Located at about two hours from Kyoto, the city of Obama and its Sanchomachi district in particular is one of several places in Japan that has adopted Kyoto culture. Those who have seen the Gion geisha district of Kyoto will immediately recognize the same quaint style of buildings adorned with red benigara lattice panels.

At one point in the Edo period, the Sanchomachi district had as many as 50 ochayas (geisha tea houses) all vying for customers' attention within its narrow confines. However, the number dwindled in the 21st century, and for the last 36 years, only one ochaya has remained as the last bastion of geisha culture in the city, the Harima Ryotei run by proprietress Mari and head geisha Momo.

Keeping Geisha Culture Alive

Maintaining business has become increasingly difficult for Harima Ryotei. Just as in all small towns throughout Japan, younger generations continue to move away in search of better opportunities in the big cities of Osaka, Kyoto, Nagoya and Tokyo. Keenly aware of its vital role in preserving geisha culture, Harima Ryotei teamed up with local Obama-based company KNEW Co., Ltd. to launch an initiative geared towards foreign tourists.

According to their press release, Harima Ryotei has opened a new website from December 15th, with the following features to make it easy and enjoyable for foreign visitors to experience geisha culture and be entertained:

  • Professionally translated, easy-to-understand English to communicate the background and range of services to foreign visitors
  • Reservation system allowing bookings up to 72 hours in advance.
  • Clearly indicated price lists (unusual in the secretive world of geisha houses).
  • New, reasonably priced lunch plan (5,000 JPY) and a 60-minute activities plan (1,500 JPY).

Party With Geishas

No matter which plan you choose, you will be able to experience geisha culture and try traditional geisha activities such as konpiratefutefu, a game of concentration and reflexes in which you and a geisha take turns placing or removing an object from a small table, and tou-sen-kyou, a game of skill and dexterity in which you and a geisha take turns throwing a paper fan to topple a target set at a certain distance.

This is the first floor tatami room accommodating parties of 2 to 6 people when you reserve a lunch or dinner course including 80 minutes of activities with geishas.

Wanted: Geishas (Foreigners Welcome!)

The new website also includes a section written in Japanese entitled "Do you want to become a geigi ?" (geisha, geigi and geiko are all equivalent terms describing someone who has completed their training as apprentices, otherwise known as maiko). The fact that this menu item is not written in English on the landing page (although the word "Recruit" is listed in English when you click on the link) begs the question: "Do you need to be Japanese to apply for the job?"

After inquiring, our Grape Japan staff was quickly rewarded with the following reply: "Foreigners are welcome to apply as maiko. However, since the staff at Harima Ryotei are not very fluent in English, it would make it easier for the candidate to communicate both with them and the Japanese customers if they spoke Japanese. That being said, it's the candidate's intentions which count, and if a foreigner should truly desire to become a geisha, we would be very pleased to hear from them. We can work out the details together."

Here is the information on their website (in Japanese):

Candidate Profile

  • Interested in traditional Japanese performing arts such as Japanese dance or shamisen.
  • Likes interacting with customers and providing hospitality.
  • Able to work between the hours of 4 PM and 10 PM.
  • Women between the ages of 18 and 35.


  • Commission system (inquire for details)
  • Free kimono rental
  • Assistance available, if needed, to find daytime work and housing.

Although it's probably not for everyone, this could be the opportunity of a lifetime. Not only would you be helping preserve an important aspect of Japanese culture, you would also have an opportunity to learn traditional Japanese performing arts, get to wear beautiful kimonos and experience a world of traditional Japan behind the scenes in a way that few foreigners have ever had the privilege to experience.

Hopeful candidates can visit the inquiry page here to apply.

If you'd rather pass on the job offer but are interested in visiting Harima Ryotei for an experience in geisha culture, please visit their website for more details.

By - grape Japan editorial staff.