In the midst of modern, downtown Osaka you can still find a traditional, six storied house with a rickshaw parked out front. Once a geisha house, it has become a place where new energy is combined with old ways, and if you make the right sort of reservation you will still find a geisha there.
But first let's be clear about the word "geisha". The Japanese expression comprises two characters: the first meaning "art", the second commonly used to denote a person of professional status.
A geisha is someone (and to this day there are men who bear the title) who has undertaken years of study and training in the arts of entertainment: music, dance, conversation, even party games, at the professional level. And there are different traditions within the geisha world. A geisha from Osaka does not follow the same path as one from Kyoto or Tokyo. So the house is a place where Osaka geisha once lived and shared their hard earned skills with apprentices and guests.
Since September first of 2017 it has become the home of Maikoya Osaka, a cultural center with the mission of preserving, and educating people about, Japanese culture.
They offer both in-house experiences and connections to more far flung encounters. My own experience of Maikoya Osaka included a tour of their samurai museum and a tea ceremony.
After climbing the stairs up and away from the little Japanese garden in front of the house, I met my guide in a space that was a combination waiting and changing room filled with kimono that included summer and winter styles, formal and casual. From there we took another flight of stairs, lined with calligraphy and artwork that served as a basis for the beginning of an introduction to the samurai spirit.
We then entered a room where models of Japanese castles, shrines, and temples; suits of samurai armor; dolls representing persons of various social rank; and replicas of weapons including the iconic long and short swords were displayed on the tatami matted floor.
My guide gave a thorough and entertaining explanation of the history, spirit, customs, and weapons of the ancient Japanese warrior class. He mentioned that Maikoya Osaka offers a hands on experience with real katana (the long sword) where you may attack a tatami mat, and you can even purchase your own katana at the center.
Prices start at around 100,000 yen and the center arranges registration and delivery to your home. At the end of the tour I was offered the opportunities of wearing a replica of the samurai armor and target practice with shuriken -- the "death stars" of the ninja.
My tea ceremony experience was, at least for me, unique. Not to say that I had never attended a tea ceremony before. Quite the contrary. But as I took my place on a zabuton (cushion) in the Edo Period styled room on the third floor, the tea master explained that this would be a little different from the traditional ceremony.
Normally the tea is prepared by the host. The guest does little but enjoy being served and the tea itself. At Maikoya Osaka I was guided through the process of preparing the tea myself before drinking it.
I took my tea in mufti, but the most popular experience offered at Maikoya Osaka is participating in the ceremony while dressed in one of the kimono available there. You may also take your tea with a genuine geisha.
Japanese Cooking Class
The fourth floor is laid out in Meiji Period style, complete with antique knickknacks, and is where the cooking experiences are usually held. These are hands on opportunities to make some of the food that Osaka is renowned for.
You could learn to make the iconic takoyaki, okonomiyaki, or a more traditional Japanese sweet. Choose the latter and you can merge the cooking experience with one of the tea ceremony experiences as the venue to enjoy the products of your labor and education.
That is only the beginning of the variety offered. There are teachers associated with the center who can introduce you to Japanese calligraphy, origami, or bonsai. You can have a portrait taken with a geisha, enjoy ancient dance and a traditional Japanese dinner finishing off with ice cream sprinkled with gold leaf.
You can practice wrapping things like boxes or bottles in the decorative cloths called furoshiki whose history stems from 14th century Japan. If you prefer your bottles unwrapped you can reserve a sake tasting experience. You could even reserve the center for a honeymoon dinner.
In fact, the experiences Maikoya Osaka can arrange for you are limited only by your imagination (and of course the law) because their vision is of connecting people from all over the world with all things Japanese. They can put you in touch with tour guides in many cities and experts in various forms of Japanese arts and culture. The experiences you can join at the center are reasonably priced beginning with 3,000 yen for the tea ceremony or furoshiki wrapping.
Maikoya Osaka is a subordinate company of an educational corporation which plans to open similar centers in other major cities in Japan such as Kyoto and Tokyo, so if you plan to visit Japan for a few days or for the long haul, getting in touch with one of them will make for a richer experience wherever you may be.
Tel: 06 6556 6257
Maikoya is a 7 minute walk west from Shinsaibashi Station on the Midosuji Line, a 3 minute walk north from Yotsubashi Station on the Yotsubashi Line and 2 minutes north from Nishiohashi Station on the Nagahori Tsurumi-ryokuchi Line.