Kamishichiken (上七軒)

Kamishichiken is the oldest hanamachi ('flower town,' or geisha district), located in the area of Shinsei-cho and Shakenagaya-cho in Kamigyo Ward, Kyoto City.

In the Muromachi period, seven teahouses were built with leftover materials from the reconstruction of the Kitano Tenmangu Shrine. The name 'Kamishichiken' (literally meaning 'upper seven houses') originated from this fact, and Kamishichiken has prospered as a hanamachi, with close ties to Nishijin, ever since Hideyoshi TOYOTOMI held a large tea ceremony in Kitano in the Momoyama period and greatly praised the dumpling cake served by the teahouse. The "Kitano Odori" (dance originally performed at the Kitano Tenmangu Shrine) is performed annually in spring; geisha and apprentice geisha practice traditional performing arts every day and show them beautifully although small in number.

The geisha and apprentice geisha in Kamishichiken follow the Hanayagi School of Dance. They study the tea ceremony at the Saiho-niji Nunnery.

The prominent geisha are Katukiyo, Fukuzuru, Naoko, Umegiku, Umeka and Naosuzu.

There are ten ocha-ya (teahouse) and twenty-five geisha and apprentice geisha today (2007).

Until the end of the Edo period

Kamishichiken let Shimonomori and Goban-cho use its chaya-kabu (license for 'teahouses,' or the red-light district), and prospered as a hanamachi around geisha in the Edo period; Toshizo HIJIKATA is rumored to have had a relationship with geisha and apprentice geisha in Kamishichiken at the end of the Edo period.

From the Meiji period

There were fifty teahouses, sixty geisha and apprentice geisha, and three shogi (prostitutes) in Kamishichiken before World War II, but the war forced most of the teahouses to close down or change their business; however, some of them reopened their teahouses around 1945. Kamishichiken at that time had thirty-five teahouses and approximately fifty geisha (apprentice geisha not included for reasons such as the eri-age, or promotion to geisha); during certain periods of time after the war, however, their numbers decreased, to less than twenty geisha for example, due to the decline of the Nishijin-ori (Nishijin weaving) industry, and the Geisha association requested talented students from dance schools affiliated with the Kamishichiken kabukai (dance society) to perform at the Kitano Odori (dance originally performed at the Kitano Tenmangu Shrine). Some of the students became geisha afterwards.

In the meantime, a daughter of the teahouse 'Yoshida-ya,' Hiroko opened a teahouse for the first time as a apprentice geisha after World War II, but later carried out the eri-age to become a geisha, and as a result, apprentice geisha disappeared from Kamishichiken for some time. In March, 1981, however, an apprentice geisha, Umegiku from Ishikawa Prefecture opened a teahouse for the first time in many years and was celebrated by many people involved, paving the way for many apprentice geisha in the future. In the early 1990's, the kabukai used magazines and TV to recruit apprentice geisha, and in fact recruited seven apprentice geisha, but was met with opposition from some traditionalists, derailing the recruitment. The number of applicants for apprentice geisha, however, has risen thanks to the Internet. There are five apprentice geisha as of 2007. Additionally, an office worker, a pharmacist and a college graduate turned geisha, receiving public attention.

Recently however, the numbers of teahouses, geisha and apprentice geisha bounce, Kamishichiken has taken a new direction while respecting the long standing traditions stemming from the Muromachi period.

Major events

Shigyo-shiki (opening ceremony)

Baika-sai (Plum Blossom Festival) on February 25

Kitano Odori

Special Traditional Joint Performances by Five Hanamachi of Kyoto

Beer garden (from July to August)

Kotobuki-kai (dance performance)

Kotohajime (an event in which geisha visit their teachers and teahouses to thank them for their support in the year and for continued support in the new year)

[Original Japanese]