A maiko learns the proper etiquette for parties (ozashiki) at teahouses (ochaya). But what behaviors must she avoid?
Maiko Ichimame describes some basics in her 2007 book, Maiko Etiquette. The book’s illustrator Katsuyama Keiko catches our attention with her comic of maiko taboos, featured here.
What do the taboos tell us about the maiko’s role at teahouse parties? First of all, we see a concern for aesthetics: the maiko must move beautifully. We also see that attending parties is part of a maiko’s job. She is not there to have fun, but to ensure the guests enjoy themselves. She must remain alert to the guests’ needs. This way she shows respect and concern for her guests.
As I describe in Maiko Masquerade, etiquette training, along with dance lessons, mark the most important aspects of maiko training. Contemporary guides to the hanamachi in Japanese celebrate the maiko’s performance of Japanese etiquette. Although Ichimame explains many aspects of her maiko life in this personal account, she titles her book, Maiko Etiquette. Katsuyama Keiko’s lively illustrations keep the book’s mood light, making even a lesson about taboos fun to contemplate.
Do not pour backhanded.
Always face the guest to pour a beverage. Ichimame explains that in the past when a warrior would commit seppuku, he would wield the sword backhanded. (Not a good look at a party!)
When the client offers to pour your drink, do not offer your cup with one hand.
Hold your cup with both hands when offering it and when drinking from it.
Hold the sake cup in your right hand and support it with your left hand. Do the same thing with cups or glasses for other beverages.
If you absolutely must use one hand to pass something to the guest who is somewhat distant from you, say, “Onīsan (Elder brother), I apologize for passing with one hand.” お兄さん、片手ですんまへん。
[Male clients are generally addressed as Onīsan (elder brother), female clients as Onēsan (elder sister). Ichimame’s reference implies that clients are typically men].
Rest your hands on your knees when talking with clients.
Don’t rest your hands on the table. Of course, never rest your elbows on the table either.
Do not rest your hips directly on the tatami.
Even when sitting formally (seiza) makes your legs sore, do not move so that your hips are directly on the tatami floor. Rather, move your feet into the ハ position and rest on them. Sit up straight. Push your weight to the front. If you feel like your legs are going to fall asleep then make an excuse so you can stand up and move. You might say that you need to get more sake or something like that.
An interesting article on how to sit in the formal seiza style.
Do not disrupt the party by getting up too much.
Of course, it’s a maiko’s job to make sure that nothing is needed at the party. If more beverages or something else is needed, she should offer to take care of it. But even if moving quickly to replenish drinks, the maiko must do so quietly, not making a lot of noise.
Do not talk with guests from a standing position.
At parties held in a tatami room, everyone will be seated on cushions on the floor. Sometimes a guest will start talking with a maiko just when she has stood up. It would be rude for her to answer from this “higher” position. She should only respond after sitting back down on the tatami herself.
Do not become intoxicated.
Sometimes at parties, maiko Ichimame, too, is offered sake. While she may taste a little, she also asks for water or tea to drink rather than sake. No one wants to see a tipsy maiko!
Kamishichiken Ichimame. Maiko etiquette. Copyright © 2007. Daiwa Shobō. pages 84-86. Illustrated by Katsuyama Keiko, p. 86.
Jan Bardsley, “A Maiko’s Party Manners: Taboo Behaviors at Ozashiki,” Janbardsley.web.unc.edu. July 8, 2021