Category Archives: Maiko Stories

The Maiko’s Paper Umbrella

There goes a maiko, carrying her trademark umbrella It’s called janomegasa 蛇の目傘, the “snake’s eye umbrella.”  A slender handcrafted oiled-paper-and-bamboo umbrella. Like other elements of hanamachi fashion, it conveys respect for Kyoto craftsmanship.  On sunny days, we see maiko carrying a parasol.  Crafted from paper or fabric,  these parasols — higasa日傘 — are not waterproof.

Maiko on a walk, 2007. Posted by Greg. Wikimedia.

Today’s post follows the maiko’s umbrella and parasol into a different world, trainee mistakes, and even geiko headaches. What stories do they tell?

*For more on the history and crafting of these Japanese umbrellas, see the websites listed at the end of this post.

Janomegasa as Invitation to Maiko Play in the 2000s

Lady Maiko Musical, Program

Bright red janomegasa often appear in the opening credits to maiko movies.

Moving with the music, twirling red umbrellas invite movie viewers to a romantic world different from their own.  The image above, the program cover for the 2018 live version of musical Lady Maiko, also displays an umbrella collage. Notice these umbrellas have the janome snake’s eye pattern. (Janome has also become the generic term for this slender kind of traditional Japanese umbrella, even if it is all one color).

An accessory to distinguish the maiko from the ordinary girl.

NHK Drama Guide to Dandan. Magazine Mercari. 2022.

This signature maiko item tells a story.  Above, we see the twins starring in the 2008-09 NHK-TV morning drama, Dandan. Megumi, raised as an “ordinary girl,” holds a guitar and wears blue jeans. Clad in kimono, maiko Nozomi carries the handcrafted Kyoto accessory. Right away, we can tell they come from two different worlds.

Maiko Use Janomegasa as Charm Advantage

The shikomi Haruka dressed by her okiya mother. Lady Maiko, 2014.

How do janomegasa play a role in the shikomi trainee’s life?
Former geiko Kiriki Chizu explains.

During her training period, the shikomi must make a good impression on teahouse managers in her hanamachi.  She needs them to remember her favorably.   She hopes they will call her for teahouse parties once she becomes a maiko.

No wonder Kiriki Chizu sees this positive recognition as “the prime secret to success in Gion” (216).  Shikomi must make the most of even a small opportunity to get better known. Even when fetching an umbrella.

For example, on a night when there’s a sudden rain shower, a shikomi may be asked to bring her elder sister’s janomegasa and raincoat to the teahouse.  When she arrives, advises Kiriki, the trainee should call out her greetings in a bright, clear voice. Coming to the entrance, the okami-san (manager) will say,  “Ah, and your name is?  How charming!” And just like that, the shikomi has made a good impression.

One Trainee’s Epic Umbrella Fail

Lady Maiko poster. Wikipedia.

One movie, however, imagines the same teahouse scene going all wrong for the trainee. Lady Maiko (2014), an adaptation of My Fair Lady, shows trainee Haruko learning the hard way about umbrella etiquette.

The Lady Maiko scene opens on a very rainy night. It’s 10:30pm.  Haruko gets soaked as she dashes out to bring an umbrella to her elder sister at an evening ozashiki.  The geiko is horrified!  Haruko has fetched a common plastic umbrella. It’s the cheap, clear kind everyone buys at convenience stores. The geiko sends Haruko right back out in the rain to retrieve the proper one from the okiya.

Tourists’ Vinyl Convenience

2011. Posted by Mark Donoher. Wikimedia Commons.

For these young women (above), the vinyl umbrella works just fine. But they are not in training to become maiko like Haruko.

Japanology Plus (2015) explains that these plastic umbrellas became widely used in Japan in the 1980s. They account for 60% of the 140 million umbrellas sold yearly in Japan. Although cheap and convenient, they are hard on the environment. While expensive, the bamboo and paper umbrella can last 20 to 30 years with good care.

But let’s get back to Haruko’s umbrella dilemma.

What Umbrella Should Haruko Bring?

Maiko and Umbrella, ca. 1950s. Artist Nakahara Jun’ichi.
artelino – Japanese Prints

Lady Maiko makes clear that only the old-style Japanese umbrella  will do. A later scene depicts three umbrellas opened to dry outside the okiya—two beautiful, richly colored bamboo ones and the offending plastic one.

Cut to the geiko scolding Haruko for failing this basic test of hanamachi culture.  For poor Haruko, it’s the last straw.  She’s failed at learning the dialect, the maiko arts, and now even basic umbrella etiquette. Despondent, she even loses her voice.

Haruko’s Happy Ending

Luckily for Haruko, by the end of the film, she recovers her voice, masters maiko customs, and wins praise from all. Lady Maiko even features a cheerful umbrella scene that shows Haruko’s new confidence.  Breaking into “The Rain in Kyoto Falls Mainly on the Plain,” she even pops open a janomegasa!

Publicity Tool for Lady Maiko

Mokuroku celebrate cast of Lady Maiko.

This promotional event  (above) for Lady Maiko plays with this signature accessory.  The one to the left displays the movie’s title in Japanese. The one to the right reads, “Big hit! Big hit!”  For stories about the maiko’s celebratory mokuroku posters behind the cast members, see my April 5, 2021 post

A Geiko’s Umbrella Headache

Traditional Janome Wagasa Umbrella from Kyoto Purple. Unique Japan. 2022.

Geiko Kokimi admires the Gion geiko’s purple janomegasa. Its finely crafted beauty, the look of the washi paper when exposed to the light.

But she ruefully confesses, these precious umbrellas can be a hanamachi headache. One can forget one of these as easily as any other umbrella. When that happens, well, “there goes another 10,000 yen.”   (In 2022, these umbrellas cost much more.)

In fact, Kokimi adds with chagrin, she gets nervous every time it looks like rain. She still has not replaced her last expensive janomegasa (48-50).

An Essential Prop in Maiko Stories

Maiko at Nashinoki Shrine Noh Stage, 2018. Wikimedia Commons.Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0

So much more to learn about the janomegasa and higasa parasol as essential props in maiko stories.  How did these umbrellas figure in maiko art and photography in the past? Did books on maiko and geisha in English, including images of janomegasa and higasa, stimulate readers abroad to purchase their own Japanese umbrellas?  This brief foray into maiko umbrella culture makes me curious to find out more about its early 20th century maiko history.

Next Post: Maiko at the Plum Blossom Festival

Kitano Tenman-gū, 2011. Author 663highland.  Wikimedia Commons.

The annual Plum Blossom Festival at Kyoto’s Kitano Tenmangū Shrine takes place on February 25th.  What’s the story behind this festival?  How do maiko and geiko of the Kamishichiken district participate?  Our next post explores this popular event.

Learn More about Japanese Umbrellas Online

The websites of Kyoto’s legendary umbrella shops Hiyoshiya and Tsujikura offer excellent guides in English and Japanese.  Spectacular photos, too. I also found informative the websites Japan Objects and Tofugu .

A good find!  The Japanology Plus series offers an episode on “Umbrellas.” It explains the old and the new, even showing baseball fans cheering on their team with small vinyl umbrellas. It includes an interview with Hiyoshiya manager and umbrella maker, Mr. Kotaro Nishibori, who also invents new forms and uses for the traditional techniques and materials.

FEATURED IMAGE: Janomegasa. Tsujikura website. 2022.


Japanology Plus. Peter Barakan. Episode Number 46, Season1.
Originally Aired : Thursday, June 18, 2015

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.

Suo Masayuki, dir. Maiko wa redī [Lady Maiko]. Tokyo: Toho, 2014.

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

Jan Bardsley, “The Maiko’s Paper Umbrella,” February 18, 2022.

Maiko Stories: Hidden Laundry Spaces

The friendly sight of clothes hanging on the line

Seeing laundry hanging outside on the line.” The young Japanese student responded with a smile.  We were talking about signs of home and comfort. Studying in the U.S., he missed this common sight of everyday life in his neighborhood in Japan. Scenes  like this one captured in the photo below of an Osaka home convey hominess to many Japanese.

I confess that when I first came to Tokyo in 1971, the sight of clothes hanging outside tall apartment buildings startled me.  Growing up in a small suburb in southern California, I had become accustomed to dryers. Clotheslines were something from my childhood in the 1950s. Laundry was pretty invisible.

Laundry on the line in Osaka. m-louis .® from Osaka, Japan, 2019.  Wikimedia Commons.

But, when we lived in Tokyo in 2018-19, we regularly hung wash out to dry on the small veranda outside our first-floor apartment. A large green hedge hid all but the tops of it. As you walked by our several-story building, you could see lots of laundry wafting in the breeze on the verandas.  Helpfully, the morning weather report advised whether the day looked good for drying the wash outside.

What about laundry customs in Kyoto’s geisha neighborhoods (hanamachi)? As we explore in this post, evidence of this ordinary chore remains out of sight in these refined neighborhoods. Little wonder that this invisibility gives way to stories about hidden spaces and confessions of washing machine mishaps. All these accounts turn our attention to the difference between the front and back stages of the hanamachi.

Laundry in everyday Pontochō, 1954

“Washing is hung out over one of the [alleys] of Pontochō.” Perkins, Percival Densmore. Geisha of Pontocho. Photos. Tokyo News Service, 1954.

Let’s start with a view from decades past. This sight of laundry signaled everyday life that one photographer sought to document in 1954. This photo by Francis Haar shows laundry hanging high above one of the narrow alleys in the Pontochō hanamachi.   The darkness of the alley and the height of the lines nearly conceal the laundry from view. Many of Haar’s photos and the text by P.D. Perkins capture daily life in the hanamachi. They give a sense of how arts teachers, craftspeople, shopkeepers, and others interacted with geiko, maiko, and their mothers in the 1950s.

Hanging clothes on the okiya’s hidden veranda today

Today, the teahouses and okiya of Kyoto’s hanamachi still convey a quiet, elegant charm, like this Gion dwelling photographed here.  So, where does the laundry hang?

Façade of dwelling in Shinbashi, Gion, Kyoto. Photo by Basile Morin. June 2019. Wikimedia Commons.

Aiko Koyama’s manga Kiyo in Kyoto gives her readers a look behind the scenes. She takes us past the task of doing the wash to the aesthetics of the hanamachi and its hidden conversations.

Trainee Riko on the okiya veranda. Maiko-san-chi-no Makanai-san, 2017. Koyama Aiko. Vol. 6, Epi. 59,p. 78.



Here, we see shikomi trainee Riko hanging up laundry on her okiya veranda. She gazes at other, nearly adjacent okiya verandas. She sees the okiya helpers hanging the laundry, too. Riko overhears them talking excitedly about a new maiko. The hidden verandas make an excellent space for gossip.



Maiko-san-chi-no Makanai-san, 2017. Aiko Koyama manga. Vol. 6, Epi. 59, p. 78.

In the next frame, the narrator explains how the neighborhood preserves its elegant façade by hanging laundry on these verandas behind the buildings.

We see tourists eager to pose for photos in front of the beautiful okiya. Hiding the laundry keeps evidence of ordinary, everyday life at bay.  This frame also makes the point that the hanamachi does not aim to convey hominess, but the air of a world apart.

A private space for confidential chats

Twins Nozomi (maiko Yumehana) and Megumi.

The hidden veranda creates a private space, too, for  the maiko Yumehana in NHK-TV drama Dandan (2008-09). She retreats to the veranda for more than hanging laundry. This is a space for secret phone calls, for private chats with her twin sister, and to reflect on her future.  Notably, we never see the dignified matriarch of this okiya/teahouse on the veranda.  She does not do housework.

The would-be maiko learns laundry skills

Moving from the veranda to the space of the washing machine takes us to the humorous confessions of a shikomi trainee. Her name is Maiko, though written with different characters than “apprentice geisha.” The “baby of her family” and the last of five sisters, Maiko knew nothing about housework until coming to the okiya.

Maiko describes how doing chores around the okiya can challenge the brand new shikomi.  She explains how the trainee assists her elder geiko and maiko sisters with their kimono, runs errands for her mother, and often helps with cleaning.

A bad laundry day for the trainee. Iwashita Takehito, Gion no hosomichi: Otonbo maiko [The narrow road to Gion: The youngest child becomes a maiko] (Tokyo: Bungei Shobō, 2009), 54.

Maiko was new to washing machines. She also didn’t know how to separate colors, once turning everything pink by mixing red and white things together.  Nor did she know how to separate different articles by their material. This comic shows how Maiko learned the hard way: Too much soap led to bubbles bursting out the machine. (Exaggerated here for comic effect).

Luckily, Maiko seems to have learned laundry skills well by the time she debuted as a maiko. But, at this point, she turned her attention full-time to maiko arts lessons, teahouse parties, and Kyoto booster events.  No more need to think about washing machines!

The laundry space in maiko stories

As we see, maiko stories highlight the okiya laundry space as a site of ordinary life, hijinks, and high drama–all unseen from the street.  The mystique of the hanamachi façade piques curiosity about what happens within the refined dwellings, giving rise to all kinds of stories of backstage life.

Having finished this post, I can go hang the laundry outside on a sunny day in North Carolina. Feels pretty homey here, too.


Iwashita Takehito. Gion no hosomichi: Otonbo maiko [The narrow road to Gion: The youngest child becomes a maiko] Tokyo: Bungei Shobō, 2009, 54.

Koyama Aiko. Maiko-san-chi no Makanai-san. Serialized manga. Volume 6. Episode 59. Shōgakukan, 2017.  For its new online anime adaptation, NHK World translates the manga title as Kiyo in Kyoto: From the Maiko House.

Perkins, Percival Densmore. Photographs by Francis Haar. Geisha of Pontocho. Tokyo News Service, 1954.

Jan Bardsley, “Maiko Stories: Hidden Laundry Spaces,”, May 19, 2021.











Maiko Greetings with “Stroke of a Pen” Notes

Which pretty notepad will the maiko choose?

Maiko Momohana decides on the most appropriate ippitsu-sen. Maiko-san-chi no Makanai-san. Epi.32, Vol. 4. (2017).

Momohana, the star maiko of Koyama Aiko’s girls comic Kiyo in Kyoto: From the Maiko House, gazes at two long, narrow notepads.  Both pretty options!  Which to choose?

Koyama depicts Momohana browsing in a shop brimming with fans, maiko hair ornaments, and stationery. Her fictional shop closely resembles the lively Gion store, Yamakyo. Established in the Taisho era (1912-26) as a specialty paper store, Yamakyo began selling Japanese-style paper products and other items for maiko, geiko, and Kabuki actors in early Showa (1926-89). If you click the link to Yamakyo, you can see that it still sells many paper products, including the narrow notepads like Momohana holds.

Gion shop, Yamakyo. Gion Shopping Street Promotion Associates Website.

After making her purchase, Momohana takes off on her afternoon round of greetings to the teahouses in her hanamachi. The notepads will come in handy, as we later learn.

Greeting the okami-san with a short note

Momohana’s greeting.  Epi. 32, Vol.4. (2017)

Finding one okami-san (manager) away from her teahouse, Momohana pulls out one of her trusty new notepads. She pens a short note and leaves it with a housekeeper to pass on. The notepad cover is marked 一筆箋 (ippitsu-sen), a “slip of paper for one stroke of the pen.”  Sometimes translated simply as “one slip notes.”



What are ippitsu-sen? How are they used?

Ippitsu-sen perfect for spring. Brand: MIDORI. April 2021.

A little research produced some interesting answers.

Maiko are not the only ones who use ippitsu-sen.  They are a common paper for short notes at work and among friends and family.  These notes may be plain, business-like and efficient or warm and funny.  Books published in Japanese guide readers to all kinds of ways to use ippitsu-sen.  Since I had long been curious about these pretty notepads, using them merely for to-do lists and phone messages, I was eager to learn more.

Lovely Manners and Words for One-Slip Notes for Every Occasion. Author, Murakami Kazuko. PHP, 2015.

To find out about ippitsu-sen, I turned to the colorful guide authored by Kazuko Murakami, Lovely Manners and Words for One-Slip Notes. This is one in her series of manuals directed to women readers offering advice “which you can use your entire life.”

Murakami champions the warmth of the handwritten note—the human touch—amid the ubiquity of electronic communication in email, texts, and social media platforms. She advises that even a short note will touch the person who receives it, inspiring “goodwill and trust.” Murakami recommends using these short notes to boost one’s communication skills and self-confidence.

Getting started with ippitsu-sen: Choose your favorite design

Sakura and Japanese candy design. May 11, 2021

Murakami introduces several types of ippitsu-sen: designs variously associated with the season, good luck symbols, locale, or a current topic. Other designs might reflect your own hobbies, work, or even your name. You can add personal flair (jibun rashisa) by adding stickers and using inked, wooden stamps (hanko).  Although choosing a design with the recipient in mind can be lots of fun,  Murakami advises that it’s fine to choose plain paper, too. Selecting a pale pink or blue may seem softer and friendlier than white.

Do you write vertically or horizontally?

You can write Japanese vertically (top to bottom, right to left) and horizontally (left to right, as in English). How about when writing ippitsu-sen?

Murakami  advises  readers that either way is fine, but writing vertically will seem more business-like and official. In Momohana’s case, we see that she writes vertically in her ippitsu-sen for her elder, the okami-san. Her casual mini-card to her pal Kiyo shows the horizontal style. Similarly, Murakami’s models for all the formal ippitsu-sen in her book, and all written to people older or in positions of some importance are written vertically. The model informal notes to children and husband use the horizontal format. [In the gendered universe of stationery, I did find some sites aimed at men as potential ippitsu-sen users, including one that shows how to use ippitsu-sen for a thank-you note in English].

Did Momohana’s ippitsu-sen appeal?

This ippitsu-sen notepad features

Momohana’s ippitsu-sen was a success.  Later in the chapter, we see the elderly okami-san who had received the note calling that evening at Momohana’s okiya. Apologizing for being out earlier, she holds up Momohana’s note.

She exclaims how delighted she was with the black cat on the stationery–it’s just like her own cat.  The okami-san thanks Momohana for choosing such a thoughtful, personal design (p. 24). (Momohana’s surprised look makes me think this might have been a lucky coincidence).

Once again, star maiko Momohana has made an excellent impression.


Koyama Aiko. Maiko-san-chi no Makanai-san. Serialized manga. Episode 32, Volume 4. Shōgakukan, 2017.  For its new online anime adaptation, NHK World translates the manga title as Kiyo in Kyoto: From the Maiko House.

Murakami Kazuko, Isshō tsukaeru, ippitsu-sen no utsukushii manā to kotoba [Lovely Manners and Words for One-Slip Notes You Can Use Your Entire Life]. Kyoto: PHP, 2015; rpt. 2108.

The featured image for this post–maiko ippitsu-sen–comes from on May 11, 2021.

Jan Bardsley, “Maiko Greetings with ‘Stroke of a Pen’ Notes,”, May 13, 2021.


The Maiko’s Bald Spot and Repair Party

This is not a psychiatric hospital.
Stop acting like madwomen.

Bored, the Kyoto geiko couldn’t resist boisterous antics. Their famous manners gave way to mischief.

Stuck in a Tokyo hospital recuperating after minor surgery to repair their bald patches, Iwasaki Mineko and her three geiko companions got restless. After all, “it was springtime and we were frisky” (Iwasaki and Brown, 257). Trying to cheer them up, their Tokyo clients sent fine dishes from local restaurants.

Geisha, A Life. 2002

But the geiko sneaked out to shop, going out on the town at night “even in our bandages” (257).  When they line-danced to the local gas station one afternoon, the head nurse lost her temper. “This is not a psychiatric hospital. Stop acting like madwomen” (257).

The sight of four geiko dancing a conga line on a Tokyo street would make a delightful manga.  One of the funniest stories in Iwasaki Mineko’s Geisha, A Life, the incident begs the question, “How did these geiko develop bald spots in the first place?”


What does the maiko bald spot mean?

In today’s blogpost, we explore the maiko’s bald spot. We learn how it can mark both pride and shame, and why present-day maiko are unlikely to develop the patch.  Returning to Iwasaki Mineko’s memoir, we see how the patch emphasized her lack of control over her career in 1970.

A patch the size of a five-yen coin

Specially trained hairdressers form the maiko’s elaborate Edo-era hairstyle from the girl’s own shoulder-length hair. She must take care to keep the style in place for 7-10 days.

Senior maiko in foreground wears ofuku hairstyle. Daniel Bachler. Wikimedia Commons.

5 yen coin, 1970. Photo on ebay April 7, 2021.

Liza Dalby explains how “pulling tight a small bundle of hair for the basis of the maiko’s hairstyle” causes a small section of the hair to fall out (45-46).  It never grows back. Lesley Downer describes the mark as a “perfectly round little bald patch on the crown” of the maiko’s head (115).





The maiko’s bald spot is the same size as a 5-yen coin.  Roughly equivalent to the size of a nickel in the U.S., the coin is small, only 22 mm in diameter (about 3/4 of an inch).  Pronounced go en (5 yen), the coin carries the meaning of “good fortune,” also pronounced go en. This makes it a popular coin offering at Shinto shrines. Similarly, some former maiko view their bald spot positively.

The maiko’s bald patch as “medal of honor”

Liza Dalby recalls how one teahouse manager referred to the spot as “the maiko’s medal of honor” — “a mark of the hardships of the training she undertook” (45-46).  Since today’s maiko undergo a short apprenticeship, many debuting at 17, “their scalps are probably safe” (46). To many elders in the community, as Dalby explains, the lack of a bald spot speaks to maiko training losing the strict discipline of old.  She writes, “from the point of view of most modern Japanese the discipline of the maiko and the geisha is still redoubtable” (46).

Embarrassment at a Tokyo hair salon
“It felt like a slap in the face.”

But not all in Japan interpret evidence of a maiko past positively. As I discuss in Maiko Masquerade, maiko have been stigmatized, especially in 1950s films, as women of the “water trade,” the realm of nightlife entertainment understood to involve sex work. Tokyo stylists, as we see below, sometimes mistook the patch for scalp disease or the mark of an old-fashioned, unstylish woman.

Former Gion geiko Arai Mameji, who debuted as a maiko in 1969, writes about her elder sisters running into trouble when having their hair done in Tokyo.

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

One stylist took the bald patch as a sign of a skin illness. She rushed to get another brush so she wouldn’t contaminate the ones the salon usually used, mortifying the former maiko.

Once Arai, too, knocked herself out trying to dress in high fashion, complete with high heels, to visit a Tokyo salon.  To avoid the same alarm her elder sisters had caused, Arai mumbled to the stylist that she had a bald patch since she’d been a maiko and wore the elaborate hairstyle of the apprentice. Whatever the reason, the stylist reacted impatiently.

She “shut me up, blurting, ‘You were a maiko, right’, acting as though she couldn’t be bothered with such triviality when she was so busy. It felt like a slap in the face.” The exchange left Arai disheartened. “I felt very disappointed, realizing I am “countrified” after all” (Arai, 60).

“Expo Baldies”: Iwasaki Mineko’s concern 

In Crimson Fragrance,  artist Yamato Waki’s famous manga adaptation of Iwasaki’s memoir, discovery of the bald patch alarms maiko Sakuya (the Iwasaki character).

Yamato Waki’s manga adaptation of Iwasaki Mineko’s autobiography

Having been a maiko since 1965 and wearing her hairstyle for long periods of time, Sakuya has a bald patch forming. This makes her plead to “turn the collar” to become a geiko. Since geiko wear wigs when in formal costume, Sakuya would no longer worry about her scalp. But Sakuya is refused.

“Bald!”. Sakuya’s face shows alarm. Crimson Fragrance, Vol. 3.  Yamato Waki.








Japan’s 1970 World Exposition (Osaka Expo ’70) was coming up.  “The powers that be” requested Gion to have many maiko on hand to perform in the Japanese pavilion to show the traditional arts (Iwasaki and Brown, 207).  Thus, the men in charge of Gion ordered maiko to postpone their transition to geiko until after Expo.

Yamato’s manga shows Sakuya’s frustration.  She cannot gain any sympathy from the men over her fears about baldness. As an heir to an okiya, Sakuya cannot quit Gion easily either.

As a result of their lengthy apprenticeship, “all of us maiko got the bald patch.”  We were teased as “Expo baldies” (Banpaku hage) (vol. 3, 12).

The Maiko Bald Patch Repair Party

In Geisha, A Life, Iwasaki describes the surgery to close her maiko bald patch.  “The operation consisted of snipping the bald skin and pulling the edges together to tighten it, similar to a facelift. My incision was closed with twelve teensy stitches” (256-57).

It’s hard to imagine why such a small surgery meant staying for days in the hospital. But it sounds like Iwasaki and her geiko friends knew how to make the most of it.

Our own vocational bodies?

Reading about the maiko’s bald patch makes me wonder about how all of us wear our life experiences on our bodies to some degree.  I see the small scars on my face left from chicken pox and a minor fall as a child.  But what about signs of my work? In my case, a very loud voice from years as a teacher. For that, I am not sure there is any repair.

I’d like to thank my friend Aki Hirota for help understanding Arai Mameji’s account of bald spot mishaps.


Arai Mameji. Gion Mameji: Chotto mukashi no Gion machi [Mameji of the Gion: The
Gion of recent past]. Tokyo: Asahi Shimbun Publications, 2015

Dalby, Liza. Geisha. Berkeley: University of California Press,1983, 2008.

Downer, Lesley. Women of the Pleasure Quarters: The Secret History of the Geisha. New York: Broadway, 2001.

Iwasaki Mineko and Rande Brown. Geisha, a Life. Translated by Rande Brown. New York: Atria, 2002.

Yamato Waki and Iwasaki Mineko. Kurenai niou [Crimson fragrance]. Serialized manga. 2003–07, rpt Tokyo: Kōdansha, 2009.

Jan Bardsley, “The Maiko’s Bald Spot and Repair Party,”, April 8, 2021.




April maiko

A Maiko April Fool’s Day Story

The Maiko who went to America,“Amerika ni itta maiko-san.” Artist Kinoshita Yoshihisa. Shōjo magazine, April 1, 1954 (illustration within magazine; Kobunsha, publisher).

Here’s a delightful maiko image for celebrating the beginning of April.  Happy April Fool’s Day!

This story features  Satō Shigemi 佐藤茂美, a popular young singer of children’s songs who recorded with King Records. Here, she plays the role of a maiko.

The Maiko who went to America

The text alongside the image goes something like this:

“Captivated by the sight of the maiko walking gracefully in the American city in her furisode kimono and darari obi, the patrol officer forgets all about directing the traffic. The cars on the road are unable to move.  Looking on in surprise, the maiko feels like singing one of her favorite songs.”  ”This is my April’s Fool prank.”

The comic image of the maiko abroad

Artist Kinoshita imagines a policeman directing traffic in New York City. Everything comes to a stop when the man is enchanted by the flowing sleeves and long obi worn by an adorable maiko. An American serviceman and a little girl standing nearby seem equally surprised.  With her pretty blue parasol, colorful kimono, and kanzashi hair ornaments, the maiko makes a fetching—and traffic-stopping— sight.

Shōjo, a magazine for girls

This story comes from the April 1954 Shōjo  (Girl). A monthly illustrated magazine, Shōjo introduced movies and teen stars such as Satō Shigemi. Shōjo carried lots of fiction and manga appealing to girl readers (Kikuyo Library). Kōbunsha published Shōjo from 1949 to 1963.  In Maiko Masquerade, I write about the maiko as shōjo.


Kikuyo Library:
Accessed February 11, 2021.

For analysis of Japanese magazines for girls, see Sarah Frederick. “Girls’ Magazines and the Creation of Shōjo Identities.” In Routledge Handbook of Japanese Media, edited by Fabienne Darling-Wolf, 22–38. London: Taylor and Francis, 2018.

Jan Bardsley, “A Maiko April Fool’s Day Story,” April 1, 2021.