A wall full of bright mokuroku posters! Typically, they mark the debut of a new maiko or geiko. But these posters cleverly celebrate the upcoming premiere of a maiko movie. It’s the 2014 musical, Lady Maiko, loosely based on My Fair Lady.
What’s the story of actual mokuroku? How do we read their signs? We explore these questions in today’s blogpost, returning to read this maiko movie poster, too.
What is the mokuroku?
Photos of debuting maiko and geiko often show them sitting in front of large, red-rimmed, gaily colored posters (mokuroku目録). The abundance of bright color and good wishes celebrates their career milestone. Although books on the hanamachi frequently show these vivid posters, few explain them.
Who commissions mokuroku?
Supporters of the new maiko or geiko—regular teahouse clients, elder sister geiko, Kabuki actors, and others associated with her hanamachi—have mokuroku made and sent to her okiya. There, they will be hung on the walls in the entrance and outside the okiya, too. They will be up for a short period, from a few days before the event to a few days after. My sources report that it’s unclear when this practice started.
How large are mokuroku? What materials are used?
Mokuroku are roughly 100 x 80 centimeters (40 x 32 inches). The paper is hōshogami (奉書紙), defined by Jim Breen as a “variant of traditional white Japanese paper, made from high-quality mulberry wood.”
In the past artists used natural mineral pigments for color, but today they use acrylic paints. They also use black ink. It appears that mokuroku cost about 7,000 yen (roughly US$70) apiece.
How do women remember the mokuroku gifted them? One former maiko-geiko describes her reaction.
“I was lucky to have many mokuroku displayed…My goodness, what a festive sight it was.”
In her 2015 memoir, Gion leader Arai Mameji, who debuted as a maiko in 1969, recalls the many mokuroku brought to her okiya by the dresser on the day before her misedashi (debut). Each one bore the name of the supporter who had gifted it.
Arai exclaims, “I was lucky to have many mokuroku displayed. Naturally, they were hung on the walls, but even on the ceiling, too. My goodness, what a festive sight it was” (26).
She credits her resourceful elder geiko sister for using her own network to encourage this support. Since a new maiko has no clients, Arai writes, she must depend on the active support of her elder sister. Arai reports that the mokuroku custom began in Gion, finding favor in other hanamachi, too.
Let’s take a closer look at one mokuroku to learn the conventions.
This dynamic mokuroku was created by the current head of Eirakuya, the fourteenth Hosotsuji Ihee. Eirakuya is the legendary textile firm in Kyoto. Hosotsuji Ihee displays this mokuroku on his blog: http://eirakuya.jugem.jp/?eid=783
Who does this mokuroku honor?
You will find the new maiko or geiko’s name in large script to the left.
- (Left): The maiko’s name here is Mamechiho 豆ちほ
- (Lower left): Literally, “to [Mamechiho] san.” さん江
江 is an ateji, a character used for its sound.
The usual kana would be へ, used to indicate to whom something is directed.
Who is congratulating her? Eirakuya Hosotsuji Ihee
Hosotsuji Ihee 細辻伊兵衛 has written his name diagonally. Read this right-to-left. He is also the artist of this mokuroku.
The red strip below the artist’s name is a decorative element commonly used in congratulatory greetings and, as thin strips of paper, on gifts: noshi 熨斗. This one signifies that the name above is that of the donor.
What is in the middle? Good luck symbols
You will find large, multicolored good luck symbols, engimono 縁起物 in the center of every maiko mokuroku.
The charms: Ebisu (left), the sea bream and god of good luck, 恵比寿; Daikokuten (right), a god of prosperity 大黒天; and round “gold” coins, koban 小判. These “lucky grass” arrangements are also associated with the January celebrations at Ebisu Shrines in the Kansai area.
JAPAN INFO has good explanations of several engimono: https://jpninfo.com/8046. Here’s another example of Lucky Grass with charms attached:
What is written at the top of mokuroku?
Hopes for good fortune
The mokuroku artist chooses among several fixed celebratory phrases to pen at the top of the poster in sumi ink. Here are some common ones. I give the ones that appear in this mokuroku in red:
Ichihigara: 一日柄：Better every day
Hibi ni kagayaku: 日々輝く： Every day may you shine even more
Hibi ni noboru: 日々昇： Every day may you ascend even higher
Hibi ni nigiwai：日々賑わい： Every day do a thriving business
Takusan たくさん：Much [success]
Daininki 大人気：Great popularity [Note the abbreviation of the old form of 氣 as 米]
What is in the top right hand corner? More noshi
Want to see many more maiko mokuroku?
Try using the kanji for “maiko mokuroku” 舞妓目録 in the search engine. (If you only put mokuroku目録, you will find the envelopes and certificates used for other celebratory events in Japan).
You’ll notice that the basic layout of the poster remains the same, but the lucky charms in the middle, and of course, the names of the donor/recipient change.
What about the mokuroku movie poster?
How does our new knowledge of mokuroku conventions let us in on the humor of the movie poster with which we began?
We see the same congratulatory messages at the top and good luck charms at center. But the “maiko” name? It’s that of the film’s “maiko” actress, Ms. Mone Kamishiraishi 上白石 萌音 She’s pictured here wearing a red skirt and white blouse. The lovely umbrellas, also associated with maiko, celebrate the movie, too. On the left, the movie’s Japanese title, and to the right, “Great hit! Great hit!” A smart way to use hanamachi custom to promote this maiko musical.
Wishing you much success this week!
Ōta Tōru and Hiratake Kōzō, eds. Kyō no kagai: Hito, waza, machi [Kyoto’s hanamachi: People, arts, towns]. Tokyo: Nippon Hyōronsha, 2009.
Suo Masayuki, dir. Maiko wa redī [Lady Maiko]. Tokyo: Toho, 2014.
Jan Bardsley, “The Artful Debut, Congratulatory Mokuroku Posters,” https://janbardsley.web.unc.edu/ April 5, 2021.