Evening with geisha.
April 24, 2006 10:03 AM   Subscribe

JapanFilter: How do I hire a geisha?

If I wanted to hire geisha for an evening's entertainment, how would I go about doing so? This would not be taking place in Japan, it would be in Canada. So, of course, I assume costs would include airfare, hotel, etc, on top of the standard fees. But who do I get in touch with in order to see if this is even possible?
posted by dirtynumbangelboy to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (31 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
You could start by contacting the commercial or (better) cultural division of the Japanese embassy in Canada, but to be honest, this may strike them (as it does me) as a deeply weird question. For the most part, to get in with a geisha, I believe you'd need to know someone who's already in with them and can give you an introduction. Geisha houses do put on some shows for the public (such as the kamogawa odori), but for the most part they operate in a pretty insular world.

I'll assume that money is no object, because otherwise, you're probably SOL.
posted by adamrice at 10:26 AM on April 24, 2006

I don't see it as particularly weird; geisha are often the entertainment at high-level business functions, according to several websites I looked at.

But yeah, embassy. I should have thought of that.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 10:50 AM on April 24, 2006

You could try contacting the Hotel Granvia Tokyo which normally offers a ozashiki asobi package to hotel customers. There are per person rates at the bottom (though those include one night of hotel stay).

However, as adamrice said, you should be prepared for an astronomical figure. You wouldn't be paying just for airfare, first-class hotel, and fees for the one or two geisha, you'd have to pay for her entire retinue (entourage) which would include a musician, assistants (personal assistant, hair stylist, porter), the mama-san (headwoman), and all their luggage.
posted by junesix at 11:03 AM on April 24, 2006

Money is functionally not an object at this point.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 11:06 AM on April 24, 2006

If you want an authentic geisha, trained in classical music and poetry, I have no clue how to help. But here's a kooky idea: if you want a beautiful woman dressed in lovely Japanese robes but you don't need all the cultural training, you might be able to find a drag queen closer to home who could do it for you. No airfare, no visa and no language barrier. (Might be a hoot, too.) I offer this suggestion in the spirit of whimsy, and hope nobody is offended.

Or heck, see if there are any Japanese cultural associations close by that focus on music or dance - they might be able to provide a (non-geisha) performer or troupe who could put on a show. Here in SF we have an annual Cherry Blossom Festival in which local Japanese cultural groups perform their arts. Every year we enjoy an all-girl koto orchestra outfitted in gorgeous kimonos, tea ceremonies, sometimes a few dancers, etc. One year one of the koto players was a blond Caucasian woman, and it was really neat to see her plucking away in her lovely silk kimono. This sort of talented-amateur-putting-all-their-heart-into-it performance might suit your needs.
posted by Quietgal at 11:14 AM on April 24, 2006

Oh yes, I can find various Japanese performers without much difficulty. It's the idea of having traditionally trained geisha that appeals.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 11:27 AM on April 24, 2006

Oh, sorry, hit post too soon. The drag queen idea is thoroughly fabulous, but not quite appropriate for what I have in mind.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 11:27 AM on April 24, 2006

DNAB--It's not surprising that geisha would be entertainment at high-level business meetings (in Japan, at least), because high-level business executives in Japan are exactly the kinds of people who are the patrons of geisha--in other words, the people who have an in.

I don't want to throw cold water on the idea (not too much, anyhow). And I'd be interested in knowing what you work out, just out of curiosity.
posted by adamrice at 12:00 PM on April 24, 2006

Well, I've spoken to the consulate, and have emails/messages in at a few other places. I will update.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 12:04 PM on April 24, 2006

Can you post more specific details?

Many MeFi members live in Japan. If we knew the who, what, where, when and why of this unusual request, it would be a lot easier to help you.
posted by cup at 12:44 PM on April 24, 2006

dnbab: Although the drag queen idea is a little absurd, there are many beautiful women who do this kind of work. They're called "models".

Unless you're entertaining Japanese salarymen, I think 99% of the sophistication of a true Geisha would be lost on the audience (especially if they don't even share a common language). Just hire some hot, Asian looking models and give them some kind of quickie course on how to do it, maybe a week long course? It would still be cheaper. I think then hiring real Geisha.
posted by Paris Hilton at 12:51 PM on April 24, 2006

Cheaper, yes.. but not appropriate in this case. Sorry I can't give more detail.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 1:57 PM on April 24, 2006

I gotta be honest - you state that money is no object. Rarely, especially on this calibur of item, is that true. I mean, from what it sounds like this will cost, you might have well said "I'd like a couple hundred cubic feet of the Caspian Sea in my backyard. What would that run me?"

Is this meerly a "I wonder what that would cost" question, or a "I definately plan on making this happen, just wondering how" question? You've peaked my interest (and it seems others) either way, but before someone goes WAY out of their way to get you information, I think that disclosure is in order.

btw, I got your email, dirty. Expect a reply soon.
posted by plaidrabbit at 1:57 PM on April 24, 2006

Money is functionally not an object at this point.

I am personally fascinated to know whether dirtynumbangelboy works as a personal assistant for a really, really wealthy person, or if he's writing a screenplay and wants to be accurate.

Or if he just hit the lottery, but is afraid to fly to Japan
posted by davejay at 2:23 PM on April 24, 2006

Whoops, that last link goes to a news article that mentions his role in bringing two geisha to San Francisco.
posted by missmerrymack at 3:18 PM on April 24, 2006

I am personally fascinated to know whether dirtynumbangelboy works as a personal assistant for a really, really wealthy person, or if he's writing a screenplay and wants to be accurate.

No idea, but the occupation in his profile is listed as "professional gofer."
posted by maledictory at 4:15 PM on April 24, 2006

I hope this has something to do with the MeFi compilation CD release party.
posted by emelenjr at 4:54 PM on April 24, 2006

plaidrabbit writes "Is this meerly a 'I wonder what that would cost' question, or a 'I definately plan on making this happen, just wondering how' question?"

The latter with, I admit, a sprinkling of the former. I've always wondered, but it seems like there may be a chance (depending on how much it costs) to make it happen.

And I'm sorry I can't reveal more. I want to, but can't.

davejay writes "I am personally fascinated to know whether dirtynumbangelboy works as a personal assistant for a really, really wealthy person, or if he's writing a screenplay and wants to be accurate.

"Or if he just hit the lottery, but is afraid to fly to Japan"

Hell no. If I won the lottery, one of my first purchases would be executive-class tix to Tokyo. And no, I'm not an assistant to a wealthy lunatic.

missmerrymack, that's a hell of a link... thank you!
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 5:20 PM on April 24, 2006

missmerrymack's link to Peter MacIntosh looks spot on and is probably your best chance.
posted by junesix at 5:22 PM on April 24, 2006

And I'm sorry I can't reveal more. I want to, but can't.

Argh. Then we are reduced to guessing. Are you a super villain? Planing your next super villain get together?

...can I come?
posted by Drunken_munky at 5:49 PM on April 24, 2006

I have had the pleasure of spending some evenings with geisha and maiko in Kyoto, as a guest of very successful Japanese business partners, and I think the likelihood of getting top drawer geisha to travel to Canada, and provide an evening's entertainment to persons of Canadian extraction, strictly on a hire basis, is nil. Geishas work in a narrow but very deep crease in Japanese culture. Their success depends on keeping their clientele and patrons happy, and to a great extent, that depends on maintaining some exclusivity in relationships, and being available to their most important clients and to their patrons. Moreover, their ability to provide hospitality, refreshment and traditional entertainment depends very much on their houses and staff, and to a degree that is hard to describe, on the cultural sensitivity of the people they entertain. Finally, the most successful geisha would not likely consider it interesting or advantageous to do something like this, knowing that their clients would wonder about their motivations in accepting such a job. The only way such a thing is really possible is if a very influential person in Japan has a great willingness to do something very special for the person dirtynumbangelboy is representing, and can be absolutely sure of the situation. Arranging something like this will take major social influence, and some big favors would probably need to be called.

And even then, this is an iffy thing, because for geisha to do what they do, they need a setting. Geisha out on the street are always rushed, always in a hurry to get away from the stares and the photos of them being snapped, and into the security of their houses. That is natural, as what they do requires a certian traditional setting. Geisha in a traditional house, or a garden teahouse are exotic, but not out of place. Geisha in a hotel ballroom are fish out of water. Geisha in Toronto would be, (how to put this?) fish flopping on a hook in the wet bottom of a boat. And they are proud, capable women, not given to putting themselves in situations beyond their control, where embarassment might be sprung upon them.

An afternoon or evening at a geisha house will involve a certain amount of ceremony built around refreshment (anything from tea to full meals), traditional music and song, perhaps dance, perhaps costume change, and perhaps conversation. For a conversation between a geisha and foreigner (gaijin) to be anything but somewhat awkward by Japanese standards, the foreigner needs to have much more than average cultural sensitivity and be a person of natural interest and prominence, and have been introduced into the geisha's house by an existing client or patron, and be cool enough to be polite in a Japanese sense. More and more, geisha work to learn foreign languages, especially English, but it's my sense that the kinds of conversations one has with geishas in English are nothing like the conversations one has in Japanese. Jokes and amusing stories of high cultural content and context just don't translate all that well.

Still, the old ways of doing things are changing even as the number of geisha continues to decrease. If dirtynumbangelboy has any very senior Japanese business contacts, particularly in the international banking or trading company situations, and is capable of making a considerable commitment of a personal favor from a powerful or well known person, something could possibly be arranged, with enough time (months, probably). If the person wishing to host a geisha in Toronto were first willing to meet her professionally through normal channels in Japan, and got on well, a visit to Toronto would be orders of magnitude more likely.

I would start the quest at the highest level of business contact he has. Failing that, he could try, as mentioned above, with Peter MacIntosh in Kyoto, who has for some years made a business of dragging tourists through the temples and Gion areas, and who may have some suggestions for introductions to people who could, very improbably, arrange such a thing.

I would not hold my breath if I were dirtynumbangelboy, and I would be very careful about particulars and specifics. The devil is in the details in such things.

And the "money is no object" bit shouldn't even come up. The name he's representing has to put that past discussion, from the git go, for there even to be anything to discuss.
posted by paulsc at 5:51 PM on April 24, 2006 [3 favorites]

Wow. Paulsc, that was... incredible. Thank you. I never thought this would be a truly realistic idea, but if it's within the realm of possibility, I want to see if it can be done.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 5:57 PM on April 24, 2006

Although the drag queen idea is a little absurd, there are many beautiful women who do this kind of work. They're called "models".

Models most assuredly don't do this kind of work. I suggest not asking.
posted by fshgrl at 6:32 PM on April 24, 2006

I worked in the industry. Models are the group whose members can't be generalised about when saying what they won't do.
posted by Jenga at 8:25 PM on April 24, 2006

So now I'm curious. What's the order of magnitude for this price? Is this "buy a jet" expensive?
posted by Richard Daly at 8:26 PM on April 24, 2006

Fshgrl: what kind of work are you talking about? Pretending to be a Geisha sounds like exactly the kind of thing they do.
posted by Paris Hilton at 10:58 PM on April 24, 2006

paulsc: arn't there 'psudo-geisha' in Japan though, for posers who don't have the kind of clout to get into the real ones? I would imagine most westerners simply could not tell the difference.
posted by Paris Hilton at 11:00 PM on April 24, 2006

Paris Hilton writes "paulsc: arn't there 'psudo-geisha' in Japan though, for posers who don't have the kind of clout to get into the real ones? I would imagine most westerners simply could not tell the difference."

Sure, most might not be able to tell the difference... but most people, on casual inspection, can't tell the difference betweena diamond and a cubic zirconia. It's important, for various reasons, to get the real thing, though.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 4:31 AM on April 25, 2006

Back in the '80s when I was going to Japan a lot, the geisha "system" was larger and more robust than it is today, 20 years later, and in those times of the Japanese "bubble" economy, there was a lot more wealth passing around in deep cultural channels. My afternoons and evenings with geisha in Kyoto were arranged by long time business associates, a very few of whom were "sponsoring patrons" of maiko. These men undertook to sponsor the training, costumes, and overall support of a young Japanese woman wishing to become a geisha, in exchange for a somewhat avuncular, supervised relationship, of great prestige in certian Japanese circles, with the girls they sponsored. Then, the financial commitments easily exceeded $500,000 for each girl over the course of 5 or 6 years, and could have gone far beyond that figure. In exchange for this, these men had ready access to certian houses in Kyoto on a regular basis, and did considerable business entertaining there, and introduced many clients to these girls in the course of doing business. Obviously, they spent time with the girls, and took personal interest in their education and progress, but these are not easy or straightforward relationships to characterize for Western understanding.

Being patrons of maiko gave these men tremendous entree in certian circles of Japanese business culture. Being patrons of maiko and geisha is a way to both display one's position and wealth in a very traditional way, and at the same time, to make oneself more deserving of greater respect and trust by some of the most powerful elements of Japanese society. This whole system is hugely more nuanced than it is possible to describe in a MeFi thread, and I won't try here.

I am, after all, a foreigner, gaijin, shown great respect, on more than one occasion, in a very traditional way, and I am not about to criticize the people or the system involved, or claim understanding of every nuance of that system. And it is a system that has changed and grows smaller every year, as traditions and the old cultural understandings continue to erode.

There are, as Paris Hilton suggests, certian "public geisha" who conduct "tea ceremonies" in costume, in little tatami room theatres for tour bus loads of tourists wanting photos with women in rice powder makeup and kimono. And there are hostess bars all over the major cities where women in kimono and heavy foundation makeup pour drinks and make conversation, and possibly more. You can get what you can pay for in Toyko or Osaka, as you can in New York or L.A.

But you have to be invited to a cup of plum wine in a tiny garden on a spring evening in Kyoto, or a fall afternoon walk through the temple grounds, with a tiny girl in okobo getas who may take your arm, here and there, for balance, as lightly as a hummingbird landing momentarily on your hat.

Not every memory worth having can be bought for an arbitrarily high price, if that answers any questions.
posted by paulsc at 3:48 PM on April 25, 2006 [4 favorites]

Thank you for all your suggestions. I'm currently in contact with someone who can make this happen. Thank you!
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 7:53 PM on April 29, 2006

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