Professor Emerita, Asian and Middle Eastern Studies, UNC Chapel Hill

Category: Maiko and artwork

Imagining a Maiko Halloween Party

What would a Halloween party for and by maiko look like?  Kyoto textile firm Eirakuya imagines just such an event.  Their bright orange tenugui (cloth hand-towel) titled, “The Maiko Girls’ Halloween” offers ghoulish fun. [Click on the link to see the full image and to see how it looks framed in a tokonoma].

Here, we see maiko mixing with ghosts, Dracula, and witches.  Eirakuya’s maiko costume for the party, too. One sports a witch’s wide black hat, another holds a spooky candelabra, and still another holds the devil’s pitchfork for herding innocents into its clutches. It’s funny to imagine these girlish paragons of Kyoto protocol mixing it up with these icons of the supernatural.

In today’s blog, we look at some ways Halloween has become part of Japanese popular culture. There’s fun, food, and costumes for all ages.

Sweet Japanese Halloween Treats

Halloween wagashi. 2021.

Japanese wagashi, sweet treats, dress up for Halloween, too.  The blog grape reports how these adorable candy ghouls have returned to convenience stores in 2021. Although cosplay figures more in Japanese Halloween celebrations than “trick or treat” these kawaii sweets would certainly fit a maiko Halloween party.

Halloween in Japanese Children’s Books


Delightful picture books introduce young children to the holiday. Halloween Hide and Seek (2016) by Ishikawa Kouji stimulates children’s imaginations. Hidden shapes appear when you turn the page. Ghosts, witches, and Jack O’Lanterns pop out. Who, Who? Halloween (2020) by Egashira Michiko features the little girl Fu-chan trying to guess the identity of each of her costumed friends. In the end, all join in a costume parade, followed by a party.

Halloween Revelry in Japanese Urban Spaces

Halloween Banana. Osaka 2015. Mr. Chura san. Wiki.

You can find Halloween revelers on Tokyo trains. They also take over  entertainment hubs like Tokyo’s Ikebukuro, Shibuya scramble crossing, and Osaka’s Shinsaibashi.  According to the Japan Rail Pass site, Tokyo Disneyland’s Halloween event in 2000 kicked off the popularity of the holiday in Japan.


University Students’ Halloween Carnivals

Kyoto University of Foreign Studies. 2018.

Students at Kyoto University of Foreign Studies embrace the city’s Halloween festivities.  It’s a way to foster good relations between Kyoto residents, shop owners, and the city’s college students. In 2018, costumed students joined in the city’s Halloween parade.



The Geiko’s Bespoke Halloween Kimono

Remember the vibrant geiko Kokimi, author of Barefaced Geiko?  We explore her charming 2007 book about Gion life in Maiko Masquerade.  She doesn’t mention Halloween as an event that year.  But it turns out this chic geiko likes goblins, too.

Three years ago, Kokimi commissioned an orange striped kimono, complete with ghosts and witches, to wear in her exclusive bar. She does not wear it in public.  For pictures of Kokimi wearing this Halloween-inspired kimono and the long process of creating it, see Naosuke’s blog.



For much more on where and how to celebrate Halloween in Japan 2021, see Japan Wonder Travel Blog

Jan Bardsley, “Imagining a Maiko Halloween Party,”, October 30, 2021.


The Maiko Godzilla Face-Off

As Kyoto’s mascots, maiko often welcome VIPs to the Old Capital.  Maiko have greeted U.S. presidents, British royalty, and famed artists.  But Godzilla?  What’s behind this fantasy assignment?

Today’s post explores this Kyoto tourist campaign, its Godzilla goods, and ponders the imagined Maiko Godzilla face-off.  We also reflect on these two Japanese icons’ journey from victims in the 1950s to cute ambassadors today.

Godzilla Comes to the Old Capital: Godzilla vs. Kyoto

This eye-catching poster by Nakamura Yusuke promotes the 2021 tourist campaign Godzilla vs. Kyoto.

This Godzilla summer series of activities (stamp rallies; Godzilla film showings) takes one to various places in Kyoto.  Stamp rally collectors visit Kyoto Station, Tōji Temple, and six places in the Kyoto Tower.

The Godzilla Art of KAIDA Yuji
By YUJI KAIDA. Titan Books, forthcoming October 2021.

Godzilla vs. Kyoto also features exhibits of original Godzilla-themed art by monster illustrators Yuji Kaida and Nishikawa Shinji.  In April, the Kyoto International Manga Museum invited visitors to Nishikawa’s  “live drawing” event.

Although the series opened in April 2021, it paused due to the pandemic emergency.  Reopened, it has been extended through August. Organizers remind visitors to wear masks, practice social distancing, and avoid alcohol.


Godzilla Goods: Grooming the Monster Kyoto-Style

Image of Godzilla as an advertisment for a giant towelette

Towelette for Godzilla. July 2021.

The Godzilla towelette is just one of many goods devised by Kyoto businesses to sell during the Godzilla vs. Kyoto events.  The typical towelettes (aburatori-gami) are slim, delicate papers. They fit easily in the palm of your hand. One uses them to remove make-up and blot facial oil.

About 33 times the size of the usual ones, these giant papers perfectly suit Godzilla.  [Hard to imagine Godzilla feeling the need to get the shine off his nose, but he does have his close-ups].  Online at the Godzilla Store.

The towelette gives Godzilla hands-on experience with Kyoto tradition.

The Kyoto cosmetics store Yojiya claims to have sold the first towelettes in 1920. They quickly became popular with geisha and Kabuki actors who used make-up professionally. The Yojiya site remarks, “The circumstances of its creation could only have happened in Kyoto, the capital of Japanese cinema.”   How fitting that Godzilla, a cinematic star himself, would enjoy a Kyoto towelette super-sized for him.

The Maiko Vs. Godzilla Face-Off

In Nakamura’s poster, Godzilla looks ferocious. He’s ready to snap off Kyoto Tower.  Is he going to unleash his atomic breath on the maiko? Or ravish the beauty like King Kong? The maiko remains calm, meeting his gaze.



Nakamura’s poster suggests a sly Kyoto vs Tokyo competition.  Kyoto has the winsome but fearless girl who embodies the movement of tradition into a modern sphere. Tokyo has the hideous monster, specter of modernity gone amuck.  “No thanks!” the maiko seems to say. “Stay in your lane, Godzilla-kun.  Hands off our tower.”

The Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics, postponed to July 2021, offer an intriguing background.  The Kyoto Tower, opened in December 1964, a couple months after the Tokyo Olympics.  Tokyo may have a delayed Olympics this year, but Godzilla is visiting Kyoto and its Tower!

A Comic Diversion amid Olympic Concerns

Adorable monsters and tourists stroll across the bottom of Nakamura’s poster. They create a lighthearted pop cultural moment, moving freely in public after isolation. Here, sadly, the poster’s optimism belies the unabated spread of the pandemic in 2021, the slow roll-out of the vaccine in Japan, and  opposition in Japan to holding the Olympics amid the pandemic. The monsters pose a cheerful deflection.

A Different Story of Godzilla and Maiko in the 1950s

Charming icons of cute today, the monster and the maiko represented quite different views of Japan in the 1950s.

Original movie poster of Godzilla

Godzilla 1954 Japanese poster. Wikimedia Commons.

The original 1954 Japanese film, pronounced Gojira, aimed for an adult audience. It carried a serious, anti-nuclear message.  Godzilla was a peaceable, deep-sea giant who was mutated by U.S. hydrogen bomb testing in the South Pacific.  The trauma causes him to rise and attack Tokyo (Tsutsui 2010). In 1954, Godzilla resonated in Japan with the traumas of war, defeat, occupation, and of course, the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  Also in 1954, Japanese fishermen aboard the Lucky Dragon suffered radiation poisoning amid U.S. nuclear testing on Bikini Atoll.

In the 1960s, however, in the era of Japan’s high-speed economic growth, Japanese Godzilla producers wanted to appeal to children. They tamed the monster’s image (Guthrie-Shimizu 59). Gerow observes that “Godzilla shifts from being a frightening beast to a fatherly hero defending Japan” (64).  Between 1954 and 2004, Godzilla appeared in 28 Toho studios films (Tsutsui  2010: 79). Today, like Hello Kitty, Godzilla has become “camp/cool”; both are globally famous as Japanese icons (Yano 153).

Godzilla, Cultural Ambassador

Movie poster of Godzilla, King of the Monsters advertises the 1956 film release

1956 movie poster. Wikipedia.

As Tsutsui observes, Godzilla served as many moviegoers’ first introduction to Japan (2006: 2).  The American adaptation, Godzilla, King of the Monsters!, debuted in the U.S. in 1956, billed as another among a spate of monster B-movies (Guthrie-Shimizu 52-53).  Anti-American messages or serious reflections on nuclear issues were removed. Reflecting on Godzilla’s status as a long-time ambassador for Japanese popular culture, Tsutsui notes that a “1985 New York Times/ CBS News Poll famously found that the king of the monsters was one of the three best-known ‘Japanese people’ among Americans (2006: 2).

The Maiko’s Changing Representation

Gion Bayashi poster.

In the 1950s top-selling Japanese films about maiko represented her as victim, too. As I discuss in Ch. 4 in Maiko Masquerade, Mizoguchi’s 1953 film A Geisha (Gion bayashi), for example, depicts the maiko as harassed by clients and teahouse managers alike. Mizoguchi sees her world as beautiful and artistic, but also corrupt.

Maiko-san-chi no Makanai-san, manga by Koyama Aiko. 2017

Maiko tales of the 2000s tell a different story. The popular manga, now anime, Kiyo in Kyoto: From the Maiko House imagines a girls’ world of friendship and comfort foods. Like Godzilla in Nakamura’s poster, she, too, stands for playful Japan.



Toying with the Maiko Godzilla Face-off .

Toy icons.  Chapel Hill, NC 2021


For all things Godzilla, see the work of William M. Tsutsui:

Godzilla on My Mind: Fifty Years of the King of Monsters. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004.

In Godzilla’s Footsteps: Japanese Pop Culture Icons on the Global Stage. Co-edited with Michiko Ito. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006.

Japanese Popular Culture and Globalization. Key Issues in Asian Studies. Ann Arbor, MI: Association for Asian Studies, Inc., 2010.

Just a few of the provocative articles in Tsutsui & Ito’s co-edited book:

Gerow, Aaron. “Wrestling with Godzilla: Intertextuality, Childish Spectatorship, and the National Body.”  63-82 in In Godzilla’s Footsteps.

Guthrie-Shimizu, Sayuri. “Lost in Translation and Morphed in Transit: Godzilla in Cold War America.” 51-62 in In Godzilla’s Footsteps.

Yano, Christine R.  “Monstering the Japanese Cute: Pink Globalization and Its Critics Abroad.” 153- 66 in In Godzilla’s Footsteps.

Jan Bardsley, “The Maiko Godzilla Face-Off,”  July 23, 2021.

Mokuroku celebrate cast of Lady Maiko.

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?

On the day of her debut, the maiko sits before mokuroku sent in her honor. Sankei West 2015.12.11

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.”

Arai Mameji. 2015. Gion Mameji: Chotto mukashi no Gion machi
(Mameji of the Gion: The Gion of Recent Past).
Tokyo: Asahi Shimbun Publications, Inc.

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:

Who does this mokuroku honor?

You will find the new maiko or geiko’s name in large script to the left.

  1. (Left): The maiko’s name here is Mamechiho 豆ちほ
  2. (Lower left): Literally, “to [Mamechiho] san.” さん江

is an ateji, a character used for its sound.
The usual kana would be , used to indicate to whom something is directed.

Who is congratulating her? Eirakuya Hosotsuji Ihee

You will find the well-wisher’s name in large script in the lower right/lower center. Eirakuya  永楽屋  the firm’s name, (to the right) is written vertically here and read top-to-bottom.

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.

This mokuroku has a cluster of good luck symbols. We see the “lucky bamboo grass” (fukuzasa 福笹) with lucky charms attached.

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:    Here’s another example of Lucky Grass with charms attached:

Lucky Grass. Garden Plus.

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?

Mokuroku celebrate cast of Lady Maiko.

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,” April 5, 2021.



Nice shot, Maiko! Ooh, look at the golf ball soar!

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash.

Maiko sending golf balls flying?
A geiko golf tournament?

Today’s post dips into quirky golf stories and graphics. We go from maiko comedy to geiko as accomplished golfers.  Zooming back to the 1920s and 30s, we see golf shaping modern girl fashion in Japan.  Returning to golf comedy makes us re-think the maiko’s current status and training.

“Nice shot, Maiko! Ooh, look at the ball soar!”

Textile firm Eirakuya designed this tenugui (hand towel).

This funny tenugui (cotton hand towel) comes from Kyoto textile firm Eirakuya. It imagines formally dressed maiko on an expansive golf course. They play beneath a vivid lavender sky.  One holds a huge golf club. Her long kimono and obi don’t inhibit this maiko’s swing at all. Nice shot!

It’s a comic fantasy. But it recalls how hard one must practice to get good at sport. When proficient, the golfer makes it look so easy.  Just like a practiced maiko dancing gracefully.


“Geiko are good golfers, and it’s all because of Inoue dance training.”    –Kiriki Chizu

Some of Kyoto’s geiko do develop proficiency in golf.

Retired geiko Kiriki Chizu credits the geiko’s golf skill to her dance training. She develops core strength through practicing the Inoue form of Japanese dance.  Traditional dance, like Noh, emphasizes holding the hips low and the upper body still. Quite a feat. On an earlier post, we saw even world skating star Asada Mao struggling to do it.

The Gion way to skill in becoming loveable: A woman’s polish by Kiriki Chizu. Copyright © 2007. Kōdansha.

In her 2007 memoir, Kiriki describes an event that captures the playful spirit of the sporting maiko tenugui.  It’s called, Gion Golf Classic.

Held twice a year for over 20 years, Gion Golf Classic gathers about 20 Gion women– active geiko, retirees, and teahouse managers.  Although many teahouse clients also play golf avidly, they may not join the tournament. It’s a strictly women-only event. (Clients may contribute to the prize money though, Kiriki writes with a wink).  (Kiriki, 92; 96-97).

The vision of geiko and clients at the golf course reminds us of the luxury associated with teahouse culture, even outside the teahouse. It also recalls that clients are mostly well-off men, likely enjoying hefty corporate entertainment budgets. The scene also points to the easy camaraderie that develops in teahouse culture.

The Groundbreaking 1926 Women’s Golf Tournament

Golfing women, 1926.
Fujin Gahō magazine.

Curious, I researched a bit about the history of women and golf in Japan.  !920S fashions caught my eye.

Often played at expensive country clubs, golf has long connoted aristocratic leisure abroad and in Japan.  The women’s magazine Fujin gahō captured elite ladies playing golf in its November 1926 issue.  Historian Ikuta Makoto describes this event as the first major golf tournament for women.  The  skill of the players and the media attention to “elite ladies” out on the green made it a groundbreaking event in Japanese golf history.

Fujin gahō reproduced the images for its 150th anniversary. The magazine often featured women in western-style sports.  In one photo here, we see a woman giving golf lessons to a girl.

Modern girls as fashionable golfers in Japan 

Postcard by Suzuki Toshio. Early Showa. In Ikuta Makoto, Modern Girl,118.

Picture postcard, early Showa era. Ikuta Makoto, Modern Girl, 118.

Fashion magazines and films in the 1920s and 30s featured chic women active in sports. Each sport, including golf, had its own costume. Sportswomen at play conveyed leisure and self-confidence. In turn, sportwear shaped fashion design from Paris to Tokyo. Ikuta Makoto displays postcards of modern girls golfing.

Since Kyoto geiko were experimenting with modern dance styles and entertainments in the 1920s, too, I wonder if any photos of modern golfing geiko exist.

Japanese women’s global golfing success

Catching up with the times, we see Japanese women have achieved global success in golf. Hisako “Chako” Higuchi became the first Asian to win a major championship when she triumphed at the LPGA in 1977. In 2003, Higuchi “became the first Japanese golfer inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame” (Wikipedia). By the early 2000s, women may have comprised up to 15% of the golf players in Japan (Guttmann and Thompson, 212).

Oh, how it soars!
Tenugui design. Eirakuya.

Back to maiko comedy: What more can we learn?

It is no longer remarkable for young women to enjoy a round of golf today. Yet, it still remains an expensive sport—requiring access to clubs, proper gear, and the de rigueur golfing ensemble. The charming image of saucy maiko swinging clubs on the Eirakuya’s tenugui may seem at glance anachronistic. But it is no more so than observing a maiko perched properly on a chair in a fancy French restaurant.  Maiko point to affluence and training as well as to the subtle discipline demonstrated in a “nice shot.”

Featured image: “Oh, How it soars” captures maiko enjoying golf. This is a contemporary design for tengui  by the Kyoto textile firm Eirakuya,


Guttman, Alan and Lee Thompson. Japanese Sports: A History. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2001.

Ikuta Makoto.  Modan gāru daizukan [Big picture book of the modern girl]. Tokyo: Kawade Shobō Shinsha, 2012.

Kiriki Chizu. Aisare jōzu ni naru Gion-ryū: Onna migaki [The Gion way to skill in
becoming loveable: A woman’s polish]. Tokyo: Kōdansha, 2007.

Steele, Valerie. Paris Fashion: A Culture History. London: Bloomsbury, 2017.


Jan Bardsley, “Nice shot, Maiko! Ooh, look at the ball soar!”,, March 29, 2021.

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