In the Kyoto of old, a first time customer （一見客、ichigen san）was ignored at best, turned away if he was clueless and pushy enough to actually attempt to gain entry.
These elitist establishments tended to be limited to Gion or Pontocho - and were often high-end restaurants or the tea houses where geisha and maiko entertained.
These establishments were few in number. In addition to a large corporate, university, and mid-size business population, Kyoto has had and continues to have a strong working class presence. Most bars and restaurants never practiced an "ichigen san" style door policy.
For those that did, however, without an "introduction" （紹介、shokai）from someone known to the establishment, you and however many millions of yen you may have had were not welcome.
With the exception of the tea houses （お茶屋、ochaya）- where an introduction is still required - this is a thing of the past.
However, in shocking news, the leading online English-language venue devoted to Japanese culture, history, tourism, and more (hint: you're reading its blog right now) was just turned away in an attempt at scoring an interview with a geisha.
Kyoto's Ookini Zaidan - "ookini" is Kyoto dialect for thank you, and is famously used by geisha and shop owners - did not consider JapanVisitor.com and its many thousands of readers worthy of entrance.
Ookini Zaidan is city group whose goal is to promote and preserve "hanamachi" (i.e., the geisha) culture. One of its two founding organizations was the Kyoto City Tourist Association, and it receives funding from Kyoto Prefecture, Kyoto City, Kyoto Chamber of Commerce, and Industry and other tourism-related organizations.
A terse phone call from the group inquired just who we were （何方でしょうか、donata desho ka?）and our purpose （目標は、mokuhyo wa?）.
Then, as if on cue, the gentleman sucked on his teeth and said, "Without an introduction, this is a bit difficult" （紹介がないとやはりちょっと難しい、shokai ga nai to yahari chotto muzukashii).
As all American (and other) trade negotiators have learned, "muzukashii" (lit. "difficult") does not really mean difficult, but rather "impossible."
So, to our friends in geisha officialdom, a hearty "Ookini!" Thanks (for nothing)!
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Thursday, August 27, 2009
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