Tohoku Region: To See Geisha More Easily, Go Somewhere Unusual
Updated: Mar 16
Fairly recently, I became aware that Tokyo and Kyoto were not the only regions of Japan with Geisha. I then learned of the beautiful Akita Maiko, and more recently, Sakata Maiko. Impressively, Sakata also has an exquisite Maiko Teahouse or "Chaya" which can be visited by tourists, though Corona restrictions currently apply. Going to see geisha in Kyoto and Tokyo can be difficult and expesive if you'd like to see more than one at a time or to get up close and personal. But in rural areas, since there are fewer tourists, it's much more affordable and you get more for the money you spend.
"Sakata City?" you might be thinking, "I've never even heard of that place!" But it is well worth considering for three reasons (beyond the magnificence of Somaro): 1. Country towns in Japan are currently in decline. So they are very keen to attract tourists from all over the world. This means that simply by visiting their region and recommending it to others, you can aid in revitalising their local economies. 2. Since the towns are smaller and distant from Tokyo and Kyoto, you have the chance to experience regional cultures you might not get to see elsewhere.
3. You get to beat the crowds. Since tourists wouldn't so often think to visit regional Japan, you don't have to wrestle with them for space, hotel rooms, or any other resources and attractions.
I felt that rather than trying to explain how truly beautiful and historical Somaro is myself, I would leave it to the official website and focus instead on how someone would make a full vacation in Sakata City, and how one would go about visiting, since it is not so often visited by foreign tourists.
A Google search reveals that while Sakata does have a regional airport if you would like to air travel all the way there, the closest international airport is Sendai. Which is another reason travelling to this region is worthwhile. Akita, Sendai, Aomori and Sakata City are all somewhat close together and form part of the more historical but lesser known Tohoku region of Japan.
The geographical proximity of these locations means that travelling between them would almost certainly make for a fantastic vacation!
NHK World has made it possible for you to visit Somaro as a VR experience for free right now:
But it's also worthwhile to see The Akita Maiko Theatre in Akita. They have a Cafe/Restaurant built in:
You can book to see them via their website, and they also make appearances at local festivals. Many festivals run in the region, so it is hard to say what time of year would be best to go. But the best known festival is probably the Kanto festival. It's free to attend and just about everyone in the city gets involved, with big, bright lanterns hanging everywhere, local performers, food, dancing, music, costumes, art, all coming together to make the biggest, brightest Japanese festival you could possibly imagine! I got to see it online this year, and it was amazing!!!
While I have not gone to see them in person, I had the pleasure of seeing Akita Maiko perform online. And they were truly lovely. In general, rural Geisha seem to be more vibrant and less formalised than their Kyoto or Tokyo counterparts. To me this seems to make them easier to feel comfortable with. Personally, I would very much like to see both Sakata and Akita Maiko so that I can see the regional nuances in their dress, manner and performance.
Here is a map from Google Maps so you can find Somaro. But another dream location in the region are the forests of Aomori:
Particularly Shirakami Sanchi, a massive forest that covers more than 130,000 hectares. While I can't work out exactly where the forest is on maps. the whole Aomori region seems to be a wonderful place to walk through woods and farmlands.
Shirakami Sanchi has an official website and visitor's centre, so that might be a good place to begin. In any case, for someone like me who loves to walk till their feet burn, Aomori seems like an ideal place.
While I would classify this region as one of my dream locations, I think they are culturally significant enough that anyone should go and see them. The little towns of Japan's countryside are dying. We should all go and see them before they're gone.
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