In Japanese culture, geisha houses have been places for feasts and entertainment since the Edo period (1603 – 1868). Also referred to as chaya (lit ‘teahouse’), they are where geisha entertained wealthy nobility and rich merchants. With their name literally meaning ‘person of the arts’, geisha are female Japanese entertainers who perform dances and play traditional Japanese instruments.
The central part of Kanazawa was once dotted with a number of geisha houses, but in 1820, these were moved to three specific districts away from the city centre. The largest one of these – and arguably the most famous – is the Higashi Chaya district.
Here you can enter many of these historic, stunning chaya. Most now house cafes and shops, five remain as exclusive geisha houses, and two have been preserved as teahouses that can be easily visited for insights into this secret world. Shima Teahouse has been converted into a museum. The rooms where geisha performed and the kitchen are on display along with various instruments and items such as elaborate combs that were used by geisha. Drop by Kaikaro for a peek inside a still operating teahouse; a tour costs just 750 yen, and the onsite cafe serves treats like matcha green tea with rakugan sweets and ohgon coffee, their own original beverage of coffee covered with edible gold leaf.
A geisha house is characterised by the beautiful lattice on the outer side of its first floor, called kimusuko, and the Japanese-style guestrooms located on the second floor. During the Edo period, the construction of two-story buildings except geisha houses was prohibited, making their appearance all the more striking.
7 minutes by bus or 5 minutes by walk from Kanazawa Station
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