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

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The Kimono for Ukraine

It’s Girls’ Day, time for the “Doll Festival.”   A day to celebrate girls at play, having fun with other girls, and enjoying the coming of spring.  In Japan, I often had the privilege of visiting homes to see the classic doll arrangement and hear stories about how friends had collected their dolls.

Hina doll celebration by Mizuno Toshikata, ca.1900.” Judy Shoaf.

If only  children everywhere had the freedom to play with dolls, today.  The fear and violence gripping Ukraine remind us of children there and around the world robbed of their safety.

Looking for connections among Ukraine and maiko, I discovered that in 1971, Kyoto and Kyiv became sister cities.  “Ukrainian folk music groups have held joint concerts with Kyoto citizens, while tea ceremony practitioners and teachers from Kyoto have visited Kyiv,” according to The Japan Times.

In the wake of the Fukushima nuclear meltdown, Japanese reached out to the citizens of Odessa, Ukraine, survivors of the Chernobyl tragedy, who, in turn, sent donations to Japan.  The Washington Post reports that in recent days, protests in Japan, including  in Kyoto, and throughout Asia have voiced support for Ukraine. Japanese are also sending donations to Ukraine.

Today’s post, “The Kimono for Ukraine”  takes us back to a recent and hopeful moment for world peace.  For this post, I tried to learn about auspicious Ukrainian symbols — sunflowers, storks, and Easter eggs.

The Kimono Project  –  Art Transcending Boundaries

Imagine One World. Posted on Facebook. Accessed March 3, 2022.

Initiated in 2014 by Imagine One World Organization, the Kimono Project aimed to honor the 2020/21 Olympic and Paralympic Games held in Tokyo.   Yoshimasa Takakura, a third-generation kimono designer from Fukuoka,  headed the project.  Initially, he wanted to see 206 kimono, one for each country participating in the Olympics. In the end, it appears that 213 kimono were created.

According to Inspirations, Takakura came up with the Kimono Project idea after participating in a fashion show in Paris in 2013.  Here, he showed kimono designs that blended 18th century Japanese flower motifs by Itō Jakuchū  with art nouveau.  This moment inspired Takakura to imagine a transnational project honoring diverse cultures through kimono.

You can see the kimono displayed online:

The Project was awarded the Diplomas of Honor from the Ministry of Culture, Youth, and Sports in Ukraine (Wikipedia).

The Kimono for Ukraine Features Sunflowers

The sunflower, Ukraine’s national flower,
is becoming a global symbol of solidarity

Washington Post, March 2, 2022

Now “a global symbol of resistance, unity and hope,”  many are wearing sunflowers (real and artificial) to show their support for Ukraine (Washington Post).  First Lady Jill Biden wore a blue dress with sunflower at one cuff to the State of the Union address on March 2.  Many members of Congress also wore sunflower charms or the yellow and blue colors of Ukraine.

We see these colors, and of course, glorious sunflowers on the kimono for Ukraine designed by Masanobu Oota.

The Kimono for Ukraine Designed by Masanobu Oota 太田正伸

View online at

Ukraine kimono. Sponspr Ide Shunta. Imagine OneWorld Project. Sora News July 30, 2021.

Notice the storks on the kimono, magical symbols of prosperity and protection in Ukraine. We see embroidered flowers on the kimono sleeve (see detail below) as found in Ukrainian folk costumes.

Author Marek Silarski. Ukrainians in from Maramureș Mountains (Inner Eastern Carpathians, north of Romania) wearing the regional folk-costume of Poltava in central Ukraine; photo – village Mokre, 2007. Wikimedia.


Ukrainian Easter Eggs in Obi Designed by Nishijin-Maizuru

Nishijin-Maizuru, Ltd.

Detail of obi by Nishijin-Maizuru, Ltd.

Handcrafted with the Nishijin-ori technique, the obi’s motif displays pysanka, Ukrainian Easter Eggs. The Ukrainian Museum explains how in ancient times women and girls would decorate fertilized eggs. Each color and symbol had meaning. No longer considered talismans today, they are appreciated as beautiful art objects.

Detail from obi for Ukraine.

Ukrainian Easter Eggs. The Ukrainian Museum, 2010.


FEATURED IMAGE:  Sunflowers. Odessa, Ukraine. Jul 4, 2012. Author Анатолий Зубанюк.
Wikimedia Commons.

Jan Bardsley, “The Kimono for Ukraine,”  March 3, 2022.


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

Fine dining.
Jamie Coupaud. Unsplash.

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

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

Dining out with the dashing talent scout

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

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

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

Dinner to the rescue of the busy maiko

Fine dining. Photo by Johen Redman on Unsplash

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

Watch your table manners

Arai Mameji. 2015.

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

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

Maiko Taste: Macaroni over Posh Cuisine

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

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

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

Maiko Yumehana’s Gohan tabe Mishap

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

Twins Nozomi (maiko Yumehana) and Megumi harmonize magically. Here they are in Megumi’s hometown Matsue.

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

Actress Ishida Hikari as geiko Hanayuki.

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

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

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