KYOTO – Expensive guided tours and accommodations that give wealthy visitors to Japan rare opportunities to experience traditional culture in the historical city of Kyoto are picking up steam.
Services include the company of traditional female entertainers, known as maiko and geiko, a rare experience for non-Japanese in particular, as well as temple lodgings that cost a whopping ¥1 million a night.
They are intended to meet growing demand among foreign tourists to have a traditional experience in Kyoto, as visitors’ priorities are shifting from buying goods to experiencing unique events.
Exclusive Kyoto Inc. started an ozashiki experience service in 2016 in entertainment districts such as Gion, where it is still tradition to refuse first-time customers, enabling non-Japanese the chance to enjoy conversations, facilitated by an interpreter, with maiko and geiko in a tatami room and be entertained by their traditional dances.
The service is more expensive than the price charged to regular customers, mainly due to guide fees.
Around 80 groups have used the service so far.
“We want to offer foreigners a real experience of Kyoto entertainment, while paying maximum respect to local traditions,” said Kenji Sawada, chief executive officer of Exclusive Kyoto.
Ninnaji, a Buddhist temple and UNESCO World Heritage site, began offering stays in a renovated wooden residence called Shorinan in spring 2018.
The residence can accommodate only one group at a time at ¥1 million per night, excluding tax.
During their stay, lodgers are allowed to use the Goten complex usually used as the chief priest’s office. They can also enjoy, for an extra charge, various Japanese cultural experiences such as gagaku (ancient court music) and ikebana flower arrangements.
“We accept the ¥1 million fee in part as a donation to the temple,” said Chiho Kamoi, a priest in charge of the temple’s clerical work.
The number of visitors to Ninnaji dropped some 10 percent last year from 2012, causing a decline in the temple’s revenues. It aims to use part of the income from accommodation fees for repair and maintenance work.
The Thousand Kyoto, a new hotel that opened in January this year, offers paid services according to customers’ wishes, such as visiting temples that are not normally open to the public. The hotel charges around ¥60,000 to ¥220,000 per night.
“Amid growing demand for experience-based consumption, we want to raise customer satisfaction by offering high-quality services,” a hotel employee said.