These establishments are the teahouses where geisha and maiko entertain clients with song, dance and poetry, also offering food, drink and conversation. Geisha do not live in teahouses but have separate accomodation in okiya. The origin of the modern ochaya dates back to 1712, when the ochaya of Gion were given licenses permitting geisha entertainment by the Tokugawa Shogunate.

Ochaya are mostly wooden, traditional structures with two floors and protruding windows. The windows have lattices (bengara goshi) on the ground floor and reed screens (sudare) on the first floor. This protects clients' privacy. The most exclusive ochaya often have a wall around the premises and all have a curtain (noren) over the entrace, usually with the name of the teahouse on it.

One of the most famous ochaya still around is the Ichiriki Ochaya in Gion, Kyoto. Many of the teahouses were burnt down in 1864 during a civil war that engulfed much of Japan. There are only around 100 left, most of which are concentrated in the Kyoto districts of Shirakawa and Gion, though there are some left in Tokyo and the rest of the country.

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