• Beniko

31. Ichigensan Okotowari, Members Only

It's a well-known fact that there are some places in Kyoto where first time customers are not accepted unless they have introductions.

This custom is referred to as Ichigensan Okotowari (一見さん: fist time customers without introductions, お断り: we do not accept). Nowadays, the number of these places are decreasing, but some Ochaya (お茶屋, Maiko banquet venues) or restaurants in Hanamachi (花街, districts where Maiko and Geiko reside and work), still employ this custom.

Regarding Ichigensan, I had a very embarrassing moment when I was a new Maiko (舞妓).

One evening, a gentle man came to our Okiya (置屋, lodging house for Maiko). Since his face was not familiar to me, I told him "I regret to inform you but we cannot accept any Ichigensan customers." He replied "It's very pity" and walked away, but for my surprise, he came back a little later and gave me a box of cakes.

He said "This is a souvenir to you. Since I already have met you previously tonight, I assume I am no longer an Ichigensan. Am I right?" I thought he was very bright and I was all smile. I told my Okasan (お母さん, the female owner of Okiya) that there was a stranger with a box of cakes at the door, and I was told to guide him to the guest room.

As Okasan opened the sliding door of the guest room to see the MYSTERIOUS customer's face, she panicked and rushed back to the kitchen all aghast and fuming. "You, stupid! He's not an Ichigensan at all!! He's our most important customer!!! Haven't you seen his face?!" I was terribly scolded and taught that he was the CEO of very famous company.

In my defense, yes, I had known the name of his company, but how could I know his face? I was new and had never called to the Ozashiki (お座敷, Maiko banquet venue) for such celebrities. I made thousands of apologies to him, and he was still a gentleman encouraging me, saying "It's OK. Don't worry. I'm just a sales person".

I think Okasan was right. I should have learned a lot more about our customers before serving at Ozashiki. I still turn pale just to remember the night.

Thank you so much.

Talk to you soon.