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Ichigensan Okotowari, No Entry without Introduction

In Kyoto, it’s a well-known fact that there are considerable number of shops and restaurants where first time customers are refused to enter 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 getting decreased, however, still do exist in Hanamachi (花街, districts where Maiko and Geiko reside and work), especially among Ochaya (お茶屋, Maiko banquet venues) and restaurants.

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

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 to my surprise, he came back a little later and gave me a box of cake.

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 couldn’t help smiling. I told my Okasan (お母さん, the female owner of Okiya) that there was a stranger with a box of cake at the door, and I was told by her to guide the stranger to the guest room.

As she opened the sliding door of the guest room to see the MYSTERIOUS customer’s face, she 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 very famous business person/president of a very renowned company.

In my defense, it’s true that I had known the name of the company, but how could I know his face? I just had my debut and had never called to the Ozashiki for such celebrities!

I made a thousand apologies to him, and he was still a gentleman encouraging me, saying “I’m just a sales person”. I think Okasan was right. I shoud 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.