It will usually cost you an arm and a leg to get up close to a geisha or a maiko (apprentice geisha), but every once in a while, there’s the rare chance to do so without having to pay a hefty sum. Geisha and maiko beer gardens in Kyoto are one such example.
As the name implies, the beloved summer tradition of holding a beer garden gets an added twist, as beautiful geisha serve patrons drinks and even mingle with them. No, you don’t have to pay tens of thousands of yen for these events, and yet you get that close to a geisha or maiko—how lucky can you get?! So if you’ll be in Kyoto during the summer, head on over to these two geisha beer gardens, both of which started in July and will run until early September. And even if you don’t have any plans to go to Kyoto, if you’re a fan of geisha and maiko, perhaps you might want to plan a trip after reading about these beer gardens.
When: July 7 – September 2, except Sundays, 6:00 pm-9:00 pm
Basic Cost: ¥3,500 for a course meal
This ryokan, which is a 3-minute walk from the Chion-in-mae bus stop or an 8-minute walk from Exit 1 of Kawaramachi Station (you can check out the other access options here), has been working closely with a geisha house for over 60 years. Thanks to its connections, geisha visit and perform every now and then, and it’s easy for the hotel to arrange for a meeting with a geisha. Thus, it’s probably no wonder that they’d have a maiko beer garden.
During beer garden nights, the maiko won’t be doing the serving, but she’ll go from table to table to make small talk with guests and pose for photo ops. At about 8:00 pm, she will then perform a dance.
Reservations should be made for at least 2 people, and guests have to order the ¥3,500 course meal, which includes one drink. It’s nothing excessively fancy, but since it’s from a respectable ryokan, you can rest assured that the ingredients are of fine quality. Vegetarian options are available for an additional ¥500, and you can upgrade to a premium meal, which costs ¥5,000. There are also additional options available for ordering, such as a la carte dishes, more beer, and even an all-you-can-drink course for ¥1,700 (60 minutes) or ¥2,500 (90 minutes). The drinking courses are only for groups of at least four, though. Here’s the English reservation page. You can also make a phone reservation by calling 075-561-8011. The line is open from 9:00 am-9:00 pm daily.
2. Kamishichiken Kaburenjo Theater
When: July 1 – September 5, 5:30 pm-10:00 pm (Closed August 14-16)
Basic Cost: ¥2,000 (beer and an appetizer)
This seems to be the more famous beer garden, seeing as it’s gotten featured in several English-language media outlets. Kamishichiken is the oldest among Kyoto’s five licensed geisha districts, but sadly, it’s also the least popular. It’s far from the 4 other geisha districts, which are quite close to one another, after all. Perhaps this event is your moment to discover Kamishichiken!
At this open-air beer garden, geisha and maiko will serve you, although they won’t be in makeup or elaborate kimonos. We suppose that this is also a rare opportunity in itself, because geisha and maiko are hardly ever seen in public dressed down. Who knows; geisha and maiko enthusiasts might even see their favorites at the event, and will get a glimpse of the women beneath the makeup.
You start by ordering a beer-and-appetizer set for ¥2,000, but you can order more booze—prices start at ¥1,000, but it’s around ¥500 for soft drinks. Unfortunately, there’s no all-you-can-drink course at this event. If you want food to go with your drink/s, there are appetizers such as shrimp dumplings, yakisoba, and wiener sausages for ¥1,000 each (you can check the food menu, which also has English translations, here). Also, take note that there are no performances at this event.
To make a reservation, fill out the reservation here (only in Japanese), or call 075-461-0148 (open 10:00 am-9:00 pm on weekdays, and from 5:30 pm on weekends and holidays). State your name, contact details, date that you’d like to reserve, and number of people in your group. Also, pick a time slot—while you can spend as much time as you like in the beer garden (though of course, it would most likely be frowned upon to spend hours hardly ordering anything, or to hang around for too long when seats are scarce), you have to choose among the following arrival times: 5:30 pm, 6:00 pm, 6:30 pm, 8:00 pm, and 8:30 pm. It might be best to have a Japanese-speaking friend make the reservation, just to be sure.
Kamishichiken is a short walk from the Kitano Tenmangumae bus stop.
This article was last updated by Tiffany Lim in July 2017.