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Hanamachi (花街 hanamachi ) is a Japanese courtesan and geisha district. The word's literal meaning is "flower street". Such districts would contain various okiya (geisha houses). Nowadays, the term hanamachi is commonly used in modern Japan to refer to the areas where modern-day okiya are still operating. In Kyoto's Gion district, however, the older term kagai  is still in use. Alternatively, kagai can be used to refer to licensed red-light districts, which contained restaurants, okiya, and ochaya ("tea houses" where geisha would entertain customers).
Hanamachi typically contained a number of okiya and ochaya, along with a kaburenjō; the kaburenjō was a meeting place for geisha, usually with a theatre, rooms where geisha classes can be held, and the kenban offices, which dealt with geisha's pay, regulation and similar matters. Gion also has a vocational school, called Nyokoba. Many of the teachers there are designated as Living National Treasures. Today, hanamachi are rare outside of Kyoto. The onsen geisha communities of onsen (hot spring resort) towns are not considered hanamachi, and not listed below.
Hanamachi were preceded by and should not be confused with traditional courtesan/prostitution districts known as yūkaku (遊廓、遊郭, pleasure quarter, red-light district). These were three districts, established in the early 1600s in Kyoto, Osaka, and Edo (now Tokyo), respectively: Shimabara for Kyōto (1640), Shinmachi for Ōsaka (1624–1644) and Yoshiwara for Edo (1617). The workers in these districts were known as yūjo (遊女), of which the highest ranked were oiran, and rather than the ochaya and okiya of geisha, these featured ageya as entertainment venues. Geisha developed about a century later, in the mid-1700s, often in courtesan districts, and thus these districts developed into hanamachi. All three districts are now defunct, both as courtesan districts and geisha districts, though some tourist-oriented establishments are preserved in Shimabara, Kyoto, and some conventional sex work establishments continue to exist in Yoshiwara, Tokyo.
|Map of Kyoto kagai|
There are currently five active hanamachi in Kyoto (in Kyoto these are generally called kagai instead of "hanamachi"), sometimes referred to as gokagai (五花街, 5 hanamachi); there were previously six, but Shimabara is now defunct, remaining as a tourist attraction.
- Shimabara – also previous courtesans' district (only one in Kyoto, one of three in Japan)
These are primarily clustered around the Kamo river, from Sanjō Street (3rd Street) to Gojō Street (5th Street), particularly around Shijō Street – four of the five districts are in this area. Kamishichiken is separated from the others, being far to the northwest, while the defunct district of Shimabara is also located to the west. Narrowly speaking, districts are centered around their respective rehearsal halls (歌舞練場 kabu renjō , lit. singing and dancing training space).
A summer tradition, around the time of the Gion Festival among Kyoto hanamachis is to distribute personalized uchiwa (団扇, flat fans) to favored patrons and stores the maiko or geiko frequent. These feature a crest of the geisha house on the front, and the geiko's name on the back (house name, then personal name). These are produced by Komaru-ya Sumii (小丸屋 住井, Sumii (family name) Small circle house), and the product name is Kyōmaru-uchiwa (京丸うちわ, Kyoto round uchiwa). Establishments in hanamachis that have many geiko clients often accumulate many of these fans, and proudly display them as a sign of quality.
All the Kyoto hanamachi stage public dances annually, or odori (generally written in traditional kana spelling as をどり, rather than modern おどり), featuring both maiko and geiko. These also feature an optional tea ceremony (tea and wagashi served by maiko) before the performance. These are performed for several weeks, mostly in the spring – four hanamachi hold them in the spring, one (Gion Higashi) holds their show in the autumn. Different districts started public performances in different years; the oldest are Gion Kōbu and Pontocho, whose performances started at the Kyoto exhibition of 1872, while others (Kamishichiken, Miyagawachō) started performing in the 1950s. There are many performances, with tickets being inexpensive, ranging from around 1500 yen to 4500 yen. The best-known is Miyako odori, by Gion Kōbu, which is one of the two oldest and has the most performances.
The dances (name of performance and explanation) are as follows (listed in order of performance through the year):
- Kitano odori (北野をどり, name of area – see Kitano Tenman-gū) – Kamishichiken (since 1953), spring, varying dates, currently last week of March and first week of April
- Miyako odori (都をどり, capital) – Gion Kōbu (since 1872), all of April
- Kyō odori (京をどり, Kyo(to), capital) – Miyagawa-chō (since 1950s), first 2 weeks of April
- Kamogawa odori (鴨川をどり, Kamo River) – Ponto-chō (since 1872), most of May
- Gion odori (祇園をどり, Gion) – Gion Higashi, early November
There was also previously:
- Aoyagi odori (青柳踊, Green willow, willow in leaf) – Shimabara (from 1873 to 1880; ceased in 1881)
There is also a combined show of all five districts, which is called "Five Geisha District Combined Public Performance" (五花街合同公演 gokagai gōdō kōen ), or more formally "Kyoto's five geisha districts combined traditional theater special public performance" (京都五花街合同伝統芸能特別公演 Kyōto gokagai gōdō dentō geinō tokubetsu kōen ). This takes place during the daytime on two days (Saturday and Sunday) on a weekend in late June (typically last or second-to-last weekend) at a large venue, and tickets are significantly more expensive than those for individual districts. Connected with this event, in the evening on these two days there are evening performances with kaiseki meals, either a combined event, or separate ones per district. This is known as the "Five Geisha Districts Evening" (五花街の夕べ gokagai no yūbe ), and is quite expensive (as is usual for kaiseki), and very limited availability; this has been held since 1994.
Hanamachi near Tokyo
Areas historically renowned as hanamachi/kagai
Yoshiwara was the Tokyo courtesans' district and is sometimes referred to as a hanamachi.
Hanamachi in Osaka
Hanamachi in Kanazawa
- 花街, an alternate pronunciation of the same kanji.
- Avery, Anne Louise. Flowers of the Floating World: Geisha and Courtesans in Japanese Prints and Photographs, 1772–1926 [Exhibition Catalogue] (Sanders of Oxford & Mayfield Press: Oxford, 2006)
- 京都の花街 (Japanese)
- Komaruya Sumii (English)
- "Uchiwa Japanese Fans: The revival of Fukakusa Uchiwa by Komaruya Sumii". Kyoto Visitor’s Guide. July 2007. Archived from the original on 2009-05-04.
- "Wagashi: Kamishichiken Oimatsu Bitter Citrus Summer Jelly", Kyoto Foodie, August 23rd, 2010
- Miyako Odori "A Brief History of the Miyako Odori"
- Maiko Dance
- Geisha dances
- 京都五花街合同伝統芸能特別公演 (Japanese)