My attendance at a geisha tea ceremony wasn’t something I really planned.
During my visit to Japan I serendipitously happened to be in Kyoto during a special time. It was one of the few weeks of the year when the newly qualified geishas show off their skills of fan dancing and classical music to the general public at a theatre show.
This is probably the cheapest way to see a geisha, as tickets to tourist events are usually very expensive. However, this performance is attended by many locals. This meant I was mostly surrounded by little old ladies, most of whom couldn’t stop giggling at me.
After buying my ticket at the theatre box office, I was slightly confused as to why everyone had already started queuing. The show didn’t start for a couple of hours. But with absolutely no Japanese, I was communicating through sign language (which basically involved me pointing at my ticket and giving the thumbs up). The message I appeared to get back was that I was in the right place, so I joined the line.
Lost in translation
It was only as we began to snake up a wooden staircase, I felt that might not be the case. Suddenly, I noticed the ladies around me had different coloured tickets. Then, through a door up ahead, I caught sight of the silky sleeve of a kimono and realised a geisha was serving tea. Having paid for the cheapest ticket available, I knew I was definitely not supposed to be there.
However as I turned to leave, the ladies around me took me under their wing. They pushed and shoved me to the front of the queue, shouting instructions. I was mortified. Luckily the lady in charge was lovely. So, after a lengthy conversation, in which both of us spoke in languages the other couldn’t understand, I was admitted to the geisha tea ceremony.
The geisha tea ceremony
We crept in and knelt down at one of the low tables which surrounded the room.
Kneeling in the centre of the room was a beautiful geisha. Her face was perfectly made up with white powder and her black hair was styled in a bun. There was silence in the room as we watched her stirring the tea in the very special and specific way for a tea ceremony. Every tiny movement is an art and the tea was carefully poured into tiny cups which was delivered to us on trays.
Being able to attend a geisha tea ceremony was truly one of my most magical moments in Japan.
As I left the room, surrounded by the excited chatter of the little old ladies, I couldn’t believe my luck. Talk about being in the wrong place at the right time.