Stanley Stewart was a guest of Ampersand Travel (020 7819 9770; ampersand travel.com), which offers 10-day itineraries to Japan from £6,600 per person with stays in Tokyo, Kawazu, Shuzenji, Osaka, Kurashiki, Kikunoya and Kanazawa. The price includes international flights, car hire on Izu Peninsula, bullet train travel, entrance fees and private guiding. The Art of Travel (theartoftravel. net) arranges unique experiences in Japan, from visits to gold leaf lacquerware artists to martial arts lessons. A geisha evening in Kanazawa with a night in a Japanese house costs from £945.
thoughts of The Four Seasons were forgotten. Her playing was exquisite – haunting, feminine, melancholy. While Emiya played, Yoko, the translator, leaned towards me and whispered: “She has lost her prince. There has been a heartbreak.” In the stilted atmosphere of this strange evening, this revelation of emotion was startling.
When the geisha returned to the table, we chatted politely about Kanazawa’s 16th-century castle and the exquisite Kenrokuen gardens, among the finest in Japan. Then suddenly, just as I was getting into the whole geisha thing – the music, the sake, the more intimate atmosphere, the poisonous blowfish – our appointment was over. Holding me by the elbow, Emiya kindly steered me towards the door. Any unsteadiness wasn’t the sake. Both of my legs had fallen asleep.
There was more bowing, there were expressions of regret and thanks. Emiya pointed the way and called fluting salutations after me. Outside in the dark lane, I turned to wave. She stood in the doorway, the lighted room behind her. The melancholy rain, namida ame, washed across the yard. “You have wonderful hair,” I called back to her.
Emiya smiled, raising a hand to one of the lacquered pins. Then she spoke, a little haltingly, for the first time in English.
“It is not real,” she called across the yard. “It is a wig.”