Category Archives: Manners & customs

Have Fun with Kaishi Paper, a Maiko Favorite

Learning about maiko customs takes us to many delightful Japanese things and their charming uses.  Like the maiko’s thoughtful “stroke of a pen” notes that build friendships in the hanamachi.

In her book Maiko Manners, Kyoko Aihara emphasizes how training by her arts teachers and her okiya mother develops the maiko’s poise. The apprentice also learns ways to use pretty Japanese products common in the past in her daily life. This enhances the maiko’s aura as a figure of nostalgia and tradition.

But, as Aihara also advises, readers can take tips from the maiko’s style to bring elegance into our own lives. Using kaishi 懐紙, a kind of Japanese paper associated  with the tea ceremony, offers one way.  Aihara shows many creative ways to use this lovely paper. Carry these in your handbag, she says, and you’ll find many unexpected uses, too (104).

Intrigued, I also searched online for images and videos. It turns out that there’s online videos that model a host of kaishi uses. They’re well illustrated, so you don’t need to know Japanese to understand them.

Today’s post introduces kaishi.  I wrap up with a few attempts at trying these tips, too.

What are kaishi?

Kaishi for tea ceremony. Posted at Sazen: Peace and Harmony with the joy of tea. Accessed Mar. 20, 2022.

Kaishi are squares of Japanese (washi) paper. Made of natural fibers, they’re soft to the touch. And they’re absorbent. Kaishi are also strong enough to serve as an impromptu plate, bookmark, and for other creative uses, as we will see.

Searching various sites, I found lots on the role of kaishi in the tea ceremony.  Packets of the plain white, folded paper are easy to purchase online.  Apparently, they’re also gendered: men use a larger size than women do.

Kaishi in the Japanese Tea Ceremony

MIMARU Travel Guide. Sept. 27, 2021. A tea ceremony sweet on kaishi.

How do guests at a Japanese tea ceremony use kaishi?  “Julia from Germany” explains in her photo essay for MIMARU Travel Guide.

Julia writes, “Upon bowing while sitting in the traditional seiza style, I was served a Japanese sweet on special paper called kaishi. I received a sweet dumpling called a manju. After I finished eating it, I tucked the kaishi into the breast of my kimono and a nearby woman started preparing the tea with a ritual to purify the utensils.”

Once “an indispensable tool” in Japanese daily life

Holmes of Kyoto. Vol. 7. Mai Mochizuki. Trans. Minna Lin. J-Novel Heart 2021. Posted to Goodreads.

Here’s a fun discovery. I found kaishi history in an unexpected source. In the light mystery novel, Holmes of Kyoto: Vol. 7, by Mai Mochizuki and translated by Minna Lin, one character explains:

“The word kaishi means ‘paper carried inside the kimono.’ Back when kimono were commonly worn, people would carry these around in everyday life. They were an indispensable tool that served the purpose of modern-day tissues, handkerchiefs, and note pads.”

Geiko used kaishi creatively in the past, too. 

Aihara explains how a geiko would twist a kaishi and wrap it around her little finger as a reminder. Seeing it, she’d recall, “Oh yes, my samisen teacher is coming at 3pm.” (107).

Kabuki actors used kaishi in certain roles.  Kaishi also served those who wished to write a short poem.

But let’s get back to the present.  How might we use kaishi today?

Maiko Manners & Kaishi

Macarons on kaishi. Posted to Hakkoubishoku. Oct. 10, 2010.

In Maiko Manners, Kyoko Aihara gives over 20 clever ways to use kaishi in daily life.  Most aim to make little moments in dining lovelier and cleaner. One can imagine a maiko in her formal costume using these tips to maintain her “maiko-like” (maiko rashii) performance, as I discuss in Maiko Masquerade.  Especially on outings to restaurants with favored clients.

What are some examples?  You might fold a kaishi into a rest for your chopsticks or to brush off bits of food clinging to chopsticks. Use kaishi to wipe your hands or to clean dribbles on the table. Wrap chopsticks after use.  Press kaishi against your mouth when you feel a cough coming one.

Want to show that you’re not having any sake at a party?  Place your sake cup upside down on kaishi.  A chic signal.

Aihara describes how in Germany, she happened to use a kaishi when eating a cookie.  Curious, her German friends asked, “What’s that lovely paper?” Aihara uses this example to show how using kaishi, especially the kind with cheerful patterns, can give observers, too, a feeling of ease and comfort (107).

Kaishi make the practical pretty as memo paper

Kyoto store Tsujitoku recommends its kaishi for memo writing. Accessed Mar. 23, 2022.

Aihara advises using kaishi for a quick message. Imagine you happen to visit a friend only to find she’s out. Just pen a short note on this distinctive paper to say you missed her. Tsujitoku of Kyoto recommends this as a chic practice, too.

                      It’s very fashionable to use kaishi for memos     
                                                                  –TSUJITOKU, Kyoto store website

 

Putting Kaishi Tips into Practice…and some failed attempts

My kaishi readings made me eager to try out these tips myself.  I used kaishi that I had bought in Kyoto a few years back, but had no idea how to use.  This packet of spring-green kaishi with chicks is the featured image today, too.

Use Kaishi as a Bookmark (shiori). This is an easy one!

Kaishi bookmark (shiori). Jan Bardsley. Mar. 20, 2022.

Use Kaishi to Blot a Damp Brow. Hello Kitty Assists.

Mar. 20, 2022.

Kaishi for a quick “note to self”

Kaishi memo. Jan Bardsley. Mar. 22, 2022.

Kaishi are perfect for wrapping cash tips. I enjoy following this Japanese custom, though I usually use small envelopes.

Kaishi as tip wrapper. Jan Bardsley. Mar. 22, 2022.

Kaishi — handy for eating fruit at a picnic lunch. (But maybe not for Sumo Mikan).

Attack of the sumo mikan. Jan Bardsley. Mar. 22, 2022.

Guides to using kaishi advise placing fruit peels on the paper.  Nice for a picnic lunch.  I tried it with the fruit on hand, a Sumo Mikan.  This seedless, sweet kind of satsuma orange is also called dekopon. Oops! Not the small fruit the kaishi guides show.  Here, the poor chick looks distraught. The Attack of the Sumo Mikan!

The Fun of Kaishi

Kaishi paper. Jan Bardsley Mar. 20, 2022.

Online, we see many more ideas for bringing this bit of Japanese paper prettiness into daily life. Kaishi transform the humdrum and practical into moments of pleasure.

FEATURED IMAGE:  Patterned kaishi purchased in Kyoto in 2019 at Washi Kurabu: http://www.washiclub.jp/    Washi Kurabu has a beautiful website, too.

REFERENCES

Aihara Kyoko. Gokujō sahō de miseru maiko-san manā-shū [Maiko Manners: The First-rate Etiquette that Enchants].  Sankaido, 2007.

Mochizuki Mai. Translated by Minna Lin. Holmes in Kyoto. Vol. 7.
J-Novel Heart, 2021.  (The series is also in manga and anime formats).

Jan Bardsley, “Have Fun with Kaishi Paper, a Maiko Favorite.”  Janbardsley.web.unc.edu. Mar. 31, 2022.

Otafuku:  Goddess of Everyday Life

Who is this character with the chubby cheeks, tiny red mouth, and impish smile? You see her everywhere in Japan.  Antiques, fine art, everyday cloth and tableware celebrate her.  She’s commonly called Otafuku or Okame. What’s her story?

Okame. 19th c. ceramic. LA County Museum of Art. Wikimedia.

To find out about this happy figure, I turned to Otafuku: Joy of Japan (2005).  Today’s post introduces this book, learning something about Otafuku’s many meanings, forms, and stories.  Wrapping up, we see how maiko join Otafuku in  Setsubun festivities.

Otafuku: Joy of Japan by Amy Sylvester Katoh

If you’re looking for something fun, visual, and upbeat to read, this is the book for you.

Here, Amy Sylvester Katoh, a true Okame fan for over 25 years, offers personal stories and legends. She uses the terms Okame and Otafuku interchangeably. A bilingual book, Otafuku has short essays in English followed by Japanese translations. What Japanese might call kansō — essays about one’s thoughts and impressions. Otafuku inspires Katoh’s pursuit of play and pleasure in everyday life.

A collector, Katoh shares many color photos of her varied Okame treasures.  We find delightful toys, textiles, teapots, comic stage masks, and even Okame sushi. Otafuku is a brand name for food products, too.

Posted by JaggyBoss, 2015. Wikimedia.

This variety of images illustrates the “100 Faces of Otafuku.”  Her big cheeks, tiny red mouth, and high forehead stand out as trademarks. Katoh also shows Okame’s multiple “shapes and attitudes — charming, coquettish, vulgar, cutesy, and downright ugly” (49).

Issa’s Poetry Fits Otafuku

Grandmama’s
out drinking–
      ah! the moonlight!
–Issa

Haiku enlivens Otafuku. Katoh quotes charming poems by the wandering poet-priest Kobayashi Issa. Above, he paints the scene of an eldery woman enjoying the moonlight and her rice wine. It reminds me of this laughing Okame, chuckling at a rather suggestive mushroom’s shadow (below).

Okame Laughing at the Shadow of a Mushroom, 1882. Artist Yoshitoshi (1839-1892). LA County Museum of Art. Wikimedia.

Katoh also refers to the lighthearted Okame-themed art of Zen priest Hakuin. Her friend painter Mayumi Oda introduced Hakuin to Katoh. Oda’s plump goddesses exude the joy of Otafuku, too. But their divinity seems freer, more associated with nature and the great outdoors, and less domestic than Okame.

Mayumi Oda, 2017.
https://mayumioda.net/pages/mayumi-oda-books-for-sale

A Goddess of Everyday Life

Otafuku Glasses Case.  Blue & White Store.

Although she concentrates on Okame, Katoh aims her book as a catalyst to a broader message about the everyday.  She writes, “This book is about the little things that make our days flow” (38). It’s also about “celebrating the everyday ceremonies of life” (34). Imperfection is okay, and even desirable.

For Katoh, Okame characters invoke benevolence and creativity.  She describes her as “fun and playful and open,” a soothing presence that invites one to pause to share tea and chat.  Finding Okame “warm, cozy, loving, accepting,” Katoh takes heart from her “joyful attitude toward life” (75-76).

Traditional Kyoto gives English glosses for her names. “Otafuku literally means “Much Good Fortune”, and Okame means “Tortoise”, also a lucky symbol for long life.”

But where did this character originate?  There are multiple stories.  Here are two.

An Ancient Fable of Origin

Ame no Uzume no Mikoto Dancing to Lure Amaterasu Ōmikami from her Cave, 1879. Artist Yoshitoshi.
Phil. Museum of Art.

Katoh likes to connect the folk image of Otafuku to the ancient Kojiki myth of Japan’s origins and the story of dancer Ame-no-Uzume.  Here’s the story of the mythical performer who saved the day (pun intended).

Crisis occurred when the sun goddess Amaterasu, angry at her brother, secluded herself in a cave. Her retreat plunged heaven and earth into darkness. But when charismatic Uzume danced nearby, eight million gods erupted in rip-roaring laughter.  Curious, Amaterasu peeked out at the scene. In that moment, one of the gods pulled her outside the cave. “Thus light and order were returned to the world because of Uzume’s comic dance” (93).

The statue of Ame-no-Uzume at Amanoiwato-jinja. Miyazaki, Japan. Wikipedia.

For Katoh, Okame’s character reflects traits of the mythical Uzume. “Uzume’s basic primal strength, her pure and unsullied humor and goodness are all contained in the myth of saving the universe from darkness and chaos with courage and laughter” (104).  Katoh sees humor, goodness, and play in Okame figures, too.

A Gruesome Okame Origin Story in Kyoto

Daihōonji Temple. Wikimedia Commons posted byPlusMinus, 2005.

But not all Okame stories are happy ones. One myth reveres female sacrifice.

This story comes from Senbon Shakado, also known as Daihōonji. It’s reputedly Kyoto’s oldest Buddhist temple. The temple has an Okame statue (see image above). It also has “hundreds of Okame figures” in its collection “donated by believers” (176-77).

As the temple story goes, Okame prayed to the gods for advice to salvage her carpenter husband’s mistake in building the temple.  Her “clever solution” worked. Katoh explains that Okame then gave her life in gratitude to the gods (167).  Others say she sacrificed her life to save her husband’s reputation. Perhaps he’d lost face by relying on his wife’s cleverness and plea for divine intervention.

Okame as Good Fortune for New Construction

In honor of Okame, the husband placed her image on the roof beams of the temple.  Katoh explains that even today, some carpenters and construction companies in Japan hang an “Okame mask with a circle of three open fans on the roof beams of a new building” (168).

Okame at Setsubun Festivals

Fan painting, 1794. Artist Tōshūsai Sharaku. Art Inst. of Chicago. Wikimedia.

Our last post discussed the early February holiday Setsubun. These festivities mark both the last day of winter and the last day of the year. A goddess of happiness, Okame often figures in Setsubun festivals. After all, they are dedicated to banishing evil spirits and welcoming good ones.

Otafuku

Posted by Nissy-KITAQ, 2010.
Wikimedia Commons.

In Fukuoka, Kyushu, an immense Okame (see image above) serves as the entrance to Kokura Yasaka Shrine. In Kyoto, the Setsubun festival at Senbon Shakado Temple starts with maiko from Kamishichiken dancing. A comic kyōgen play featuring Okame follows. The event ends with the mamemaki ritual of tossing soybeans to banish evil spirits (Sharing Kyoto).

Fun Spending Time with Otafuku: Joy of Japan

After reading Katoh’s lively book, I have even more curiosity about Otafuku/Okame. I’ll be on the lookout for her, too. Otafuku: Joy of Japan offers a positive look at the imperfections and possibilities in every day life.

Next post:  The Maiko’s Paper Umbrella

Maiko & Geiko, CC BY-SA 2.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

No vinyl umbrellas for the maiko! Our next post looks into her traditional paper and bamboo umbrella (wagasa).  This topic takes us into romantically rainy (and comic) moments in Japanese art, folklore, and maiko fiction.

FEATURED IMAGE:  Book cover. Otafuku: Joy of Japan. Amy Sylvester Katoh. Tuttle Publishing, 2005.

REFERENCES

Here’s an interview with Amy Sylvester Katoh about the process of writing Otafuku:
Shulenberger, Damon. “Otafuku Encounters.”  SWET: Society of  Writers, Editors, and Translators. March 31, 2006. https://swet.jp/articles/article/otafuku_encounters/_C28

Here’s the website for Katoh’s store Blue &  White:
https://www.blueandwhitejapan.com/

“Setsubun Festival.”  Sharing Kyoto. Aug. 18, 2017.
https://sharing-kyoto.com/event_Setsubun-e-senbon-shakado/story

“Otafuku/Okame.” Short article and informative video at site, Traditional Kyoto: https://traditionalkyoto.com/culture/figures/otafuku/
Interestingly, this site explains that “Japanese scholars theorize that long ago, when the first Okame images were created, they may have represented an idealized form of feminine beauty.”

Jan Bardsley, “Otafuku:  Goddess of Everyday Life,” janbardsley.web.unc.edu, February 7, 2022.

 

 

Woodblock print of Japanese girl with knotted love letter, 1910

The Magic of Koibumi: The Japanese Love Letter

What does this girl hold in her hand?  The white paper, carefully folded, draws our attention.  What is inside? Does her glance backward express concern about keeping the object a secret?

Looking closer, we see the print’s title, Girl with Love Letter. That identifies the object. It’s a koibumi (love letter). But what about its shape and folds?

A Conversation with Dr. Aki Hirota, Scholar of Japanese Arts and Culture

To learn more about koibumi, I asked Dr. Aki Hirota. An expert in classical Japanese literature and practitioner of several Japanese arts, Aki gave me wonderful insights.

Tied Letters: An Ancient Custom

“Before envelopes, everyone tied letters, including business letters. But people today looking back to these traditions most often think of love letters,” explained Aki.

“We know that noble men and women tied their letters in this fashion. We know much about their love letters. They often tied the letter onto a flowering branch of a tree and handed it to a messenger who delivered it to the intended person.”

Ah, yes!  That Heian classic, The Pillow Book has beautiful examples of this.

Sei Shōnagon. Wikimedia Commons.

Sei Shōnagon describes a love letter “attached to a spray of bush-clover, still damp with dew, and the paper gives off a delicious aroma of incense” (62).  She also observes, “Very elegant men enclose long iris roots in their letters, and it is a pleasure to watch the women who have received the contents discussing them with their companions and showing each other their replies” (65).

 

 

 

“This custom is still practiced in Japan by shrine worshippers,” Aki continued. “Shrine visitors tie their o-mikuji onto a tree branch.”

That made me curious about o-mikuji. In English, you might call them, “sacred lots.” They are narrow, white strips of papers, each bearing a fortune.

O-mikuji: Good Fortune and Bad Omens

Visiting Shinto Shrines, you often see trees filled with knotted fortunes.  What’s the story here?

Omikuji near Nikkō Tōshō-gū, 2016. Wikimedia Comm.

“When the o-mikuji is a 凶 (bad omen),” said Aki, “lots of people leave it behind–along with the bad luck– by tying the o-mikuji to a living tree. Doing this is supposed to bestow you with life force.”

 

 

Heart-shaped rack.三浦半島散歩多摩 @miurasanpo
Twitter.

 

Pointing to photos of overloaded trees, Aki explains, “But in reality, the tips of tree branches themselves could wilt from the lack of sun that too many tied o-mikuji cause. That’s why  shrines ask you not to use their ancient divine trees. They build racks and the like to serve as a tying space. There are even some racks fashioned in a heart shape.”

Europeans Tied Letters Too

Folded letter. Unlocking History Research Group.

Aki observes that not only Japanese folded messages in the past.

“In Europe, from the Middle Ages down to fairly recent times, letters were folded and sealed with red wax. The writer then stamped the letter with a seal instead of using an envelope.”

Koibumi Style: Obi Fashioned with Love 恋文結び

Obi in Love-Letter Knot Style. Satomi Miyadera.  2018.

Returning to love letters bring us to fashion.  How does the folded koibumi inspire romantics still? Aki explained how the legacy of the tied love note shapes obi fashion today.

“Among the zillion ways of tying an obi on kimono, the koibumi musubi is especially popular now for yukata.”

 

 

“People say it’s great for a date! Of course, today your date may not know anything about the message that it’s supposed to deliver. You’d need to explain what this way of tying is meant to signify.”

Age-old Custom of Japanese Love Letters

Woodblock print of Japanese girl with knotted love letter, 1910

Girl with Love Letter. Circa 1910. Artist Ikeda Terukata(1883-1921). Wikimedia Commons. MFA Boston.

Even this brief foray into koibumi takes us to ancient Japanese customs, art and literature, and obi fashion.  It recalls European folded letters, too. And we know the Girl with Love Letter points to an age-old custom in Japan. Still, the print piques our curiosity about this particular letter.

 

 

For more on koibumi, you can visit the National Diet Library, Japan site, Book Kaleidoscope: The World of Love Letters.  Access this site in English through Google Translate. This site takes you from ancient to modern koibumi in Japanese arts and literature:

https://www.ndl.go.jp/kaleido/entry/26/index.html

Many thanks to Dr. Aki Hirota for sharing her insights into the koibumi, unfolding some of its history.

REFERENCE

Sei Shōnagon, and Ivan Morris. The Pillow Book of Sei Shōnagon. New York: Columbia University Press, 1991.

Jan Bardsley, “The Magic of Koibumi: The Japanese Love Letter,” janbardsley.web.unc.edu, August 12, 2021.

Mask up like a maiko

Summer 2021.  Sadly, the pandemic continues. Following precautions, maiko wear masks.  And some people wear “maiko masks.”  Today we learn about summer greetings in the hanamachi and mask advisories in Japan.

How did maiko perform summer greetings in 2021?

On August 1, Kyoto’s hanamachi celebrate Hassaku八朔. Geiko and maiko visit their arts teachers to pay their respects. They also call at the teahouses in their district to thank them for their patronage.  Hassaku originated in farming communities. Farmers performed rituals on the first day of the 8th lunar month in hopes of an abundant harvest.

The photo shows maiko wearing masks to make Hassaku greetings

“Wearing masks, taking ample precautions, geiko and maiko pay Hassaku respects.” Kyoto Shimbun August 1, 2021.

This August, Kyoto Shimbun featured this photograph of geiko and maiko wearing masks during their greetings.  Also, they had to take care in the scorching heat.  Kyoto Shimbun reports that some in the hanamachi called for suspending the ritual this year. Those participating wore lighter summer kimono instead of the formal black kuromontsuki.  They also made their rounds in small groups this year.

Since 2020, videos of masked maiko in dance practice have also popped up on YouTube.

Add a touch of maiko fun to masking

Mask with maiko figures.
Creema 2021.

Mask case. Eirakuya 2021.

 

 

 

 

 

 

We also find examples of “maiko masks” and mask cases. Creema offers this pink, maiko-laden mask. I found maiko masks sold on several other sites, too.

The Kyoto textile firm Eirakuya produced a mask case featuring a maiko walking among the torii at Fushimi Inari Shrine.

When not to wear a mask: Heat Advisories

In Order to Avoid Heatstroke. Amagasaki . Jun 1, 2021.

This heat advisory posted in Amagasaki City in Hyogo Prefecture warns residents to avoid heat stroke.

Outside and safely distanced, it’s better to take off your mask in the summer heat.

 

The fun of teacher-student greetings in August

Thinking about Hassaku greetings in the hanamachi reminds me of greeting teachers in the U.S.   As a graduate student at UCLA, I loved visiting my professors in August, excited to tell them about my summer research in Japan. I appreciate their encouragement all the more now.  Later, as a professor myself, I enjoyed meeting my students and hearing about their summer adventures.  Trips abroad, summer camp counseling, internships–so many experiences they’d had.

I do look forward to the return of easier face-to-face communication.

I am vaccinated and I do wear my mask in public places.

Jan Bardsley, “Mask up like a maiko,”janbardsley.web.unc.edu, August 10, 2021.

 

A Maiko’s Party Manners: Taboo Behaviors at Ozashiki

A maiko learns the proper etiquette for parties (ozashiki) at teahouses (ochaya). But what behaviors must she avoid?

Cover, Maiko etiquette by Kamishichiken Ichimame. Copyright © 2007. Daiwa Shobō.

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.
https://japanology.org/2016/07/how-to-conquer-seiza-the-foreigners-nightmare/

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!

REFERENCES

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

Cool Beauty in Kyoto: Uchiwa Summer Fans

What is the story behind the maiko’s uchiwa fan?

This pretty book-cover image shows a lovely way to stay cool in Kyoto’s summer months. Here, we see maiko Momohana lifting her chin to catch the breeze as her best friend Kiyo waves the fan.  The fan bears the maiko Momohana’s name in red, 百はな

One reader of Koyama’s manga ordered her own “Momohana” uchiwa.
https://www.goodhostelskyoto.com/blog/

What’s the story behind this distinctive fan?  How do Kyoto’s maiko and geiko use them? How does their display in the hanamachi create a pleasant summer mood?

Today’s blog post explores the story behind the maiko’s summer fan. We learn about their use in gift-giving, as a maiko accessory, and a sign of Kyoto. We even hear one geiko’s funny story about designing her own. 

What is an uchiwa fan?

Kasamori Osen and Fan Hawker by by Suzuki Harunobu-Tokyo National Museum. 18th century.

The uchiwa–a flat, round fan with a fixed handle– became a popular summer accessory in the Edo period (1603-1867).

Famous artists designed colorful prints for them. They created scenes of everyday life, portraits of famous actors and beautiful women.  Many of these stylish uchiwa prints are now held in museum collections.

 

What is the maiko’s uchiwa called?
Kyō-maru Uchiwa 京丸うちわ

The practice of fashioning these “Round Fans of the Capital” (kyō-maru uchiwa) as the summer gift of geiko and maiko began in the early Meiji era (1868-1912).


I received this uchiwa from a geiko as a gift in 2011. (Left), we see the maiko’s name, Ichimame, and her district name, Kamishichiken. (Right), we see the crest of her okiya. I photographed this in 2021 amid the greenery of North Carolina.

A Sign of Summer in Kyoto’s Hanamachi

Cheerful uchiwa offer a welcome reprieve from the heat and humidity of summer in Kyoto’s hanamachi. The crisp white paper of each round, flat fan perched atop a sturdy bamboo handle bears the name of an individual geiko or maiko brushed in bright red ink.

Pontocho uchiwa. Photo by yajico, 2005. Wikimedia.

On display in hanamachi restaurants, sweets shops, and small-goods stores, the fans signal the patronage of the local okiya. One finds uchiwa decorating tony bars and casual ramen shops alike. Shop owners hang uchiwa neatly in exacting vertical or horizontal rows or even gathered on walls like insouciant bouquets. They may cover a ceiling or wall.

Do you recognize the maiko and geiko names?

Customers familiar with the district’s geiko and maiko enjoy scanning these uchiwa displays to find names that they recognize (Aihara, 121).  Dalby, too, muses, “The red characters on the white fans make an intriguing design, and as we sat down I kept glancing at them for familiar names and new ones” (31).

Making uchiwa today in Kyoto

Komaruya, which makes and sells uchiwa and other fans. https://komaruya.kyoto.jp/

Continuing the tradition, Komaruya, a Kyoto shop that dates to 1624, employs a team of eight to craft these distinctive fans in stages, working from a single piece of bamboo, painstakingly applying the paper, and brushing the vermillion ink. The fans feature the okiya crest (kamon) on the “front.” On the “back,” they display the name of the geiko or maiko and her hanamachi, except in the case of the Gion uchiwa which omit the district name (Aihara, 124-25).

Uchiwa as summer gifts

Koyama Aiko. Maiko-san-chi no Makanai-san. Serialized manga. Volume 10, Episode 106, p. 119. (2019).

The dresser asks Kiyo’s help with uchiwa. Koyama Aiko. Maiko-san-chi no Makanai-san. Serialized manga. Volume 10, Episode 106, p. 118. (2019).

Every June okiya mothers take charge of purchasing fresh uchiwa to send to the teahouses and shops in their district.  Geiko and maiko delight in presenting them to regular clients as a form of the traditional summer gift (ochūgen), as manga artist Aiko Koyama explains in this frame.

Here, Kiyo receives an order of uchiwa for the maiko in her okiya.

A geiko designs her own uchiwa

On becoming an independent geiko, the artist takes responsibility for providing her own uchiwa.

Kokimi Cover

Bare-faced Geiko, 2007.

Gion geiko Kokimi humorously recounts her initial adventure in uchiwa design.

Following convention for a fully-fledged geiko, Kokimi needed to have her family crest on the front of the fan, and on the back, the characters for her family name Yamaguchi山口 rather than her okiya name, alongside her geiko name.

 

But what was Kokimi’s family crest?

Having no idea what her family crest might be, Kokimi visited Yamaguchi family graves in her native Tokunoshima.

There, she found something resembling an arrow that looked pretty cool. Plus, she adds with a smile, it was a crest “already in use!”

An Awesome Discovery

On receiving Kokimi’s suggested design, the uchiwa designer said he had never seen that kind of crest, but on looking it up, found that it meant “awesome arrow” (erai ya). He assured her that there was no problem with each new generation coming up with its own crest. Kokimi happily proclaims, “Hey, all you Yamaguchi out there, this is my family crest and I am going to run with it!”(141-42).

References

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

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

Koyama Aiko. Maiko-san-chi no Makanai-san. Serialized manga. Volume 14. Cover art. Shōgakukan, 2020, and Volume 10, Episode 106, 2019.  For its new online anime adaptation, NHK World translates the manga title as Kiyo in Kyoto: From the Maiko House.

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

[1] The Komaruya website has lovely photos of uchiwa. http://komaruya.kyoto.jp  [accessed 2 May 2018].

Jan Bardsley, “Uchiwa Summer Fans,”  janbardsley.web.unc.edu, June 24, 2021

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. https://www.pref.shimane.lg.jp/admin/seisaku/koho/photo/172/4.html

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.

References

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,” janbardsley.web.unc.edu, 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. https://www.gion.or.jp

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. amazon.co.jp 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. https://minne.com/items/26153939. 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 cats.amazon.co.jp

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.

References

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 amazon.co.jp on May 11, 2021.

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

 

Carnations

Maiko celebrate Mother’s Day in the Hanamachi

Gifts of Pink Carnations to Hanamachi Mothers

Mother’s Day in Japan takes place on the second Sunday in May.  The hanamachi celebrates this custom, too. Maiko and geiko honor their hanamachi “mothers”—the managers of okiya and ochaya as well as their teachers—by presenting them with bouquets of pink carnations.

Photo by FLY:D on Unsplash

The Maternal Role of Hanamachi Mothers

This okiya mother sends maiko off to their evening assignments, remindsing them, “Do your best.” Koyama Aiko, Maiko-san chi no Makanai-san, Vol. 1 (2017), p. 33

Certainly, the hanamachi could not survive without its mothers. They are its main business leaders, curators of tradition, and teachers of the next generations of maiko and geiko.  As I discuss in Maiko Masquerade, popular guides and fiction on the hanamachi praise okiya mothers (okāsan) for embracing a maternal role.

Fictional mothers, such as the okāsan of the Ichi okiya, depicted (left) in Koyama’s popular manga, nurture with affection, advice, and admonishment. Actual mothers portray their roles similarly.  Masuda Kazuyo, one Pontochō mother remarked, “Unless you think of them as your own children, you cannot raise [a maiko]. It truly warms my heart when even those who have left Pontochō to marry come back for
a visit, still calling me “Mother” (Interview with Kyoko Aihara, 2012).

What’s the history of Mother’s Day in Japan?

Age of Shōjo: The Emergence, Evolution, and Power of Japanese Girls’ Magazine (SUNY Press, 2019).

This attention to Mother’s Day in the hanamachi makes me curious about the holiday’s origins in Japan. Historians have written at length about its connection to American influence, militarism, and commerce. Here are just a few highlights.

It was American missionaries who introduced Mother’s Day to Japan.  In 1931, the Ministry of Education formed the Greater Japan Federated Women’s Association  (Dai Nihon Rengo Fujinkai ). At that point,  the Association rebranded Mother’s Day as a celebration of the March 6th birthday of Empress Kojun (1903-2000). In the postwar, however, as Hiromi Tsuchiya Dollase explains, Mother’s Day was “re-introduced as a Western holiday” (89). Dr. Dollase points to the cover of the girls’ magazine Shōjo no tomo (43, no. 5, 1950), featuring “Japanese Little Women,” which “explains how the Nishikawa family spent their Mother’s Day” (90).  Four smiling girls in western dress surround their mother, who wears kimono, as she opens a present.

Mother’s Day Carnations in the Hanamachi

Cover, Hannari to: Kyō maiko no kisetsu (2004).

 

In 2004, photographer Mizobuchi Hiroshi captured kimono-clad maiko and geiko carrying gift bouquets of pink carnations in the Miyagawa-chō hanamachi. He remarks that the practice took hold in the hanamachi, but does not mention when or why (24).

Given the importance of okāsan leadership in the hanamachi, it is little wonder they are honored on Mother’s Day.

References

Kyoko Aihara, Kyoto hanamachi: Maiko to geiko no uchiake-banashi [The Kyoto hanamachi: Frank talk from maiko and geiko]. Tokyo: Tankōsha, 2012.

Hiromi Tsuchiya Dollase, Age of Shōjo: The Emergence, Evolution, and Power of Japanese Girls’ Magazine (SUNY Press, 2019).

Mizobuchi Hiroshi, Hannari to: Kyō maiko no kisetsu [Elegance: Kyoto Maiko Four Seasons] Kyoto Shinbun Shuppan Sentā, 2004.

Jan Bardsley, “Maiko celebrate Mother’s Day in the Hanamachi,” janbardsley.web.unc.edu, May 9, 2021.

 

 

How a Star Maiko Makes a Good Impression: Afternoon Greetings

 

Boudewijn Huysmans   Unsplash

The two maiko catch sight of Momohana walking purposefully.  Where is she going? It’s their afternoon free time between lessons and evening parties.  “I bet she’s making afternoon greetings at the teahouses,” says one. “What a serious girl.” Impressed, the two maiko resolve to make more effort themselves. This scene in Koyama Aiko’s maiko manga introduces the “afternoon greeting.”

A maiko’s afternoon greetings: What’s the purpose? How may we learn from the practice?

Today’s post takes us to the custom of ochaya mawari, that is, “making the rounds of the teahouses.”  What’s the purpose of this practice?  What can it tell us about the importance of even brief face-to-face communication?

The maiko must develop good relations with teahouse managers

Maiko and geiko depend on invitations to participate in ozashiki (evening teahouse parties).  That makes it important to stay on good terms with all the women who manage teahouses in their hanamachi (geisha neighborhood).  Making the rounds of teahouses during free time in the afternoon offers one way to do this. As a new member of the hanamachi, the maiko must get her face known in the neighborhood. Ochaya-mawari presents a time-honored way to make a good impression.

Artist Koyama explains the custom

Kiyo in Kyoto: From the Maiko House [Maiko-san-chi no Makanai-san], manga by Koyama Aiko. Episode 32, Volume 4. Shōgakukan, 2017.

In this episode, Koyama’s narrator explains the custom as going to each teahouse one by one to make a quick greeting.

In her manga series Kiyo in Kyoto: From the Maiko House, Koyama Aiko introduces many hanamachi customs.  Momohana, her star maiko, has remarkable talent. But she also works tirelessly to become the best maiko that she can be.  Naturally, she leads the others in taking her afternoon greetings seriously.

 

Momohana greets the teahouse mother. Maiko-san-chi no Makanai-san, manga by Koyama Aiko. Episode 32, Volume 4. Shōgakukan, 2017.

As Momohana’s example illustrates, the courtesy call is a quick greeting. She slides open the door to the  genkan (entryway). This is a space viewed as in-between the public and private. Next, Momohana calls out in the hanamachi dialect, “Excuse me, it’s Momohana.” (すんまへん、百はなどす。Sunmahen, Momohana dosu).  She mentions that her schedule is open at 8pm, so she would be free to attend an ozashiki at this teahouse.

The smile on the okami-san’s  (manager’s) face shows that Momohana is making a good impression indeed. Of course, that Momohana earns praise for making the rounds implies that she is an unusually dutiful maiko.

Afternoon greetings as a staple of maiko life

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

We find the importance of the maiko’s “afternoon rounds” emphasized in many books on hanamachi life.  In A Geisha’s Journey (2008), Komomo describes how, as a maiko, she made lunchtime “visits to each of the almost forty tea houses in Miyagawa-chō, where many of the ozashiki (evening parties) were held. Believe or not, I did this every day for two whole years, just to drum up business for our okiya” (32).

Geisha, A Life.

Writing about hanamachi life in the 1960s and 1970s, Mineko Iwasaki notes even “geiko had to pay their courtesy calls in the afternoon, in order to remain on good terms with the owners of the ochaya and the senior maiko and geiko. If any member of the community was sick or injured, protocol demanded that they call on her promptly to voice their concern” (79-80).

Face-to-face communication: A useful skill beyond the hanamachi

Even in our digital age, experts in organizational relations promote in-person communication. In “The Lost Art of Face to Face Communication and Why it’s still important,” The Lee Group champions the practice for several reasons.  Meeting people in person can communicate through body language, help build relationships, and foster collaboration. It also allows for better discussion of sensitive issues. One may pick up cues in person that get missed in email.

We also understand that meeting in person takes extra effort and time.  This shows a friendly respect in ways that texts and emails cannot.

Isolated from the usual face-to-face encounters during the pandemic, I missed casual human interactions.  Whether pleasant, irritating, or comic, they added stimulation to my day.  Now that it’s easier to go out again–still masked, safely distant–I will embrace the maiko’s practice of getting out to greet shopkeepers and passersby in my neighborhood. Learning from the hanamachi, I realize this practice builds community.

References

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

Komomo and Naoyuki Ogino. A Geisha’s Journey: My Life as a Kyoto Apprentice. Translated by Gearoid Reidy and Philip Price. Tokyo: Kodansha International, 2008.

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.

Jan Bardsley, “How a Star Maiko Makes a Good Impression: Afternoon Greetings,” janbardsley.web.unc.edu, April 15, 2021.