1. History of Yamagata Geiko

The Mogami river, flowing from the south to the north of Yamagata prefecture, made trade to Kyoto and Osaka prosper since the days of the safflower merchants of the past, and in return brought that region’s culture back to the prefecture. The prefectural capital of Yamagata City has long been a political, economic and cultural center nurturing its unique regional culture, still transmitted to this day.

Recently, through development of highway infrastructure, numerous visitors are coming to Yamagata from within and outside the prefecture, boosting economic and cultural exchange over the years.

Wonderful traditional performance arts have a long history in Yamagata, and many are still handed down nowadays. Among them, the Yamagata geiko, or geisha arts, are preserved as traditional performance arts symbolic of the region, receiving high praises from all over the country. However, while there were over 150 Yamagata geiko performers during the peak period between the Taisho and beginning of Showa eras, that number decreased with the changes of time. The decrease in number of new performers is a serious worry.

2. The Birth of Yamagata Maiko

Within all this, led by efforts from the Yamagata Chamber of Commerce and the Yamagata City Tourist Association, and with funding from companies in the city, the Yamagata dentō geinō shinkō kabushiki kaisha, (traditional performance art promotion corporation), known as the “Yamagata Beni no Kai” was founded in February 1996.

Now, young Yamagata maiko, or geisha in training, selected through tests, are heiresses to this traditional performance art. They are instructed in dance, song and shamisen, and welcome guests at dinner parties in tatami rooms, displaying Yamagata’s hospitality. They also serve as touristic ambassadors for Yamagata prefecture at various events and conventions in and out of the prefecture.

3. Meeting with Yamagata Maiko

While some cooperating restaurants can invite them for dinner parties, the Yamagata Maiko are also performing at various festivals like the Kajo Park Sakura Viewing (in April) and the Hanagasa Flower Hat Dance Festival Parade (in August). The Yamagata maiko wo sodateru kai (association for training maiko) & Yamagata geiko ikusei shien kyōgikai (council for supporting the training of geisha arts) are hosting Denshō no Yube (“Evening of tradition”) events in February and August to display to their audience the results of the maiko’s training.