Geisha are women who have been trained in the traditional Japanese arts of makeup, costume, singing, music and dance so that they can be entertaining to men of distinction (wealth and power). Geisha are expensive to employ and usually the only people who can afford them are the equivalent of CEOs.  

Niigata has a Geisha training center where the young women learn their trade and where they also show others the entertainments that they share with their wealthy employers.

We entered the lovely old house and were treated with respect and given machi (green tea) and bean paste sweets. While I like both of these, our other members were not as thrilled with the tea and have developed a dislike for bean paste sweets. Still the view from the room out across the garden was spectacular.

When the upper room cleared we were shown in along with a number of other people to sit and observe the show. Two older women provided music and two younger Geisha in training provided the dance and the games. Another young woman described all that they did in English for us. 

They showed us several dances, all elegant and very Japanese. They explained that they would have long sleeves for a number of years while in training and would graduate to having shorter sleeves on their kimonos as they became more skilled.  

Then they showed us one of the games that they play. One Geisha takes a hammer and the patron takes a hammer (small lightweight wooden mallets really) and they stand on either side of a vertical drum. A song is played and they play a game of rock, paper, scissors. The loser has to spin around and then they continue. Lose two times in a row and you are “out.” I got a chance to take part in it and managed several rounds before losing. In “real life” there would also have been a drinking penalty. My bet is that the Geisha with their great training in grace and poise would still win, just because they can spin effortlessly and gracefully. Our translator from the City of Niigata pointed out that very few people ever get to play a game like this with a Geisha and that I could count myself now among that chosen few.

Dr. Stephen Duncan is the Director of Fine Arts for Galveston ISD and has been involved in the Niigata Galveston Sister City Committee for the past three years working on the Taiguruma Project.

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