Higashi-Chaya District ひがし茶屋街
Kanazawa’s largest and most lively geiko district
Higashi-Chaya is the largest of Kanazawa’s three historic entertainment, or “teahouse,” districts. It was established in 1820 as a place for geiko (the local name for geisha) to entertain wealthy merchants with music, dance, and games. The district’s traditional wooden buildings and lattice-work windows retain the atmosphere of their 200-year history. Today, many of these buildings function as cafes, restaurants, sweet shops, and craft shops, but some are still geiko teahouses. Although the world of geiko entertainment is exclusive and access must be gained by referral, general visitors can tour some teahouses and see a geiko show.
Ochaya Shima is a former geiko teahouse that now functions as a museum dedicated to Higashi-Chaya’s geiko culture. The building looks much as it has for 200 years, with a plain wood exterior and bright red walls, tatami mat flooring, and a small courtyard garden inside. The rooms where geiko entertained patrons now display geiko hair ornaments, musical instruments, and tableware.
Kaikaro is a working geiko teahouse in a nearly 200-year-old building with a room featuring tatami mats woven with gold leaf. During the day, the building is open to the general public for a fee. On certain nights, Kaikaro hosts an interactive geiko performance in English called Geisha Evenings in Kanazawa. Some guests can join in traditional games with the geiko. Reservations can be made online.
Gold leaf production is a signature craft of Kanazawa, and Higashi-Chaya has many shops selling gold-leaf products. Visitors can try applying real gold leaf to accessories such as plates, chopsticks, and jewelry boxes at some stores.