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

Category: Maiko objects

The Maiko’s Look: Lipstick or Lip Coloring?

The Gion maiko Chiyofuku looks intent here as she carefully brushes color on her lips.  Artist Hashiguchi Goyō (1880-1921) created Woman Holding a Lip Brush in 1920. His print makes me curious about this cosmetic moment.  In English, should we say that this maiko wears lip coloring or lipstick?  What’s the difference? How can prints from the 1920s and 1930s help us appreciate maiko makeup today?

The Difference between Lip Coloring and Lipstick

I found Goyō’s print in the fascinating book, The Women of Shin Hanga, edited by Allen Hockley.  He defines shin hanga (new print) as a movement spanning the 1910s to the 1950s that “revitalized the traditional Japanese art of woodblock printing” (Introduction).  Many of the prints show women with bright red lips. They draw our attention to public and private cosmetic moments.

“Western scholars inaccurately substitute ‘lipstick’ for benifude.”

But, as Hockley observes, “Western scholars inaccurately substitute ‘lipstick’ for benifude. Lipstick is a term specific to the tubular applicator used in Western makeup. A benifude refers to the fude (brush) used to apply kuchi-beni, the term for beni (red/pink) lip coloring ” (138, note 1).  Aha!  Goyō’s model is wearing lip coloring.

Interesting!  I never thought about lipstick as defined by its applicator–only as a product that colored the lips. But these modern Japanese prints make clear that ‘lipstick’ was a distinctly new kind of tool. And they make us look more carefully at the benifude used by maiko. Remember when we saw star skater Asada Mao costumed as a maiko? Note the geisha brushes on her lip coloring.

Asada has maiko make-up applied for the August 17, 2014 SMILE event at Kyoto Takashimaya.

Capturing Cosmetic Moments Private and Public

Many contemporary photo books and films show maiko applying makeup before heading to the evening’s ozashiki. They sit before a small, low table of pots and brushes.  A magical assemblage, these cosmetics create the aura of old-fashioned elegance. We see the “ordinary girl” of the 2000s about to transform herself into a figure of the past in the present.

Cotton Kimono with Japanese Iris Pattern, 1930. Torii Kotondo.

This 1930 print Cotton Kimono with Japanese Iris Pattern by Torii Kotondo (1900-1976), another in The Women of Shin Hanga fascinates viewers in the same way. We learn how viewers would have been attracted to this “depiction of the array of paints and powders that constitute Japanese makeup and the various brushes used to apply them” (208).



Modern Fashions, 1931.
Kobayakawa Kiyoshi (1889-1948). Gallery Sobi Pallas.

At the same time, we find prints of women in the 1930s using modern lipstick.  For example, let’s look at the 1931 print No. 6 Lipstick (Roku: Kuchibeni) in the series Modern Fashions by Kobayakawa Kiyoshi (1889-1948). Hockley observes that while “she wears traditional dress, her permed hair with curls falling around her face, her lipstick, clutch purse with hand mirror, ring, and wristwatch indicate her modern girl affiliations” (220).  He notes that even though the print’s title uses the term kuchibeni, unlike Goyō’s 1920 maiko, this woman “uses lipstick from a modern applicator” (220).


What is Kuchibeni?

BENI by Shiseido. 2021.

In her excellent book, Geisha: A Living Tradition, Kyoko Aihara explains that this lip color “comes in a small stick that is melted in water after which crystallized sugar is then added to give the cosmetic lustre” (77). In Guide to Maiko Accessories, Aihara writes that when a maiko carries kuchibeni in her handbag, it’s stored in a small container.  She brings along a spray container of water to use to soften it (86).


Souvenir. Rakuten.

Aihara notes, “Originally, the rouge was stored in a pretty painted clamshell of the kind that is now sold as a souvenir in Kyoto ” (1999: 77).



The Millennial Maiko Ichimame Wears Lipstick too

Maiko-san’s Makeup. 2007.
Katsuyama Keiko. Page 63.

Makeup worn to lessons. 2007. Katsuyama Keiko. Page 39.










In her book Maiko Etiquette, Ichimame (featured in my book Maiko Masquerade) talks about changing her makeup to fit her outfit. Katsuyama Keiko illustrates.

The black-and-white graphic shows her “maiko-san’s makeup.”   This is her formal look, so she wears kuchibeni. Next to the mascara wand at the lower right, we see the images of the “water-soluble” beni and lip brush.

Turning to the color image, we see Ichimame dressed more simply to go to her dance lessons. Here, she wears a light pink MAC lipstick and lip cream (39).  She also wears sun screen.

Illustrations of Ichimame’s makeup convey the spirit of her own times.  But they read like a visual guide to the maiko’s makeup for girl readers. There’s a sense of transformation and play here. We learn that Ichimame, a maiko in 2007, wears lip coloring and lipstick to suit her looks. Thanks to this brief foray into Shin Hanga, I understand the difference.


Aihara, Kyoko. Geisha: A Living Tradition. London: Carlton Books, 1999; Maiko-san no odōgu-chō [Guide to maiko accessories]. Tokyo: Sankaidō, 2007.

Hockley, Allen, Kendall H. Brown, Nozomi Naoi, and Allen Hockley. The Women of Shin Hanga: The Judith and Joseph Barker Collection of Japanese Prints. Hanover, New Hampshire : Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College, 2013.

Kamishichiken Ichimame. Maiko Etiquette.  Tokyo: Daiwa Shobō, 2007.  Illustrated by Katsuyama Keiko.

For more on women in Shin Hanga and many more images, see “The Female Image in Shin Hanga Prints”  at Haverford Libraries:

Jan Bardsley, “The Maiko’s Look: Lipstick or Lip Coloring?,” August 27, 2021.


Hanameishi: The Maiko’s Cheerful Name Card

What’s the story of hanameishi 花名刺 ?

The maiko hands her guest a small card.   Like other small things associated with maiko, the cheerful card evokes a sense of girlish play.  A sweet souvenir, it’s also a saavy marketing tool.

What’s the story here?  Today we learn about the maiko’s name card, its history, and uses.

The maiko’s pretty name card

Japanese are famous for the ritual of exchanging business cards. Maiko and geisha have their own style of name cards (hanameishi, literally, flower name cards). These bear their professional name and the name of their hanamachi.

Clients should never contact maiko directly, but only ask for them through teahouse managers. That’s why these cards do not give addresses or telephone numbers. About 2.5 by 8 centimeters in size, they are smaller than the usual business card.  Maiko carry their cards in pretty fabric cases.

Who created the first hanameishi?

This 1930s travel poster of Kyoto features a maiko, giving a flavor of the era.

Japanese Government Railways, 1930. Wikimedia.

Kyoko Aihara explains their origins. From the late Meiji period (1868-1912) through the Taishō era (1912-26), some geisha had their names printed on small, colorful match boxes. They used these as their calling cards.

Artist Matsumura Suihō (1888-1967), kimono designer and Gion aficionado, came up with the idea of creating small paper cards for maiko with playful designs. Matsumura hand-printed his cards on  washi paper. His granddaughter Hayashi Hisako still makes these cards in the old style. She uses the vast storehouse of prints that Suihō created (Aihara 2011:120-23).

How do hanameishi bring good fortune?

Today hanameishi in sticker form are popular and associated with comic word play. Maiko joke that clients will profit by attaching the hanameishi to their wallets. This will inspire  okane ga maikomu, that is, “money will come dancing in”— a pun on the word maiko. Geisha say that using their stickers will lead to motto maikomu, even more money will come in,” a play on motto (more) and moto maiko (a former maiko) (Ota, et al., 2009:148, n21).

Hanameishi recall the name cards of Edo-era pilgrims

Rather than storing them in their wallets, some clients become avid hanameishi collectors. They carefully preserve them in albums. These stickers recall the ancient custom of pilgrims making name cards (senjafuda). They would stick their cards to shrines and temples to seal their good fortune. Edo-era merchants created unique woodblock-printed cards, which also were associated with humorous word-play, to exchange (kokan nōsatsu) (Salter  2006: 101-104).

What shapes and designs do today’s name cards feature?

Colorful calling cards used by maikoMaiko and geisha order different hanameishi to express the seasons. They may use as many as one thousand a year. Patterns may include signs of nature such as flowers and birds, that year’s sign of the Chinese zodiac, cute animals, and toys.


Gion geiko Kokimi designs her hanameishi with flair

Gion geisha name card. Name in pink against deep gold background.Pondering the design for her newest hanameishi, geiko Kokimi asked to see what designs others were using.  She was amazed at the creativity and variety. She observed that some altered the usual shape, making theirs round or square. Some signaled their favorite food or sport.  Here, Kokimi’s card bears her name in vivid pink. We see Gion Kōbu’s crest top left. This is only one of many creative hanameishi used by Kokimi (Yamaguchi 2007: 102-03).

An artful design from Miyagawa-chō

The name card of Miyagawa-cho okiya Kaden.

The name card for the Kaden okiya in Miyagawa-chō. 2019.

This hanameshi comes from Ikuda Takeda (Koito), who leads the Kaden okiya. We see the district name at the top (Miyagawa-chō) and the name Kaden within the folded paper design. The folded paper recalls koibumi, the Japanese love letter, that we explored last week.

You can read about the maiko’s life at Kaden in A Geisha’s Journey. Photographer Naoyuki Ogino collaborated with former maiko, now geiko Komomo, for nine years. His photographs of her daily life at Kaden and Komomo’s own account reveal the rigor and fun of maiko life in the 2000s.

A Geisha’s Journey, 2008.

Create or order your own hanameishi

Hanameishi are not the sole preserve of geiko and maiko.  Teenagers enjoy printing their own inexpensively at Kyoto game centers.  You can also order maiko-style name cards from specialty shops; I found one online.  The National Saturday Club offers a wonderful online tutorial and template,  Design a Japanese Senjafuda.


Aihara Kyoko, Kyoto hanamachi fasshon no bi to kokoro [The soul and beauty of Kyoto’s hanamachi fashion]. Tokyo: Tankōsha, 2011.

Komomo and Naoyuki Ogino.  A Geisha’s Journey: My Life as a Kyoto Apprentice. Tokyo: Kodansha International, 2008.

Ōta Tōru and Hiratake Kōzō, eds. Kyō no kagai: Hito, waza, machi [Kyoto’s hanamachi: People, arts, towns]. Tokyo: Nippon Hyōronsha, 2009.

Salter, Rebecca.  Japanese Popular Prints: From Votive Slips to Playing Cards. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2006.

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

Jan Bardsley, “Hanameishi: The Maiko’s Cheerful Name Card,” August 19, 2021




Girls Culture Mascot Chibimaruko-chan, as cute as a maiko

Who was this happy little girl in maiko cosplay?
The beloved manga character Chibimaruko-chan.

Today I catch up with manga scholar Hiromi Tsuchiya Dollase (Vassar College) to find out more about this likeable character.  What’s the story of this delightful girl and her appeal? How does she fit easily into the girls culture represented by contemporary maiko?

Indulge in a perky musical warm-up

But first, let’s warm up by listening to the toe-tapping theme song for the animated version:


Imagining the 1970s middle-class family in Japan

First issue of Chibi-Maruko-Chan comic by Sakura Momoko. Wikipedia.

 Chibimaruko-chan, an enormously popular manga, ran about ten years from 1986-1996. Initially serialized in the girls’ comic Ribon, it was transformed into anime in the early 1990s. You can find versions of the anime subtitled in English online, as in the warm-up example.

But manga artist Sakura Momoko sets the comic in the 1970s. Why choose the 1970s?

Ms. Momoko Sakura. Posted on Twitter by CGTN. Aug. 27. 2018.





Nostalgia as healing

The Sakura Family.

For one reason, Sakura Momoko (1965-2018) came of age in the 1970s. The comic re-imagines her own middle-class upbringing in Shizuoka, the lovely seaside city near Mt. Fuji.  The 1970s setting also has sparked pleasant memories for many fans. During the fast-paced, high-octane life of the affluent 1980s, Dr. Dollase reasons, readers found moments of relaxation and nostalgia in the charming comic of ordinary middle-class life.

“The manga presented values which were different from the money-centered values of the 1980s bubble economy era. Chibimaruko-chan always provided readers of that time with a sense of comfort, peace, and iyashi (healing),” says Dr. Dollase.

Chibimaruko as a girl with a mind of her own

Who is the lead character?  The artist names her eight-year-old character after herself: first name, Momoko; family name, Sakura. But as the manga frame above explains, everyone calls her Chibimaruko. Literally, her nickname means “little” (chibi) “round” (maru) girl. (Chan is a familiar suffix often used for children).

Dr. Dollase views the name as showing acceptance of petite Japanese bodies that often differ from the tall, willowy Anglo bodies promoted in global fashion media. As chibi, the girl is kawaii, too, suggesting vulnerability and the need for protection.  She can both speak her mind and remain childlike.

But, Chibimaruko-chan is not the little princess typically found in comics for girls (shōjo manga). Princess girls favor frills, western-style furnishings, and everything feminine.  In contrast, Chibimaruko-chan is precocious. She can be sloppy and lazy. She’s a daydreamer. Her habit of procrastinating gets her in trouble. But these flaws, too, are part of her appeal.

“An interesting thing about the Chibimaruko-chan comic is that each person reads it differently. Small kids might enjoy it because the characters in Chibimaruko-chan are cute, funny, and goofy,” explains Dr. Dollase.

The cartoon also had broad appeal across age groups.

The broad appeal of Chibimaruko-chan

Dr. Dollase remembers, “I enjoy reading Chibimaruko-chan because it reminds me of my childhood growing up in the 1970s. I read this comic in real-time when it was serialized in Ribon (comic magazine). At that time, I was a college student.” She recalls how different the character seemed.  “At first, I was shocked by this manga, because it was so un-shōjo-like. But I quickly became a fan.”

At home with the Sakura family. April, 11, 2021.

In her insightful chapter, “The Cute Little Girl Living in the Imagined Japanese Past: Sakura Momoko’s Chibimaruko-chan,” Dr. Dollase explains the history and appeal of the popular character.  She notes how Chibimaruko enjoys a home life that conveys affection, equality, and belonging.

Watching video clips, we observe how artist Sakura Momoko uses iconic images of the healthy 1970s family. The Sakura family gathers around the low-table in their Japanese-style living room.  Here, they eat, talk, and watch TV together.

Dr. Dollase writes, “Chibimaruko-chan provides readers with a warm and comfortable space in which they feel protected, at home, and more importantly, happy to be Japanese” (42).

Yet, this is the “imagined Japanese past.” It is one that excises references to social problems. For example, the growing problem of environmental pollution caused major concern in the 1970s. By the same token, American TV created much the same images of  familial innocence in the 1950s and 60s. White, middle-class families featured in shows like Father Knows Best (1954), Leave it to Beaver (1957), and My Three Sons (1960).

A new kind of Japanese father

Mr. Hiroshi Sakura, the father of Chibimaruko.

Dr. Dollase also points out how the friendly father-daughter relationship in  Chibimaruko-chan reflected actual changes in the family structure amid growing affluence. Mothers took on more power in the home in the 1960s and 1970s as many men spent long hours away from home. The stereotypical salaryman’s life revolved around his commute, work, and company leisure activities.

Once conceived as cranky, powerful patriarchs, fathers took on new positions in 1970s comics. Sometimes they were almost out of the picture. Artist Sakura Momoko, however, uses the fantasy power of manga to imagine a positive father-daughter relationship, one that would appeal to girl readers. Mr. Sakura is  an “affectionate, friend-like father” (45).  Dr. Dollase remarks that this exploration of father-daughter relationships marked an innovative feature of this 1980s comic despite its 1970s setting (45).

The happy bubble of girls’ culture

Dr. Dollase imagines it was the inviting power of girl culture that attracted fans.  “The world of Chibimaruko-chan is a young woman’s protected ‘bubble’ that provides her with coziness, confidence, and a sense of belonging” (46).  In much the same way, manga and fiction about maiko create a girls’ world, too, portraying girlhood as a time of freedom and discovery, one that everyone can retrieve through enjoying these fantasy characters. Charms, like the Chibimaruko-chan maiko strap, happily transport us there.

“I see many similarities between Chibimaruko and maiko. The Chibimaruko/Maiko ornament that you included on this page is so cute and perfect! I think that Chibimaruko and maiko are catalysts for girls and women’s imagination,” says Dr. Dollase.

Thanks, Dr. Dollase!

Thanks very much to Dr. Hiromi Tsuchiya Dollase for participating in today’s blog post.  For more analysis, I recommend reading Dr. Dollase’s chapter on the topic and her book Age of Shōjo.  And maybe take a trip to Chibimaruko-chan land, too.

Chibimaruko-chan Land. Theme park in Shimizu City, Shizuoka Prefecture.


Dollase, Hiromi Tsuchiya.  “The Cute Little Girl Living in the Imagined Japanese Past: Sakura Momoko’s Chibimaruko-chan.” In International perspectives on Shojo and Shojo Manga: the influence of girl culture, edited by Masami Toku, 40-49.  New York: Routledge, 2015., “Sazae-san” and “Chibi Maruko-chan”: Two of Japan’s Most Beloved Anime,”, accessed April 11, 2021.

For more on the shōjo characters in Japanese fiction, I highly recommend Hiromi Tsuchiya Dollase’s book, Age of Shōjo: The Emergence, Evolution, and Power of Japanese Girls’ Magazine (SUNY Press, 2019).

Jan Bardsley, “Girls Culture Mascot Chibimaruko-chan, as cute as a maiko,”, April 12, 2021.




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