Across from Kushida Shrine sits a building with traditional lattice doors. This is the Hakata Traditional Performing Arts Centre, which opened in 2017 to spread the word about Hakata’s traditional arts, like Japanese-style dance, folk singing and Hakata niwaka—a kind of traditional improvisational comedy. The Centre, however, is not typically open to the public because it is where geigi—another term for geisha—are trained by Hakata Kenban, the official association for these traditional entertainers.
Of course, you can enter the Centre when it holds its regular performances, which include singing and dancing by the geigi, ozashiki-asobi (parlor games) and a commemorative photo with the geigi. The Centre affords an invaluable experience because you can usually only interact with geigi at teahouses. Depending on the day, you may also be able to enjoy other local traditional performing arts. Be sure to check the homepage for performance dates and times.
Geigi are said to have started performing in Hakata in the middle of the Edo era. Back then, geigi from Osaka were invited to perform at teahouses in Nagasaki, but due to a law that limited stays there to 100 days at a time, the geigi would come to Hakata to entertain guests for a certain period of time before returning to Nagasaki. After a while, some geigi moved to Hakata permanently, making them the forebears of today’s Hakata geigi.
Records indicate that geigi numbered more than 2,000 in the Meiji and Taisho eras (1868-1926). The first geigi training association, or kenban, was established in 1889, and at the peak of geigi popularity, the city boasted five kenban. The numbers of geigi and kenban both dwindled over time, and now there is only one kenban and around 20 geigi in the city. You can see the elegantly-styled entertainers perform every January at the kachi-mairi parade at Toka Ebisu Shrine, every May at the Hakata Dontaku, and every December at the Hakata Odori.
Originally published in Fukuoka Now Magazine (fn241, Jan. 2019)