Category Archives: Foods & maiko

Backstage with Hungry Maiko in Early January

In early January, maiko return to Kyoto from their New Year’s holidays.  What a change is in store!

Visiting with their families, they had a chance to let their hair down — literally. They wore casual clothes. They hung out with their old pals. And they relaxed into their local dialects.  Back in Kyoto, it’s time to assume the maiko persona once more.

Let’s look at some comic scenes in the apprentices’ return to okiya life.  They savor their last moments of vacation freedom and bring back tastes of home. These food souvenirs, called omiyage, represent an important gift-giving custom practiced throughout Japan. (That’s a topic for a future post).

Tasty Treats from around Japan

Arriving at their okiya, maiko share food gifts unique to their hometowns. Since the vast majority of maiko come from outside Kyoto, many different foods appear all at once. Each nicely wrapped.

For one example, our featured image (above) shows maple-leaf shaped Momiji manjū cakes. Filled with coarse red bean paste, they are famous in Miyajima (or Itsukushima) in Hiroshima Prefecture. Perhaps maiko hailing from Hiroshima would bring these to their okiya.

Describing the bounty of gifts, geiko Yamaguchi Kimijo writes, “It’s as though Gion turns into a department store of famous products from all over Japan.  From the ends of Kyushu in the south to Hokkaido in the north” (128).

Maiko Must Return to the Hanamachi Dialect

Musing on the January return of maiko, Yamaguchi Kimijo observes their lapse into hometown dialects. Even after a short vacation, many find using the hanamachi dialect awkward. Kimijo hears odd intonations popping up as maiko try to get back into the linguistic swing of things. Their hometown dialects are as varied as the hometown foods. Still, the rhythm of hanamachi life soon resumes.

“There’s a point when the famous local specialties from all around Japan and the hometown dialects, too, have disappeared.
That’s when the new year has truly come to Gion” (129).

Kokimi Cover

Bare-faced Geiko, 2007.

Koyama’s Maiko Enjoy Hometown Food Gifts, too

Aiko Koyama, 2017.

Imagining the maiko’s return, manga artist Aiko Koyama shows them fascinated with each other’s food gifts. These maiko munch on all sorts of goodies and take pride in their hometown foods.  “That’s mine, from Hokkaido.” “That’s mine, from Hiroshima.”

 Maiko Momohana and Friends Catch a Fast-Food Break

Aiko Koyama, 2017.

Aha!  The food action in this manga story takes a new turn when their okiya mother gives the maiko money for a last hurrah of fast food.  Off they go in their casual clothes! Once in their maiko hairstyle and kimono, they should not be seen in this contemporary realm of convenience.

At the fast-food place, they meet newly returned maiko from other okiya, too. A flurry of greetings ensues.

Maiko Momohana suggests that her group take their teriyaki burgers down to the bank of the Kamo River. It’s super windy and cold.  But Momohana appreciates the chance for them to gather incognito. Since they are dressed casually, no one knows they are maiko.  As a result, they can enjoy watching others instead of standing out themselves.

A Taste of Teenage Freedom

Aiko Koyama, 2017.

Koyama depicts even proper Momohana and cook Kiyo enjoying every bite of the huge sandwiches.  Looking at her juicy burger, another girl says, “Well, I guess today I’m not back to being a maiko yet.”

The Quest to Become a Maiko-like (maiko-rashii) Maiko

Maiko Masquerade (UC Press, 2021)

These comic moments of maiko reverting to their hometown teenage selves reminds me of the flip side—their ongoing quest to become maiko-rashii maiko.

As we see in Maiko Masquerade, contemporary maiko fiction plays with the idea of the backstage maiko striving to squelch her appetite to perform as the ideal apprentice.  The fiction trains us to admire the maiko’s work, her successful maiko-rashii moments, and empathize with her struggles.  No doubt these moments remind us of our own efforts to conform to a public role. After vacation, we, too, must once again assume our professional persona and get to work.

Formal New Year Beginnings: The Opening Ceremony

Of course, formal rituals and costume help the maiko switch back into her apprentice persona.

Gion Opening Ceremony. Sankei News, 2019.

As we saw in earlier posts, Gion Kōbu and other hanamachi hold their annual Opening Ceremony.  All the maiko and geiko dress formally, and the maiko wear a veritable bouquet of hair ornaments (kanzashi). It’s quite a sight to see them proceed through the hanamachi to the ceremony.

This glimpse into the backstage helps us appreciate the work ordinary girl must do to get in gear for the new year and perform maiko-likeness.

Next Post: Documenting the Hanamachi:  Film Review of Hannari: Geisha Modern


Today’s post explored the comical side of hungry maiko backstage.  In our next post, however, we look at filmmaker Miyuki Sohara’s attempt to capture the serious side of hanamachi culture.  We consider the film, Hannari: Geisha Modern.

Featured image: “Food in Miyajima, Hatsukaichi, Hiroshima, Japan.”
Posted by Daderot, 2001. Wikimedia Commons. This lovely photo features Momiji Manjū  Cake.

REFERENCES

Koyama Aiko. Maiko-san-chi no Makanai-san. Serialized manga. Volume 3.  Shōgakukan, 2017. “Kyoto, Once More” (Episode 27) of the manga with English translation is available online: https://mangaboat.com/manga/maiko-san-chi-no-makanai-san/ch-027/

Yamaguchi Kimijo. Suppin geiko: Kyoto Gion no ukkari nikki [Bare-faced
geiko: My haphazard diary of Gion, Kyoto]. Tokyo: LOCUS, 2007.

Jan Bardsley, “Backstage with Hungry Maiko in Early January,” janbardsley.web.unc.edu, January 27, 2022.

A Maiko Treat: Fruit Sandwiches

Fruit sandwiches?  What are these pretty  snacks?  How do they connect to maiko?  Now, here’s food for a sweet adventure!

Let’s start with the basics.  What is a fruit sandwich?

Basically, it’s a sandwich made from small pieces of juicy fruit slathered in whipped cream. They are tucked between two slices of white bread (crusts removed).  When plated, the sandwiches present the bits of fruit like enticing, edible gems.  Common fruit fillings:  strawberry, oranges, kiwi, and melon.  The sandwiches may also feature a single fruit.

In Japan, you can find fruit sandwiches in speciality stores and corner convenience stores alike. Some feature fruit cut like flowers.

How do you make a fruit sandwich?

Thanks to Just One Cookbook for permission to use this lovely photo.

Watching an experienced chef create a fruit sandwich makes it easy to understand.  Namiko Chen, host of the popular website Just One Cookbook, gives easy step-by-step directions. I enjoyed watching her video. Namiko makes the process look creative and fun. Here’s the photo from her lovely  website, too.

 

 

 

 

What’s the connection to maiko?

Kyoto Fruit Parlor Yaoiso sells fruit sandwiches. Nikkei 2019.

The owner of the Kyoto fruit shop Hosokawa told Nikkei News in 2019 that fruit sandwiches have long been a snack for maiko, geiko, and Kabuki actors. They consume them while busy with their arts lessons.  They eat the petite snacks without getting their hands dirty.

Hosokawa’s Fruit Sandwich. Nikkei, 2019.

Today, the sweet, pretty quality of the fruit sandwiches connects well to the girlish aura of maiko.  In Japan sweets consumption tends to be associated with girls and women.

 

 

 

 

Fruit sandwiches in maiko manga

Maiko-san-chi-no Makanai-san, 2017. Koyama Aiko. Vol. 3.

Koyama Aiko, author of this charming manga about maiko life, tells her own fruit sandwich tale.

It’s Christmas in the hanamachi. Clients bring strawberry and cream cakes as gifts. But maiko Momohana has been too busy to get even one bite. She feels Christmas has passed her by.

Kiyo comes to the rescue!  She finds fresh cream in the refrigerator. She whips it up, slices strawberries, and makes a tasty fruit sandwich for maiko Momohana. They have a merry Christmas snack.

Fruit sandwich for Christmas. Aiko Koyama, 2017.

One fan of Aiko Koyama’s maiko manga read this episode, too.  On her website, Mangashokudo, the fan shows readers how to make a fruit sandwich with strawberries, peaches, and mandarin oranges.

 

Fruit sandwiches are fun to make!

I had to try making one, too. With lots of help from a friend who is a very good cook. We followed the Just One Cookbook directions.

Homemade in North Carolina. 2021.

We could not find Japanese bread (shokupan) locally. But we got some white bread at a bakery nearby. Not quite the same effect, but still tasty.

 

 

 

 

 

References

Koyama Aiko.  Maiko-san-chi-no Makanai-san. Episode 23, Volume 3, 2017. For its new online anime adaptation, NHK World translates the manga title as Kiyo in Kyoto: From the Maiko House.

Yamamoto Sayo. “Did Fruit Sandwiches Originate in Kyoto?” Nihon Keizai Shinbun. January 10, 2019. (In Japanese).

Thanks again to JUST ONE COOKBOOK for permission to use their lovely photo and link to their fruit sandwich instructions. Such a wonderful website!

Jan Bardsley, “A Maiko Treat: Fruit Sandwiches,” https://janbardsley.web.unc.edu/  July 1, 2021.

Treat a Maiko to Dinner (Hint: Mac and Cheese, Please).

Fine dining.
Jamie Coupaud. Unsplash.

How do maiko get treated to fancy dinners?
What maiko misadventures occur in stories of these events?

Today’s post explains the custom of clients taking maiko out to dinner, gohan tabe. We see the custom described in a TV drama, memoir, and a girls comic.

Dining out with the dashing talent scout

Talent manager talks with maiko Yumehana and her twin Megumi. in a scene from NHK-TV drama Dandan, 2008-09.

How exciting to be on a “date” with the young dashing talent scout Ishibashi-san! Usually only her twin Megumi, a college student, gets to do fun stuff.  Dressed in her formal finery, maiko Yumehana basks in Ishibashi’s attention.  Little does she know this elegant dinner is prelude to calamity.  For now, she enjoys the delight of the gohan tabe custom–when generous, long-time clients treat a maiko to dinner at a fine restaurant.

But before we discover the path to Yumehana’s misadventure, let’s explore the changing conventions of gohan tabe.

Dinner to the rescue of the busy maiko

Fine dining. Photo by Johen Redman on Unsplash

Having only two days off per month, maiko follow a busy schedule of daytime arts lessons and evening parties. To give the maiko a break, and with the permission of her okiya mother, a client will invite her for a meal at a fine restaurant. The client pays for the maiko’s time from the point that she leaves her okiya to the time she returns. He covers all costs of the meal and taxis.  For maiko, gohan tabe events are a welcome rescue from the strict supervision of their seniors–older maiko, geiko, and teahouse managers.

Watch your table manners

Arai Mameji. 2015.

In her memoir, Arai Mameji, who became a maiko in 1969, recalls gohan tabe experiences. In the 1970s, okiya mothers accompanied maiko on these dinners. They insisted on chaperoning a maiko on any client outing. Arai also remembers being told to take care to follow proper table manners. Today, however, clients may take maiko to dinner without a chaperone.

As more women become teahouse clients, I wonder whether they, too, will participate in gohan tabe.  So far, I have seen no evidence of that.

Maiko Taste: Macaroni over Posh Cuisine

On gohan tabe outings, maiko taste an elite world of luxury dining. But many report feeling out of their depth. French menus, elaborate table settings, and hushed environments are all new.  Fictional maiko are befuddled, too.

Maiko Momohana dines out with client and okiya mother. Koyama Aiko. Maiko-san-chi no Makanai-san, Vol. 4, Episode 40. page 116. (2017).

After paying for an exorbitantly priced meal, clients may be surprised to learn that maiko much prefer macaroni.  This scene from Koyama Aiko’s maiko cooking manga shows Momohana on a gohan tabe outing. Having no idea how to read the menu, she orders what her mother does.  Later, she tells other maiko that she has no idea what she ate. Back home at the okiya, she happily tucks into macaroni gratin.

Maiko Yumehana’s Gohan tabe Mishap

Returning to maiko Yumehana’s dinner with Ishibashi, we notice an unusual situation. Most teahouse clients are much older men, but Ishibashi is only in his twenties.  This transforms gohan tabe into a cool date.

Twins Nozomi (maiko Yumehana) and Megumi harmonize magically. Here they are in Megumi’s hometown Matsue. https://www.pref.shimane.lg.jp/admin/seisaku/koho/photo/172/4.html

Calamity ensues when Ishibashi coaxes Yumehana to accompany him next to a “live house,” a young people’s hang out with live music. A talent scout, Ishibashi wants Yumehana to become a professional pop singer. Soon we see maiko Yumehana singing a pop song with Megumi at the live house. Big mistake! 

Actress Ishida Hikari as geiko Hanayuki.https://www2.nhk.or.jp/archives/jinbutsu/detail.cgidas_id=D0009070162_00000

Suddenly, Yumehana’s geisha mother Hanayuki appears! She catches Yumehana in the act of disrespecting her maiko uniform.  Ever the poised professional, Hanayuki gently scolds Ishibashi. She thanks him for inviting Yumehana to gohan tabe, but reminds him of the custom’s boundaries. At teahouse parties, he may request any maiko dance in Yumehana’s repertoire. However, he must never ask her to go beyond the bounds of the maiko’s traditional arts.  She cannot sing pop songs and certainly not dressed as a maiko. Yumehana must hurry to her next engagement, unsettled by her love of pop singing (and affection for Ishibashi).

For Hanayuki, this is definitely a case of gohan tabe gone wrong.