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I was lucky enough the other evening to be invited to attend a dinner show at Gion Hatanaka, ‘an inn nestled in a quiet, secluded corner which is adjacent to Yasaka Shrine and Kodaiji Temple’. Having only limited experience in the flower & willow world it was an excellent opportunity for me to have another encounter.Gion Hatanaka is a very lovely ryokan with the concept of ‘comfortable silence in the city’. Indeed walking through the gate and up the stone steps it is hard to imagine that you are just a couple of minutes away from the hustle and bustle of modern Gion. Here you can experience ‘omotenashi no kokoro’ (the heart of Japanese hospitality) in the refined atmosphere that Kyoto is famous for.

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In the introduction the attendant explains what we will experience and gives a brief history of the ‘karyukai’ and explains some of the differences between the maiko (literally dancing child) and the geiko (literally art child). A maiko is an apprentice geiko learning the trade from the more experienced (and older!) woman.

As we were served a very nice traditional Japanese dinner the geiko and maiko would perform songs and dance for us. Between shows the performers wandered about the tables pouring drinks and chatting with the guests. An interpreter went around to assist but couldn’t be everywhere at once so it was fun for geiko and maiko and the non-Japanese speaking guests to try to communicate. Lots of smiles, hand gestures with broken English and Japanese. The evening’s guests were a mixture of non-Japanese and Japanese. Not only tourists from around Japan but also local people from Kyoto as well…the non-Japanese were from several different countries from Europe and North America. That night the non-Japanese outnumbered the Japanese.

We were then introduced to some of the parlor games that are played at the ‘ochaya’ (a Japanese teahouse… NOT like a teahouse where I do tea!) These were quite funny to watch as both Japanese and non-Japanese tried to make sense of the rules. The loser had to drink a glass of beer. (Most of my friends would lose on purpose!) I don’t drink, so I had to win, I did and got a small gift from the geiko that invited me up.

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There is a saying in Japanese, ‘a flower in both hands’… I bet it is easy to guess which are flowers!

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For more information please checkout their HP; http://www.thehatanaka.co.jp/english/index.html

by Randy Channell Soei

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