We aim to introduce Kyoto’s unique attractiveness to visitors and
to promote Kyoto’s Kagai (‘Flower Town’Entertainment District), while paying the greatest respect to the traditional
culture of the district’s strict, referral-based admittance policy,
and with the corporation of those who understand and try to preserve its legacy.
I was born in Kobe, and from elementary school grew up in Kyoto, where I have been living for almost 40 years now. To be honest, in my twenties I was not so interested in history or the traditional arts. However, after hitting my thirties, I started really noticing the appeal that Kyoto has, and luckily my fate became intertwined with Kyoto’s Kagai (Entertainment District).
The first time I had the pleasure of attending a dinner party in a tatami room with Geiko and Maiko in Miyagawacho (one area of Kyoto’s entertainment district), I was taken aback. I couldn’t express in words the beauty, charm, and the wholehearted efforts of the Maiko to learn the traditional arts, I couldn’t help but feel respect for them and I was spellbound.
In order to connect corporate executives of the younger generation, as well as close friends to this world, I started holding regular “Tea House get-together parties” and to this point I have thrown hundreds of banquet parties for friends and met new associates for whom it would have been difficult for me to have the pleasure of meeting in other places.
In the beginning I was not familiar with the etiquette involved with such events, and I’ve had to be taught by the Tea House owners and Geiko constantly. There were many times originally when I kept thinking why it was necessary to pay attention to such small details. However after hearing an explanation about whyKagai is the way it is, I started to feel the profound history of the district which has been continuing for more than 300 years. I’ve found that this traditional way of thinking has actually had a considerable impact on my own way of thinking regarding myself. Reflecting on this, I believe I’ve learned the true importance of this continuing tradition.
Since my comings and goings in Kagai were first permitted, almost 13 years have already passed, however recently I noticed something. It’s regarding the change in clientele and the future. At the time when Japanese-style textiles and traditional industries were strong, the patrons of textile companies in Kyoto’s Nishijin area were often favored as clients however as the generations changed, customers began changing to those from outside Kyoto, such as Tokyo. To be honest, even of those living in Kyoto, only a small handful have the favor of the Kagai district. For those who are younger customers, it's very common that they have received the favor from their parents and grandparents, and so I feel that for new young faces, garnering such favor from the district can be very difficult. Actually, I have heard from various Tea House owners and Geiko that because clientele is shifting to customers from outside Kyoto, and because clients tend to be in their sixties and seventies on average, that in the future the number of clients is likely to drop. As I’ve noticed too, other customers I’ve met do tend to be from an elder generation and there are few my age. We should think about the rule by which first-time customers are refused, as one cause of this situation. It is not so simple that as a first time customer you may go with a regular and then be accepted on your own the second time you visit. Only after many times passing through, and after gaining the trust of the owner will the tea house allow you to come and go on your own as you please. At that time, the Tea House will ask for permission to grant patronage to you from the person who introduced you to the establishment. The reason for this is that if you, as a new customer, have a problem paying the bill by the end of the following month, it is an implicit rule that the person who introduced you is responsible for the blame, and the bills. I believe the teahouses have done their businesses just based on trust for many years, and this has greatly influenced how I should approach my relationships with the people around me and how I should behave as a business owner. So I feel very proud to be connected to these tea houses. On the other hand, no matter how much a customer understands and respects traditional culture, or how trustworthy; if there is nobody around that can introduce them into this world, they are out of luck and I think that's a big shame. The traditional custom of Kagai regarding newcomers is both a big hurdle but also one of its attractive aspects. While paying great respect to that, I hope to promote a business in which both native Japanese, as well as those from around the world wanting to truly experience Kyoto culture and see it persist for a long time, can come together to preserve this traditional culture that exists only in Kyoto. I hope that you can come to appreciate this unique aspect of Kyoto’s culture as I have, and that you see it as not only entertainment, but as a profound perspective-changing experience.
CEO Kenji Sawada