To be able to enjoy Japan for 2-3 months, we were planning to try volunteering. For a start, we found a 2-week stay just before arriving to Tokyo and were very excited to help an organisation that “works to maintain Japanese traditions”, getting free accommodation in exchange for ~4h of work per day. Little did we know that we were headed to the house of a secretive geisha, who doesn’t want people to find out about her work until they meet her. Adventure time!


Geisha fan dance that we attended (artsy colour effect – signed by Cesar)

Before we continue – what’s a “geisha”? It’s an artist skilled in Japanese music, dance and other traditional arts like tea ceremony, who usually entertains in small settings like dinners and special occasions. Becoming a geisha is quite a big deal because it takes lots of learning and being accepted into a traditional geisha house etc.

So how did the geisha want us to help? Firstly, she needed ongoing help with maintaining her social media profile and making sure that she appears high on Google search, so that clients book more entertainment sessions with her. She is also training a young lady to become a geisha, which requires ongoing revenue for music classes etc; for this she wanted to try crowdfunding, so we helped setup her campaign. But we also did lots of manual work like cutting brochures, washing&ironing geisha under-kimonos, cleaning the house and welcoming airbnb guests (yep, a geisha revenue diversification strategy 😛

Here’s a bit about the place where we lived, along with the geisha, other helpers and occasional airbnb guests, in a merry mess of futons rolled out everywhere on the tatamis:


We were able to watch them get ready for an event, and the overall process takes about 3 hours. Ever wondered how those geisha dress up? Here’s a guide – how to look like a a geisha in 14 simple steps 😛

They invited us to attend some events with them, and we said yes to everything! We accompanied them to a Japanese arts and crafts exhibition, saw geisha dance shows and even attended a class of shamisen (3-string guitar) where we learned to play and sing the “Sakura” song 😀 It’s very catchy, now we keep singing it in the shower…


In case you are wondering what a shamisen sounds like, here’s a short video from the class. As you will see, the singing is really weird and funny 😀

So this was all a lot of fun, but we actually did some hard work as well. We were in charge of keeping the house clean, including washing toilets or taking laundry to the laundromat.

Taking the laundry to the laundromat - like a local :)

With my laundry basket – like a local 🙂


In the automated laundromat – imagine how long it took to figure out how this works… thankfully there is Google Translate!

We also spent 3 days at the geisha’s friend’s house to remove some mess so that she can become an airbnb host. That lady had accumulated so much mess during 30 years of life that you could hardly step around boxes and packages in the house. She was also reluctant to throw anything away, so after struggling for a day we decided to just pile everything up in one room. The result was like in those TV shows where they remodel the house, and when the owners see it, they cry of joy. Mariko-san and her mother were so happy, they just kept repeating “bery bery happi” and bought us extra cakes at the end ;D

So here’s on our first volunteering experience – it was definitely worth it! We met so many different people, saw things we would not have seen otherwise, and took our time to explore Tokyo, hanging out in the different neighbourhoods our free afternoons. More about Tokyo in the next post!