Kagai, literally means "Flower town", is the designated area where Geisha houses are allowed to do business. Kagai in Kagurazaka has been developing since Meiji era (End of 19th century) to be one of the major six Kagais in Tokyo. Let us learn the basic knowledge about Kagai and its system.
"Kagai" in our time is the designated zone for Geisha or Geigi (Geisha is common name in Tokyo and Geigi is common in Kyoto) to be allowed to work by the government. The world for Geisha and Geigi is called "Karyuukai", which means the world for flowers and willow trees. This name comes from a tradition that an old Chinese poet in Song Dinasty wrote in his poem "Willows are green and flowers are red". Beautiful green of the willows and glossy red of the flowers combined to make a brilliant image similar to Kagai, then this expression came down to Japan and widely spread.
Most common misunderstanding is the idea that Geisha is courtesan. In the past, both Geisha and courtesans belonged to Kagai, but the two professions were clearly distinguished each other. Geisha was a woman who has mastered some arts like singing, dancing or playing musical instrument and shows her performance at the liquor party. She did not sell her body for money. Kagai of the day is the place where we can invite Geisha to a party and enjoy their artistic performance there.
In Tokyo, there are six famous Kagais such as Shinbashi, Akasaka, Yoshicho, Mukoujima, Asakusa, and Kagurazaka. About 20 Geishas are now in Kagurazaka.
Kitagawa Utamaro 「Snow in Fukagawa」
Kagai is also called Sangyoochi (area for 3-business). It means that Machiai, Ryooriya, and Okiya, these three businesses are allowed only in this area. These 3 businesses set up a union whose office is called Kenban. In Kagurazaka, Kenban is located at 3-Chome and its front street is called Kenban yokochoo. Machiai offers rooms for the guests to have a dinner. Ryooriya prepare and deliver cooked dishes to Machiai. Okiya is a kind of talent agency who manages Geisha. Geisha is dispached from Okiya to Machiai through Kenban. This is the traditional system of Kagai.
After WW II, as Machiai and Ryooriya have been merged to be Ryootei who themselves prepare dishes for the guests, thus 3-business often changes to 2-business. Currently, there are 4 houses of
Ryootei in Kagurazaka, i.e. Uwotoku, Chigetu, Maki, and Yukimoto.