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  • Writer's pictureRobin Yong

Imobou いもぼう平野家本家

Updated: Jan 16

I enjoy going to outings with my friend Aoi Tayū.

She takes me to the best places in Kyoto. This is my 35th time in Japan, yet she surprises me with new locations and sights.

Our itinerary for the day - a visit to a private imperial temple (closed to the public), lunch at a 300 year old restaurant, a walk at Philosopher’s Path in the afternoon, signing autographs at Aoi Hotel in the evening…

This is Imobou, a very famous restaurant in Gion. The long-established restaurant Imobou ''Hiranoya Honten'' was founded in the Kyoho era (1716-1736) in the middle of the Edo period. With the traditional Kyoto specialty "Imobou" on its signboard, the store has been around since the 1700s, and although there have been ups and downs, the store has passed down the noren and the secret methods handed down from generation to generation, and continues to this day. A traditional Kyoto dish, made by boiling taro with dried cod, it is simple but has a rich flavor, which brings customers back time and again for more. An Imobo Tray, with imobo and side dishes such as Gion tofu, is very popular and serves as an easy introduction to this dish. The specialty "Imobou" is the only Kyoto flavor that cannot be imitated anywhere in the country.

Since ancient times, the restaurant has been cherished by the imperial family and visited by many Japanese writers and artists. The rooms in the restaurant are all decorated with famous Japanese paintings and screens.

Tayū (太夫) are the highest class of traditional entertainer in Japan. Though technically the highest class of geisha, a general term for the highest-ranking entertainers, tayū were distinguished historically from other geisha by the quality of their intensive training from a young age in numerous traditional artforms, and that they lived and worked in Kyoto, the capital of Japan, which remained the center of culture when the capital moved to Tokyo. Tayū were known for their training in Japanese tea ceremony, kōdō, ikebana, Japanese calligraphy, poetry, dance, singing, and the playing of traditional instruments, such as the koto. Tayū differed from lower ranks of geisha by the social class of their customers. Traditionally, tayū catered for the uppermost echelons of society, including the nobility and the imperial court. Tayū were recognised as a group in the beginning of the Edo period. Due to the limited size of their clientele, they were never numerous; during their peak there were approximately 40 tayū working in Kyoto in the Shimabara district. Tayū have survived into the modern day in Shimabara, Kyoto, having been allowed to continue practising the cultural and performing arts traditions of their profession; they were declared a highest level of geisha.

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