It’s generally said that there are five Kagai(geisha quarter) in Kyoto as exemplified by Gion but the fact that a 6th one exists isn’t known very well.
The name of this 6th district is Shimabara. It’s just because Shimabara hasn’t been a member of the Kyoto Kagai Federation since 1976, so it sometimes isn’t counted among the Kagai in Kyoto and is even being forgotten as time goes by. Hidden away from downtown and located in only a 47,200㎡ area of the west from Shimabara Omon between about Gojo street and Shichijo street, this small quarter is apparently different from what it used to be except for some historic momuments.
You can’t find geisha(called geiko in Kyoto) anymore in this quarter, however you can have a special and real experience as if you were in the Edo period at Sumiya.
Sumiya is an old building that was an Ageya, an elegant restaurant where banquets were held accompanied by the entertainment of geiko and taiyu (premiere geisha) in the past, and now opens up as a museum to transmit Edo culture for posterity.
There is an institution of Kagai that normally guests aren’t allowed to enter an Ageya without an invitations, so it’s a precious chance to discover the inside of one.
Actually this National important cultural property isn’t so famous among foreign tourists, or even Japanese people, but it’s worth visiting as much as some celebrated temples.
It isn’t too much to say that you feel as if you went back in the past once you enter the building. The interior has a completely different atmosphere from the street.
On the first floor, there is a big kitchen and some rooms floored with tatami mats, one of which faces on the garden with a view of a huge pine resembling a dragon. There are also some paintings on fusuma(Japanese style sliding doors) by famous painters. They are definitely wonderful but in fact the highlight of Sumiya is the second floor.
Only those who have been there knows how fantastic it is because photography is prohibited on the second floor. The rooms on this floor were used for banquets. People enjoyed a superior entertainment with dance, song, and a tea ceremony performance by geisha and taiyu. It was like the tradition of salons in Europe, places where artists, poets and politicians would meet to exchange ideas.
The interior decorations is also elaborate; each room is done in a different style according to each theme. For example “Room of Fans” uses a fan motif on everything from the ceiling to the knob on the fusuma.
It is a really rare experience to enjoy the Japanese craftsmanship like this; particularly the details which we can’t reproduce in our time.
32 Nishishinyashiki Ageyacho Shimogyoku Kyoto-shi Kyoto Japan 600-8828
Open on 15th March-18th July and 15th September-15th December
10h-16h (closed during summer and winter because there aren’t air conditioners to protect the building)
closed on Monday(if a Monday is a national holiday, then the next day)
The second floor opens only at 10h15,13h15,14h15,15h15(30mins guide tour)
Need to book in advance by telephone
additional fee:800yen(adults only)