barrel game is? この樽の遊びなんていう名前なんでしょうかね?

How to invite Geigi? 芸妓さんを呼ぶには?

Normally you can ask the restaurant to arrange. If you want to call a particular person, you can name the Geisha/Geigi.


How much does it cost? いくらぐらいかかる?

Approx. 25,000 JPY per one geisha plus dinner/drink cost (depending on the restaurant perhaps 6,000-15,000 JPY per person / the more guests you share the cost with, the more affordable calling Geisha will be. But also keep in mind that if the guest to Geisha ratio is off, the more un-personal the experience may become.)


If you come to Niigata city, you should definitely experience such a lovely banquet. It is not something we can do every night (haha) but so worth it. A truly inspiring experience for me.

If you contact us, we may be able to connect you to a relevant person for the arrangement.

もし新潟市に来ることがあれば、ぜひ芸妓さんとおいしいお食事を楽しんでみてください。懐具合、肝臓の具合もあり、毎晩は遊べませんが 笑、価値あります。とても、おいしく、楽しく、勉強になりました。


Such a work of art! (And I am not talking about the screen in the back ;)) 日本の美ですね

Thank you for reading!
Would you like to spend time with Geisha or Geigi? Let me know in the comments.




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