“Elegance is the only beauty that never fades.” ~ Audrey Hepburn.
As her hands moved in effortless slow-motion through the air, folded paper fan in one and delicately pinching her opposite kimono sleeve in the other, I was completely awestruck by the geisha’s elegance. This kind of old-world splendour seems long lost in today’s society, yet here I was in the 21st century watching a dancing geisha in Tokyo.
It’s this seamless blend of old-meets-new in Japan that makes it such a unique destination to visit. While Kyoto seems synonymous with geisha districts to foreign visitors, it’s not the only place where these highly-skilled and respected performers can be found.
I personally love “blending in” by learning about culture and local way of life when travelling. If this sounds like you, I have a dedicated section on my blog reviewing the many Japan cultural experiences I’ve undertaken and how you can, too.
If you’d like the chance to meet an actual geisha in a relaxed setting in Tokyo, enjoy matcha tea, try your hand at calligraphy, learn origami and even wear kimono and yukata, read on for more!
This guide to where to see geisha in Tokyo will cover:
This Tokyo geisha experience was kindly sponsored by Klook. As always, all thoughts and opinions are my own. This post contains affiliate links. I may earn a small commission if you click through and make a purchase.
Types of Japanese cultural experiences with Klook
I undertook this fun experience through popular travel booking platform Klook. As well as being able to purchase discounted transport passes (such as the Japan Rail Pass, Tokyo Subway Pass and Suica Cards), you can use Klook to book hundreds of cultural experiences in Japan to enrich your trip!
Here are some more Japan experiences through Klook:
- Enjoy a tea ceremony by Mt Fuji (read my full review of this Tokyo to Mt Fuji day trip)
- Witness Tokyo from above at Shibuya Sky (read my tips for visiting Shibuya Sky for the perfect experience)
- Make a replica food souvenir at a top sampuru factory (read my full review of making fake Japanese food)
- Give new life to broken items by repairing them with gold at a kintsugi class in Tokyo
- Have fun at a sumo wrestling experience and enjoy a chanko lunch
- Combine several attractions and save up to 62% with the Klook Tokyo Fun Pass
- You can also pre-book pocket wifi to stay connected during your trip. Read my tips for renting portable wifi in Japan for details!
Learning about Japanese culture from a geisha in Tokyo
Visiting the EDOCCO Edo Cultural Complex
I’d finally arrived at the gorgeous Kanda Myojin Shrine after wanting to visit for several years! Founded in 730 AD, the main gate is overly impressive and reflects the ornate, detailed and colourful style of Shinto shrines from its time.
TIP: I’ll go into more detail about this beautiful shrine down the page, but if you’re an anime lover you’re NOT going to want to miss it!
Located on the ancient grounds of Kanda Myojin Shrine is a modern glass building called the EDOCCO Edo Cultural Complex. Edo was the former name for Tokyo, and is used to refer to the nostalgic period between 1603 -1869 when Japan was closed off to the outside world during the Tokugawa shogunate rule.
Built to commemorate the 1,300 year anniversary of the founding of the shrine, the centre is spread over five levels and includes an event space, Edo-themed gift shop, cafe, studio performance space and lounge space. This was where I was going to meet a Tokyo geisha!
Making matcha tea
I was first introduced to Takemoto-san, who invited me to take a seat and brought over the utensils to make Japanese matcha tea (green tea). This is the powder used in traditional tea ceremonies with geisha.
An English placard was on my table explaining what matcha is, how it’s grown, what a traditional tea ceremony focuses on and how matcha is used in modern times.
At home, I have a Japanese chawan 茶碗 (tea bowl) and chasen 茶筅 (bamboo tea whisk), and having undertaken a few tea ceremonies in Japan I was already familiar with this process. If it’s your first time, this relaxed setting is ideal to learn how to make tea using matcha powder.
Takemoto-san explained how many scoops of matcha powder to place into the bowl, the correct way to whisk it to make the desired amount of bubbles, and then the correct etiquette for how to drink it.
Accompanying the tea was wagashi, a small sweet used to cleanse the palate before enjoying the tea. Be sure to eat it first!
TIP: If you’ve not tried matcha before, you may find it on the bitter side. Trust me, the bitterness becomes less noticeable the more you have.
Watching a Tokyo geisha dance
After I’d finished drinking my tea, a lovely geisha appeared on the stage to the sounds of shamisen 三味線 (traditional Japanese 3-string instrument).
I’d never seen a geisha dance in person before, and I felt complete admiration for this centuries-old practice coming alive before my eyes.
Wearing a kimono and holding a sprig of cherry blossoms, she gracefully moved her arms while slowly gliding across the stage to the music. As there were few foreign visitors in Japan at this time, I felt very fortunate to have the experience all to myself!
After the dance, I learnt my geisha’s name was Ore-san. She spent a good 5 minutes explaining the meanings behind all her movements – each was beautifully deliberate and told a story.
- Geisha is a more general term and means “art person” or “performing artist.”
- Geiko is the Kyoto dialect and means “master artist”, therefore, masters of their art.
- Maiko is a geiko in training, like an apprentice. It takes 5 years to fully become a geiko/geisha, and they are highly trained entertainers in arts such as calligraphy, tea ceremonies, singing, dancing, flower arranging and much more.
- Here’s a common mistake most tourists make about geisha, please don’t let it be you.
Dressing up in kimono
Now was the time to dress up in a kimono! Despite all my visits to Japan, I’d never done this so it was new to me. Ore-san and I began chatting, and in very good English she told me about her visit to my home of Australia some years ago.
Before we move on, here are some definitions to describe different types of kimono you’ll come across when travelling in Japan.
Differences between kimono, yukata & furisode
- Kimono 着物 is a catch-all term meaning “something you wear.” Historically, they were versatile in winter due thick fabrics and layers.
- Yukata 浴衣 meaning “bathing cloth” are made from lightweight fabric, more casual, worn in summer and at onsen in Japan. Sewn in a T-shape and their sleeves are shorter.
- Furisode 振袖 literally meaning “swinging sleeves,” have lengthy sleeves, feature vibrant designs and are worn as more formal attire today.
Selecting the most adorned furisode of them all because why not, Ore-san helped me get the kimono on and tied an obi 帯 (decorated fabric sash) around my waist to hold it in place. She then styled it into a huge bow on my back.
TIP: There are different types of kimono to try for men women and even in children’s sizes.
I was also able to select from a few ornate headpieces to wear to complement my attire. Placing it on my head, Ore-san explained I had selected a wedding-style kimono, hence why it was so heavy and decorated!
TIP: Know that it is absolutely fine for you to wear kimono, yukata and furisode in Japan, provided you do so respectfully. Japanese people love when foreigners embrace their culture and traditions, which is what travelling is all about!
Learning a traditional geisha dance
Ore-san then invited me onto the stage to dance with her, all the while Takemoto-san had my camera and took a video I could watch back later.
Standing side-by-side, she taught me how to elegantly open a sensu (folding fan) – these ones used in dance are harder to open than they look – and showed me how to move in a way that represented rain falling, as well as other movements that reflected nature and landscapes.
Afterwards, I was handed a parasol and could pose for some photos taken by Takemoto-san. He was quite a good photographer, all my photos and videos turned out very well.
Obviously, I’m an invisible tourist so won’t be posting them online, but I will share the back of my gorgeous furisode here!
Trying out Japanese calligraphy
After the dancing and photos, we moved to a table set up for traditional calligraphy. Known as shodo 書道 “the way of writing” in Japanese, this style of calligraphy with rounded brush and black ink takes real skill. I was about to find out it wasn’t easy to master right away!
On the table were several kanji I could select from to paint my own. I chose Mt Fuji as I adore Japan’s most sacred mountain.
Ore-san showed the correct way to place my arms when writing the calligraphy. She made it look quite effortless, so I put brush to paper and copied the strokes as best I could. How do you think I went?
To sign off the calligraphy, your geisha will show you how to write your name in Japanese. As you can see in the bottom left corner, mine is ア リ セ for Alyse (a-ri-se — there is no L sound in Japanese; ri is the closest).
TIP: I have a detailed guide to learning basic Japanese for tourists, so make sure to check it out and download my FREE cheat sheet to use offline during your trip!
Folding a special origami piece
While my calligraphy dried, we moved on to an origami table. Today Ore-san was going to teach me how to make a paper crane. I’ve folded them before, but this one was different because it can flap its wings when its tail is pulled. I hadn’t seen that before!
I selected the paper design I liked, then Ore-san showed me step-by-step how to fold the flapping crane. Paper goods are some of the best Japanese souvenirs as they are lightweight, flat and don’t take up room in your suitcase.
That concluded my experience with a Tokyo geisha! I thanked Takemoto-san and Ore-san for their time and lovely encounter, before heading outside to explore more of Kanda Shrine.
TIP: On the way out of the event space, I noticed this location was used in popular anime. There are two framed awards from the Anime Tourism Association here, so you may recognise Kanda Shrine even if you didn’t know its name or where it was!
About Kanda Myojin
Located on the outskirts of the Akihabara neighbourhood or “Electric Town” lies Kanda Shrine, (Kanda Myojin) selected by Emperor Meiji as one of the 10 Jinja of Tokyo out of 1450 shrines.
It enshrines two of seven Gods of Fortune: Daikokuten, patron of harvests, wealth and matrimony; and Ebisu, patron of fishermen and commerce. If you’re hoping to improve these areas in your life then you can make a wish here.
Its close proximity to the area popular with anime fans is part of what draws visitors to its ancient grounds today, but did you know it is the only shrine to feature a very specific omamori (lucky charm)?
Keeping with the electric theme of the neighbourhood, I bought this IT omamori as a bit of a fun gift for a loved one back home. It’s believed these omamori will protect electronics from viruses and sudden shutdowns, haha.
Aside from the unique omamori and absolutely stunning main gate, Kanda Myojin holds one of the top 3 Edo Festival events in May – the Kanda Matsuri. It’s one not to miss if you’re in Tokyo at the time!
TIP: Take a few moments to appreciate the artistic talent on the ema (wishing plaques) left by visitors. The drawings are incredible!
TIP: Try the grape ice cream available from the small outdoor cafe near the main gate. Anything grape flavoured in Japan is amazing! Also keep your eye out for the omamori vending machine.
Just look at the artistic talent on the ema (wishing plaques) left by visitors.
Don’t forget you can book this Tokyo Geisha Experience experience here →
If you’d love to add more geisha entertainment to your itinerary, here are some additional experiences to enrich your trip:
TIP: I’ve rounded up the many and best food tours in Tokyo I’ve enjoyed and highly recommend you add to your itinerary!
Concluding my learnings of geisha culture in Tokyo
This concludes what happens during a Tokyo geisha performance at the EDOCCO Culture Centre! I felt it was a very significant experience to have the opportunity to learn more about traditional performances from an actual geisha, and having the time to chat to her and ask questions was wonderful.
Although I already knew how to enjoy matcha tea, I loved that I still learnt several new things. Trying on the kimono, learning Japanese calligraphy and folding the different paper cranes were all very meaningful. I’m grateful for being able to watch AND learn a special geisha dance in the same day!
Overall, this experience is perfect if you’d like a taste of different aspects of Japanese culture in one session. Do you think you would enjoy this Japanese geisha experience?
Sending a big thanks again to Klook for kindly sponsoring this experience!
While you’re here, why not take a look at my itineraries for 2 weeks or 3 weeks in Japan to help plan your trip, do’s and don’ts of Japanese etiquette, learn some basic Japanese phrases for tourists with my free cheat sheet, find out what to pack for Japan, and even where to stay in Tokyo based on experiences from 7 hotels I’ve stayed at — I have every step of your Japan planning journey covered!
Until next time,
This guide to creating fake Japanese food contains some affiliate links, at no extra cost to you. I may earn a small commission if you decide to make a purchase and if you do, thanks for your support! This helps with the costs of running my blog so I can keep my content free for you. As always, I only recommend a product or service that I genuinely love and use myself!