Our first Saturday night together we visited Kanazawa Matsumoto for a traditional Japanese meal with geisha and entertainment. Honestly I didn’t know what to expect from the evening, thinking it would be a formal event and rather boring. The night proved to be fun & entertaining thanks to our Japanese hosts.
The floor of the dining room was covered in tatami mats, the traditional type of Japanese flooring. Interestingly, as we walked to the Japanese inn (ryokan), we passed a shop where workers were making tatami mats by hand. The dining room was filled with six round tables each seating five guests, the tables facing an open area at one end of the rectangular room. The five people at our table were the only non-Japanese guests.
What made the evening special was the care & attention the geisha showed to every visitor. Each table had a geisha attendant to make conversation, engaging each guest individually. Our Australian friends got a “good day mate” in a creditable Australian accent, Laura from Italy was asked what city was she from, Carolyn & I spoke of New York. With our hostess’ limited English & Carolyn translating from the Japanese we communicated very well, although the important message was communicated without words: that the well-being of the guests really mattered. It was this concern for our comfort that made the evening memorable.
The meal started with thin strips of raw squid marinated in brine, served in a tiny ceramic bowl, perhaps an inch in diameter, to whet the appetite and encourage thirst. Then a plate containing tiny squid (hotaru-ika or firefly squid), a large shrimp, two fava beans, some greens, a large snail in its shell, & a slice of beef decorated with a blot of mustard. Dinner was seafood & vegetables in miso soup followed by rice. Our attendant was always at our side, serving food and pouring sake and beer.
The entertainment for the night consisted of traditional Japanese music, song and dance, and what I found most surprising, games for the guests. The instruments used were the voice, the three-stringed lute (shamisen) and drums. The guests were encouraged to join in the entertainment. The ladies joined the geisha in traditional dancing. We learned to play the Japanese drums. Finally a raucous round of janken (rock, paper, scissors), with the loser paying a penalty: drinking a cup of sake. The geisha encouraged every guest to participate. It was simply great fun and for me, unexpected. One of the most enthusiastic guests was a Japanese women, tall and thin in denim, there with her daughter. She challenged both her daughter and geisha in janken, gloriously happy in her victory.
After playing the drums and beating Carolyn at janken several of the Japanese guests shook hands and congratulated me. They seemed genuinely happy we were there enjoying the evening with them.
Image source: Kanazawa Matsumoto
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