About Asakusa Kagai District
Home to Geisha
The Asakusa Kagai, a traditional and prestigious Kagai Districts in Tokyo, stretches to the north of Senso-ji Temple. With a history dating back to the Edo period (1603-1868), this illustrious district boasts a heritage that spans some 400 years.
During the era when Edo stood as one of the largest cities globally, Asakusa thrived as an impressive temple town hosting the famous Senso-ji Temple. Geisha, born in tea houses that welcomed visitors to Senso-ji Temple and patrons of Kabuki theaters, honed traditional arts such as singing, dancing, and shamisen playing. As a result, the Asakusa Kagai emerged as one of the most prominent Kagai districts in Tokyo.
Despite enduring significant damage from the Great East Japan Earthquake and the trials of war, the Asakusa Kagai demonstrated resilience. Together with the people of Asakusa, it swiftly recovered and has since been cherished by locals, writers, artists, and admirers alike. The Asakusa Kagai has woven its narrative into the fabric of Asakusa's history, steadfastly passing down Edo culture while continually refining its artistic expression.
+ Read more
Stretching to the north of Senso-ji Temple, Asakusa Kagai stands as one of Tokyo's most traditional and prestigious Kagai districts.
Senso-ji Temple, known since ancient times as "Asakusa no Kannon-sama" (the Asakusa Goddess of Kannon), attracted countless pilgrims, and busy teahouses extended their hospitality. In the Edo period, Asakusa grew into the most prosperous area in Edo (present-day Tokyo) with the establishment of the "Shin-Yoshiwara" entertainment district and the "Saruwaka-cho" theatrical district.
According to the “Buko Nenpyo,” a geographical journal of Edo (Tokyo) from 1655-1657, it is recorded that "Chameshi- Rice cooked with tea, Tofu soup, Nishime, soybeans, etc.” were prepared and served with Naracha for the first time at the gate of Kinryuzan, marking the inception of food and beverage establishments in Edo.
In the mid-Edo period, Dengaku-jaya (teahouses that served Dengaku— grilled tofu with miso paste) gained popularity, and Asakusa became home to numerous Dengaku-jaya establishments. Among these, Megawa-ya in Hirokoji in front of the Kaminarimon Gate, which served Nameshi-dengaku, was particularly famous. It was here that the "Hirokoji Geisha," affectionately nicknamed "Dengaku Geisha," originated.
When the Shin-Yoshiwara red-light district was constructed north of Asakusa, it was home to 3,000 courtesans working under the official license of the shogunate. Affluent merchants began flocking to the area to indulge in the luxuries and entertainment of Yoshiwara. Beyond the confines of Yoshiwara, Geisha—both female and male—entertained guests with songs and dances at the "Hikite-jaya" (teahouses facilitating introductions to courtesans) and boathouses, where patrons relished their entertainment before proceeding to the red-light district. It was in this milieu that the Sanyabori no Geisha, commonly known as "Hori no Geisha," began and thrived.
During the Tempo Reforms (1841-1843), three Kabuki theaters and two puppet theaters spread across Edo were relocated to the north of Senso-ji Temple, forming the theater town of Saruwaka-cho. This area became a hub where Kabuki’s popularity bloomed and experienced a renaissance. At the exclusive teahouse dedicated to the theater, known as the Shibai teahouse, the impressive Saruwaka-cho Geisha, also referred to as 'Yagurashita Geisha,' were born. Trained directly by masters, including accomplished shamisen players associated with the theater, their skills were particularly remarkable.
Against the backdrop of these three factions of Geiko, the foremost entertainment district in Edo Prefecture was formed.
Wealthy merchants frequented the red-light district of Yoshiwara and the theater district, indulging in luxury. They enjoyed various forms of performing arts such as Kabuki, Joruri (puppet theater), haikai (comedic linked verse), koto playing, Noh theater, and Odori dance. At banquets with geisha, these performing arts competed to showcase the elegant performing arts and the sophistication of Edo.
Asakusa was also the largest entertainment district for common people, hosting Kyokugoma (top spinning performance), Kijutsu (magic tricks), and Iai-nuki (sword performances). The show halls were located in the area known as Okuyama, northwest of Senso-ji Temple near present-day ASAKUSA HANAYASHIKI amusement park. Additionally, patrons enjoyed the singing and dancing performances by Geisha at the banquet halls. Through these diverse forms of entertainment, Asakusa gained national acclaim as the premier entertainment district in Japan where Edo culture flourished.
After the Meiji Restoration in 1865, Asakusa transformed into a modern town and was divided into six wards. Senso-ji Temple and a portion of the surrounding temples and shrines' grounds then were developed into Asakusa Park. While the Asakusa Kagai was in a temporary decline, in 1885, after the remodeling of Senso-ji Temple, some Geisha from Hirokoji, Saruwaka-cho, and Hori congregated in the Asakusa Park area. It was here that the Koen-Geisha, laying the foundation for the current Asakusa Geisha, emerged from the restaurants within the park, regaining its former prosperity. In 1896, a "Koen-Kenban" (Geisha union) was established to oversee the management of the Geisha and the Kagai District.
Later, the Kagai, originating in the park, shifted north of Senso-ji Temple as its Geisha evolved and the city developed. By 1920, it proudly featured 49 restaurants, 250 Machiai-jaya (spaces facilitating meetings with geisha), and 1,060 Geisha — establishing itself as the largest Kagai community in Asakusa's history.
However, the Great Kanto Earthquake and the ensuing war resulted in numerous tragic casualties, leaving Asakusa devastated. The area faced abandonment after the war, as people grappled with the challenges of daily survival. Yet, the people rallied together in efforts to restore and revive the Asakusa Kagai District.
In 1946, the Kenban formed the Sangyo Kumiai (three business associations) and resumed operations. By 1950, the first "Asaji-kai" was held at the Sumida Theater, marking the revival and development of the art. Once again, the Asakusa Geisha could showcase their timeless art to the public on a larger scale. Although the venue later changed to the Meiji-za Theater and the Asakusa Public Hall, the Asaji-kai performances continued as a platform for Asakusa Geisha to demonstrate their refined skills.
In 1995, the Tokyo Asakusa Association and the Asakusa Tourism Federation collaborated on the event. With the support of Taito City, it evolved into a city-wide celebration called "Asakusa Odori" (Asakusa Dance), contributing to the local resurgence of the Asakusa Kagai and the enhancement of Geisha performing arts culture.
Asakusa Kagai District remains one of the most honored Kagai in Tokyo. It will endure as a beloved institution within the local Asakusa community for generations, all while preserving the spirit of the Edo period.
Asakusa Kagai, a prominent Kagai District in Tokyo boasting tradition and elegance, cherishes the spirit and hospitality of old Edo. It continues to be cherished by the Asakusa locals and remains a vital part of the community, embracing the area’s unique character and local culture. Asakusa Kagai looks forward to prospering long into the future alongside the neighborhood, upholding its traditions with the warmth and charm that defines the heart of Edo.
- Sayoko、Kanae、Seiko, Norie, Chizuru, Chino, Chifumi, Chima, Azuha, Chihana, Chiho, Tamaaki
- Goro, Shisa, Komaaki, Hiroe, Wakana
Tachikata (Traditional Dance Specialty)
Geisha whose major role is dancing.
Jikata (Traditional Music Specialty) Geisha who are tasked with singing and playing the shamisen, drum, and flute.
Entertainers or male geisha, who are also called “Taikomochi”
Yoneshichi, Tamahachi, Shichikou, Shichisuke, Shichitaro, Hachiko