Tag Archives: geiko

Maiko at the Plum Blossom Festival

February 25th is a busy day for women in the Kamishichiken hanamachi. Clad in formal kimono, maiko, geiko, and teahouse managers serve tea to numerous guests. All to celebrate the Plum Blossom Festival (Baika-sai) at Kitano Tenmangū Shrine.

How do maiko dress for the event? What’s the meaning behind this festival?   Today’s post takes a look.

The Discover Kyoto website has spectacular photographs and a video of the event.:
https://www.discoverkyoto.com/event-calendar/february/baikasai-kitano-tenmangu/

Maiko Dance & Greet the Public

Maiko Plum Blossom Festival, 2011.

Plum Blossom Festival, 2011.
Nils R. Barth. Wikimedia Commons.

The image above shows a maiko at the festival wearing the February kanzashi hair ornament. It follows the plum motif, too. A cluster of fabric blossoms in red, white, and pink.  In various photos of the event, I notice some maiko wear kimono with plum blossom patterns.

The photo shows the maiko participating in the festival’s open-air tea ceremony (nodate) at the shrine. It’s been performed annually since 1952.  As the Discover Kyoto clip shows, maiko, geiko, and teahouse managers work together to serve the tea.  Friendly and formal, the women manage to serve hundreds of guests.  Due to pandemic precautions in 2022, however, they will perform a tea ceremony, but not do the public service (Sharing Kyoto).

Kamishichiken maiko Ichimame describes how performing at Baika-sai offers a chance to show how she has progressed in her arts practice. “When we bring the tea, everyone looks truly happy, and that makes us feel pleased, too” (34).

Whom does the festival honor?

Portrait of Sugawara Michizane, Japanese. Muromachi period, 15th century, ink and color on silk, Honolulu Museum of Art. Wikimedia Commons.

The festival takes place on the death anniversary of Sugawara no Michizane (845-903).  The legendary Heian scholar of Chinese literature wrote poetry in Chinese and Japanese.  As a civil servant, he rose to a powerful position at court. Accused of treason by a rival, Michizane found himself banished from court. He was sent to an administrative post in Kyushu where he later died.

But a series of disasters struck only two years after his death. Was this a sign of Michizane’s vengeful spirit?  Efforts to appease his spirit led to restoring his title and recognizing Michizane as the heavenly diety (tenjin) of learning.  The year 947 saw Kitano Tenmangū Shrine erected in his honor.  The Kitano website states, “There are as many as 12,000 shrines that are dedicated to Sugawara no Michizane in Japan, but the Kitano Tenmangu Shrine is the origin and the main shrine.”  Hoping for success in their own exams, students travel to Kitano Tenmangū Shrine with their prayers to this diety of learning.

Sugawara no Michizane, 1886 print. Artist Yoshitoshi, 1839-1892. Lib. of Congress. Wikimedia.

The Baika-sai festival commemorates Michizane’s fondness for plum trees. 

Yoshitoshi’s print (above) captures Michizane, the poet, enthralled with the sight of plum blossoms. The Claremont Colleges Digital Library explains its context.

The plum blossom was Michizane’s favorite flower, and he would often write about its fragile petals and delicate fragrance. Here the artist has depicted the young poet writing on a folded sheet of paper held on a fan. The gnarled plum tree trunk is rendered in strong calligraphic strokes, which suggest the powerful brushwork for which Michizane would become famous.”

Homage to Hideyoshi’s Famous Kitano Grand Tea Ceremony

Toyotomi Hideyoshi. Wikimedia Commons.

The tea ceremony at Baika-sai also pays homage to another famous figure in Japanese history, the warlord Hideyoshi Toyotomi  (1537 – 1598).  He held the Grand Kitano Tea Ceremony  at Kitano Tenmangū Shrine in 1587. Since the teahouses near the shrine served as resting places for Hideyoshi’s spectacular event, this  may be the origins of the Kamishichiken hanamachi.

Plum Blossoms Past and Present

The annual Plum Blossom Festival at Kitano Tenmangū Shrine gives the public a chance to see maiko and geiko.  They bring the past to the present through costume, dance, and tea ceremony.  The festival recalls legends of the past, the blossoms coax one to enjoy the moment.

Next Post: Hello Kitty!Hello Maiko!

Tenugui (hand towel). EIRAKUYA Co. Ltd. https://eirakuya.jp

Next week, we celebrate Girls’ Day and the Doll Festival (Hinamatsuri) in Japan.
What do playful icons of maiko and Sanrio’s “Hello Kitty” character have in common?  How about when Kitty-Chan performs in Maiko cosplay?  What’s the difference between these two as dolls of contemporary Japan?

FEATURED IMAGE: Lovely photo posted in 2011 by 663highland to Wikimedia Commons. It’s taken at Kitano Tenmangū in northeast Kyoto.

REFERENCES:

“Baikasai and Nodate Ohchanoyu (Ume plum blossom festival).” Sharing Kyoto.
Feb. 08, 2022. https://sharing-kyoto.com/event_Plum_Festival

Kamishichiken Ichimame. 2007. Maiko no osahō (Maiko etiquette). Tokyo: Daiwa Shobō.

Jan Bardsley, “Maiko at the Plum Blossom Festival,” janbardsley.web.unc.edu, February 24, 2022.

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.
https://news.mynavi.jp/article/20140914-a035/

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.
https://www.kyoto-tsujikura.com/product/kiwami-020/

REFERENCES

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,” Janbardsley.web.unc.edu. February 18, 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.

 

 

Out with the Demons! In with Good Fortune!

Setsubun festivities are among the liveliest in Kyoto’s hanamachi. Maiko and geiko take part in public rituals and teahouse party fun.  Today’s blogpost explores the meanings of this February event.  Maiko manga, travel videos, and geiko memoirs record its daytime rituals and evening hilarity.

What is Setsubun?

According to the lunar calendar, Setsubun 節分, literally, the “seasonal division,” marks both the last day of winter and the last day of the year.

“a ritually meaningful moment”

Likening Setsubun to New Year’s Eve, Michael Dylan Foster describes it as “a dividing point between the old year and the new and therefore a ritually meaningful moment of transition.  This is a crack in the flow of time, a potentially dangerous bridge between one period and another, during which both good and bad spirits might enter” (124).

The Mamemaki Ritual of Tossing Beans

The mamemaki ritual of scattering roasted soybeans serves to drive out the evil spirits. I remember doing this in college in Japan. So much fun! We tossed beans out the high windows of our residence hall into a yard out back. We shouted,Oni wa soto, fuku wa uchi! — Out with the demons, in with good fortune.”  

As we shall see, maiko and geiko practice the mamemaki ritual and dance at major shrines to the delight of crowds.

How do Maiko and Geiko Take Part?

Aiko Koyama, 2017.

In the afternoons on February 2nd and 3rd, maiko and geiko celebrate Setsubun with artistry.  They offer dances to the deity of the new year at public ceremonies at famous Kyoto shrines. Members of the Kamishichiken hanamachi dance at Kitano-Tenmangū Shrine. Those from the other hanamachi perform at Yasaka Shrine.

Checking online, however, I see that many 2022 Setsubun events in Kyoto appear to have been cancelled, likely due to pandemic precautions.

Manga artist Aiko Koyama imagines maiko dancing, then tossing beans.

Aiko Koyama, 2017.

From the stage, maiko and geiko toss out packets of beans to the raucous crowds hoping to exorcise misfortune and catch their own bit of luck.

Oni, Maiko and Geiko Celebrate Setsubun at Kitano-Tenmangū Shrine.

Here’s a 2015 video clip of the Setsubun Festival at Kitano-Tenmangū Shrine. Originally posted by Discover Kyoto, Niwaka Corporation.

Costume Play in the Evening at Ozashiki Parties

In the evening, the hanamachi comes alive as geiko, and in some cases, even their clients appear as obake. That is, they become mischief-makers “transformed” into oni by playful disguises.

You may see samurai and other Tokugawa-era figures, ballerinas, Peking Opera stars, and characters from famous films, anime and manga. We find geiko in all manner of costumes.

Why Costume for Setsubun?

As Liza Dalby explains, this costuming practice recalls superstitions.  In the past, Japanese practiced “customs of inversion” during Setsubun to ward off oni. They believed the oni threatened to come closer to humans during this precarious juncture. It was a time when “high becomes low, old becomes young, women play men and vice versa” (120). Women and girls fooled the oni by inverting their usual fashion to play at being old or young (120-21).

Geiko–and Sometimes Clients, too– in Carnivalesque Obake Costumes 

Geiko often plan months in advance for this event. Many form pairs or groups of three to decide their theme, devise costumes, and create a short act to perform at the evening’s parties.  Clients gather at teahouses and bars in the hanamachi at Setsubun, waiting for the moment when the obake will appear. Clients give generous tips in thanks for the fun.

Yamato Waki, Crimson Fragrance, 2003-07.

Some clients turn the table by dressing as geiko or maiko themselves, as we see in Yamato Waki’s manga above.  The grotesque sight comically flips the beauty, gender identity, and etiquette of geiko and maiko.

What Kinds of Costumes?

Exploring hanamachi festivals, Hamasaki Kanako describes some fantastic geiko costumes.  One year, for example, an elaborate act involved two geiko combining elements of Phantom of the Opera with a surprising costume-switch to Hawaiian dance. For this five-minute performance, the women had prepared for months. They took dance lessons, researched make-up options, edited music, and rented special costumes (95).

Maiko Assist Their Costumed Elder Sisters

In her manga Crimson Fragrance, Yamato Waki explains that maiko do not participate in the over-the-top costuming because they need to maintain their maiko hairstyles. Similarly, Aiko Koyama explains that maiko may assist their elder geiko sisters with their costumes and props.

Fond Geiko Memories of Obake Costuming

“we’re allowed to purposely look a mess”
— Geiko Komomo

Geiko Komomo describes going to over 70 lively ozashiki on the night of Setsubun. She finds freedom in the crazy costuming. “We always have to make ourselves beautiful in our everyday life, so obake is the only time we’re allowed to purposely look a mess, so you can imagine there’s a lot of competition for the male roles!” (132).

Former Gion geiko Iwasaki Mineko recalls going to almost 40 ozashiki on Setsubun in 1972. She stayed only a few minutes at each party.  But she earned enough in tips for a vacation to Hawaii. “That night we made over $30,000, enough to travel in style” (255).

For more on oni demons

Noriko T. Reider explains Oni

Oni (variously translated into English as demons, monsters, and mischief-makers) have a long history in Japanese literature and culture. They range from fearsome spirits to playful ones. If you want to know more, see Noriko T. Reider’s book  Japanese Demon Lore: Oni, from Ancient Times to the Present (Logan, UT: Utah State University Press, 2010).

Next post:  The Happy Goddess of Setsubun Festivals

Otafuku

Posted by Nissy-KITAQ, 2010. Wikimedia Commons.

A cheerful goddess features in Setsubun Festivals. People commonly call her Okame or Otafuku.  We find her image in many forms all over Japan.  In our next post, we find out about this happy figure.

Featured Image:  This undated image of mamemaki is posted on Yasaka Shrine’s website, https://www.yasaka-jinja.or.jp/en/yearly_events/

REFERENCES

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

Foster, Michael Dylan and Kijin Shinonome, The Book of Yokai: Mysterious Creatures of Japanese Folklore.  Berkeley: University of California Press, 2015, 124.

Hamasaki Kanako, “Annual Events in the Hanamachi” (Hanamachi no nenchū gyōji), In Kyō no kagai: Hito, waza, machi [Kyoto’s hanamachi: People, arts, towns], edited
by Ōta Tōru and Hiratake Kōzō, 92–109. Tokyo: Nippon Hyōronsha, 2009, 95.

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. Tokyo: Kodansha International, 2008.

Koyama Aiko.  Maiko-san-chi no Makanai-san. Serialized manga. Volume 4. Page 101. Shōgakukan, 2017. “A Drink To Bring Out Your Best” (Episode 39) of the manga with English translation is available online: https://mangaboat.com/manga/maiko-san-chi-no-makanai-san/ch-039/
You can see the anime version of Koyama’s Setsubun 3 episodes in Kiyo in Kyoto: From the Maiko House at: https://www3.nhk.or.jp/nhkworld/en/ondemand/video/2094010/

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

Jan Bardsley, “Out with the Demons! In with Good Fortune!,” janbardsley.web.unc.edu, February 3, 2022.

Backstage with Hungry Maiko in Early January

In early January, maiko return to Kyoto from their New Year’s holidays.  What a change is in store!

Visiting with their families, they had a chance to let their hair down — literally. They wore casual clothes. They hung out with their old pals. And they relaxed into their local dialects.  Back in Kyoto, it’s time to assume the maiko persona once more.

Let’s look at some comic scenes in the apprentices’ return to okiya life.  They savor their last moments of vacation freedom and bring back tastes of home. These food souvenirs, called omiyage, represent an important gift-giving custom practiced throughout Japan. (That’s a topic for a future post).

Tasty Treats from around Japan

Arriving at their okiya, maiko share food gifts unique to their hometowns. Since the vast majority of maiko come from outside Kyoto, many different foods appear all at once. Each nicely wrapped.

For one example, our featured image (above) shows maple-leaf shaped Momiji manjū cakes. Filled with coarse red bean paste, they are famous in Miyajima (or Itsukushima) in Hiroshima Prefecture. Perhaps maiko hailing from Hiroshima would bring these to their okiya.

Describing the bounty of gifts, geiko Yamaguchi Kimijo writes, “It’s as though Gion turns into a department store of famous products from all over Japan.  From the ends of Kyushu in the south to Hokkaido in the north” (128).

Maiko Must Return to the Hanamachi Dialect

Musing on the January return of maiko, Yamaguchi Kimijo observes their lapse into hometown dialects. Even after a short vacation, many find using the hanamachi dialect awkward. Kimijo hears odd intonations popping up as maiko try to get back into the linguistic swing of things. Their hometown dialects are as varied as the hometown foods. Still, the rhythm of hanamachi life soon resumes.

“There’s a point when the famous local specialties from all around Japan and the hometown dialects, too, have disappeared.
That’s when the new year has truly come to Gion” (129).

Kokimi Cover

Bare-faced Geiko, 2007.

Koyama’s Maiko Enjoy Hometown Food Gifts, too

Aiko Koyama, 2017.

Imagining the maiko’s return, manga artist Aiko Koyama shows them fascinated with each other’s food gifts. These maiko munch on all sorts of goodies and take pride in their hometown foods.  “That’s mine, from Hokkaido.” “That’s mine, from Hiroshima.”

 Maiko Momohana and Friends Catch a Fast-Food Break

Aiko Koyama, 2017.

Aha!  The food action in this manga story takes a new turn when their okiya mother gives the maiko money for a last hurrah of fast food.  Off they go in their casual clothes! Once in their maiko hairstyle and kimono, they should not be seen in this contemporary realm of convenience.

At the fast-food place, they meet newly returned maiko from other okiya, too. A flurry of greetings ensues.

Maiko Momohana suggests that her group take their teriyaki burgers down to the bank of the Kamo River. It’s super windy and cold.  But Momohana appreciates the chance for them to gather incognito. Since they are dressed casually, no one knows they are maiko.  As a result, they can enjoy watching others instead of standing out themselves.

A Taste of Teenage Freedom

Aiko Koyama, 2017.

Koyama depicts even proper Momohana and cook Kiyo enjoying every bite of the huge sandwiches.  Looking at her juicy burger, another girl says, “Well, I guess today I’m not back to being a maiko yet.”

The Quest to Become a Maiko-like (maiko-rashii) Maiko

Maiko Masquerade (UC Press, 2021)

These comic moments of maiko reverting to their hometown teenage selves reminds me of the flip side—their ongoing quest to become maiko-rashii maiko.

As we see in Maiko Masquerade, contemporary maiko fiction plays with the idea of the backstage maiko striving to squelch her appetite to perform as the ideal apprentice.  The fiction trains us to admire the maiko’s work, her successful maiko-rashii moments, and empathize with her struggles.  No doubt these moments remind us of our own efforts to conform to a public role. After vacation, we, too, must once again assume our professional persona and get to work.

Formal New Year Beginnings: The Opening Ceremony

Of course, formal rituals and costume help the maiko switch back into her apprentice persona.

Gion Opening Ceremony. Sankei News, 2019.

As we saw in earlier posts, Gion Kōbu and other hanamachi hold their annual Opening Ceremony.  All the maiko and geiko dress formally, and the maiko wear a veritable bouquet of hair ornaments (kanzashi). It’s quite a sight to see them proceed through the hanamachi to the ceremony.

This glimpse into the backstage helps us appreciate the work ordinary girl must do to get in gear for the new year and perform maiko-likeness.

Next Post: Documenting the Hanamachi:  Film Review of Hannari: Geisha Modern


Today’s post explored the comical side of hungry maiko backstage.  In our next post, however, we look at filmmaker Miyuki Sohara’s attempt to capture the serious side of hanamachi culture.  We consider the film, Hannari: Geisha Modern.

Featured image: “Food in Miyajima, Hatsukaichi, Hiroshima, Japan.”
Posted by Daderot, 2001. Wikimedia Commons. This lovely photo features Momiji Manjū  Cake.

REFERENCES

Koyama Aiko. Maiko-san-chi no Makanai-san. Serialized manga. Volume 3.  Shōgakukan, 2017. “Kyoto, Once More” (Episode 27) of the manga with English translation is available online: https://mangaboat.com/manga/maiko-san-chi-no-makanai-san/ch-027/

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

Jan Bardsley, “Backstage with Hungry Maiko in Early January,” janbardsley.web.unc.edu, January 27, 2022.

Adorned in Good Fortune: The Maiko’s New Year Kanzashi

Bright ornaments (kanzashi) adorn the maiko’s hair in the early new year.  The photo above captures Tomitsuyu wearing hers in 2015.  Look closely at the base of the golden ear of rice on her right.  You’ll see a tiny white dove. To the left, we see a cluster of small flowers.

What do these emblems of good fortune mean?  The ear of rice, the dove, the cluster of flowers?  Today’s blog explores these questions, taking us to maiko customs, a Japanese proverb, and the auspicious “three friends of winter.”

When do maiko wear the new year kanzashi?

Maiko wear these kanzashi when they attend their district’s Opening Ceremony and parties in the early new year.  In Gion, the largest district, maiko wear these from January 7th through the 15th. Dates differ by district.

Gion Higashi 2015.
https://giwonhigashi.com/sigyousiki2015/

Let’s look first at the meanings attached to the ear of rice.  In Japanese, the ear is called inaho (稲穂). Inaho is also used as a gender-neutral first name. By the way, the “ear” of rice refers to the “grain-bearing tip part of the stem of a cereal plant” (Thank you Google).

Rice seeds for good luck

Rice and dove hairpin

https://kanzasiya.exblog.jp/12438809/, 2009.

Here we have an ear of unhusked, dried rice affixed to a long hairpin.  A tiny white dove figurine sits at its base. (This one is a version for sale online.) Sometimes we see an artificial plum blossom placed at the base with the dove, too.

Maiko wear this kanzashi on their right. Geiko wear it on the left.

At parties in the new year, maiko and geiko give the seeds from the rice to clients. As the story goes, placing these seeds in one’s wallet makes your business prosper.

 

What values does the ear of rice symbolize?

Rice Aomori, Japan, 2017.Aomori kuma, Wikimedia.

「実るほど、頭を垂れる稲穂かな」

“The boughs that bear most hang lowest.”

Notice that Tomitsuyu’s ear of rice droops down. This recalls the Japanese proverb, “The boughs that bear most hang lowest.” Midori Ukita explains that ears of rice droop as they grow and ripen. The greater the number of seeds they hold, the more they bow. This combination of bounty and bowing evokes the famous proverb. That is,  “the wiser a person becomes, the stronger sense of humility one develops.”

This fits the ideals taught to maiko and geiko. As artists, they realize that no matter how proficient they become in dance, there’s still more to learn. The inaho kanzashi expresses their resolve to remain humble while continually striving for improvement.

Bonds of Affection and the White Dove

The dove figurine has no eyes. As the custom goes, maiko and geiko paint on one eye. Then, they ask someone they admire (or secretly adore) to paint the other. Supposedly, giving the dove eyes makes the maiko and geiko’s dreams come true.

Of course, this custom can cause difficulty. How does a popular maiko or geiko choose one among many loyal clients for the favor? No wonder, as Kyoko Aihara reports, some women just paint in the other eye themselves (38).

Aiko Koyama, 2017.

The dove-painting quest spurs drama in fiction. Here, we see Aiko Koyama’s star maiko Momohana contemplating her dove.  Koyama also draws a group of maiko overly excited about getting one of their idols to paint the missing eye. They yearn to ask: a kabuki actor, a guitarist, a professional Japanese chess player, and even a secretly admired barista. Unbeknownst to the others and offscreen, Momohana chooses her best pal Kiyo for the honor.

The Auspicious Charm of Pine, Bamboo, and Plum Blossoms

Pine, Bamboo, Plum. Wikipedia.

Lots of color comes from the cluster of fabric ornaments. Here, they represent the famed “three friends of winter”– pine, bamboo, and plum bossoms–commonly associated with  the start of the New Year.  In Japanese, Shōchikubai 松竹梅.  Due to “their ability to thrive even in the harshness of winter, pine, bamboo, and plum together embody steadfastness, perseverance, and resilience,” according to Princeton U. Art Museum.

But this example of a new year’s kanzashi is not the only one.  In fact, the new year’s kanzashi design changes every year. You may see miniature versions of old-fashioned toys such as the spinning top (koma) and wooden paddles decorated with images of kabuki actors and geisha (hagoita). Kyoko Aihara notes that Winter Chrysanthemums have been popular in recent years (38).

Making Connections to the Public Good beyond Maiko

The maiko’s new year kanzashi and participation in her district’s Opening Ceremony affirms her connection to community.   I like the way Midori Ukita connects the humility of the inaho to our life in the pandemic. “The pandemic has served as a reminder that individual virtues are tied to civic virtues.  We are humbled at this time and ever more aware that our personal sacrifices are connected to a broader public good.”

I hope to learn more about the maiko’s new year and her other kanzashi in 2022. I’ll post as I go.

FEATURED IMAGE: GION HIGASHI’S BILINGUAL TOMITSUYU
This 2015 photo of maiko Tomitsuyu is posted on the website of her small district Gion Higashi. Born in Kyoto, Tomitsuyu became a maiko in 2013 and a geiko in 2018. Having studied in New Zealand during middle school, Tomitsuyu is fluent in Japanese and English. https://giwonhigashi.com/sigyousiki2015/

REFERENCES

Aihara Kyoko. Maiko-san no Kyoto kagai kentei [The Maiko’s Kyoto Hanamachi Test]. Kyoto Shimbun Shuppan Sentā. 2021.

Koyama Aiko. Maiko-san-chi no Makanai-san. Serialized manga. Volume 3. Cover art. Shōgakukan, 2017. The White Dove (Episode 30) of the manga with English translation is available here: https://mangaboat.com/manga/maiko-san-chi-no-makanai-san/ch-030/

For its new online anime adaptation, NHK World translates the manga title as Kiyo in Kyoto: From the Maiko House. For New Year customs in the hanamachi, see Chapter 23: Opening Ceremony, Chapter 24: White Dove.  Broadcast on September 23, 2021 Available until September 23, 2022. https://www3.nhk.or.jp/nhkworld/en/ondemand/video/2094008/

Ukita, Midori.  NIHONGO Words of the Week (8). Japan America Society of Houston. May 11, 2020. https://www.jas-hou.org/weekly-nihongo/2020/5/11/nihongo-words-of-the-week-week-8

Jan Bardsley, “Adorned in Good Fortune: The Maiko’s New Year Kanzashi,” janbardsley.web.unc.edu, January 21, 2022.

 

The Maiko Gets Back to Work in the New Year

How do you focus your energies to get back to work in the new year?  For Kyoto’s maiko and geiko,  the “Opening Ceremony” inspires resolve.  An annual event, it’s replete with formal clothing, auspicious hair ornaments, awards, and later, rounds of greetings to teahouse managers.

Above, manga artist Aiko Koyama imagines lots of maiko and geiko gathered for the Opening Ceremony in their kuromontsuki kimono.  A photo of the event (below) shows how colorful and happy they are.

Gion Opening Ceremony. Sankei News, 2019.

What are some main features of this annual event? What stands out about it in 2022?  Today’s post explores these questions.

A Local Event Becomes a National One

Gion Kōbu, the largest hanamachi, gets the most publicity. Apparently, it was the only hanamachi to hold an Opening Ceremony in 2022.  Online videos and news articles elevate Gion’s Opening Ceremony to a matter of national cultural significance.  

Maiko Tomitsuyu, 2015. Gion Higashi.

Pre-pandemic, every January, each of Kyoto’s five hanamachi held its own Opening Ceremony (shigyō-shiki 始業式).  Guidebooks do not mention when this practice began. They do explain that four hanamachi (Gion Kōbu, Miyagawa-chō, Ponto-chō, and Gion Higashi) hold the ceremony on January 7th, and Kamishichiken, on January 9th.  But that was before the pandemic.  In 2020 and 2021 all districts cancelled.

The pandemic has been hard on the hanamachi.  Public dances and most parties were cancelled.

 

With little way to earn income,  many geiko have had to rely on savings. Trainees had to postpone their maiko debut.  By last March, the total number of maiko had dropped from 81 to 68 (Onuki).

Celebrating Safely: Masks in 2022 

This JIJI PRESS video shows the joyous  2022 Gion Opening Ceremony. Everyone is masked and the event is reportedly shorter than usual.

About 100 people attended this event. It was held in the building where maiko and geiko take arts lessons, Yasaka Nyokoba Gakuen.

The Gion Kōbu Pledge

At one point in Gion’s Opening Ceremony, all the maiko, geiko, arts teachers, and teahouse proprietors stand to read a short pledge of resolve in unison. Here’s how the pledge opens:

私たちは常に美しく優しく親切にいたしましょう。

We shall always conduct ourselves beautifully,
with gentleness and kindness.

Gion maiko and geiko pledge their resolve. Gion Shopping Street Promotion Associates. https://www.gion.or.jp/

They also pledge to take pride in Gion traditions, strive to cultivate their hearts and minds (kokoro), and to exert themselves in their arts training. Remaining aware of Kyoto’s global status, they will endeavor to seek new knowledge and broaden their vision, while fostering fine customs and winning favor with all.

Recognition at the Opening Ceremony

Generally, at the Opening Ceremony, each hanamachi recognizes its top-earning teahouse manager, geiko, and maiko of the past year.  However, this year, Gion did not recognize earnings — an acknowledgement of the problems caused by the pandemic.

It’s not hard, however, to understand an emphasis on earnings in most years. After all, the hanamachi must earn income to stay alive. Thus, the Opening Ceremony underscores the importance of artistic and business success to the vitality of the hanamachi.  No wonder leaders reward teahouses that attract the most customers and the geiko and maiko that receive the most requests to appear at ozashiki parties.

Earning Hanamachi Awards Takes Ambition and Effort

Komomo and Naoyuki Ogino.  Kodansha International, 2008.

Artistic merit also earns recognition at the Opening Ceremony. It is not easy to achieve this honor and few manage to earn highest ranking in consecutive years.  In Geisha, A Life, Iwasaki Mineko describes the sheer ambition and physical exertion obtaining this award required (187).  In A Geisha’s Journey, Komomo explains her excitement and surprise at winning two awards in her second year as a maiko. One recognized her for “being one of the ten most successful maiko” in her district and the other for “working so hard in my dance and music lessons” (40).

 

Photographers like to capture maiko and geiko at the event in their formal costumes.  Our next post explores the significance of the small, bright golden ear of rice the maiko and geiko wear.

FEATURED IMAGE: This comes from Aiko Koyama’s bestselling serialized manga Maiko-san-chi no Makanai-san. Serialized manga. Volume 3. Shōgakukan, 2017. p.117. For the animated version, See Chapters 23 and 24 on NHK World.  Available until September 23, 2022. https://www3.nhk.or.jp/nhkworld/en/ondemand/video/2094008/

2015 photos here of maiko in the Gion Higashi district posted online at https://giwonhigashi.com/sigyousiki2015/

REFERENCES

Iwasaki Mineko and Rande Brown. Geisha: A Life. New York: Simon and Schuster, 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. Volume 3. Shōgakukan, 2017.

Onuki Satoko. “20 Maiko and Geiko Leave Hanamachi, Annual Income Drops Sharply, the Predicament for Kyoto’s Hanamachi.” (In Japanese). Asahi Shinbun Digital. May 28, 2021. https://www.asahi.com/articles/ASP5W7DT2P5LPLZB00V.html
Access January 11, 2022.

Jan Bardsley, “The Maiko Gets Back to Work in the New Year,” janbardsley.web.unc.edu, January 18, 2022.

Merry Maiko Christmas

True, Christmas is not an official event in the hanamachi. But in today’s post, we learn how playful maiko characters pop up in Christmas merrymaking.  Even a former geiko’s ensemble nods to the holiday.

Making My Desk Maiko-Christmas Ready

Nothing like some cheery maiko to welcome December to my study.

I hang the “Maiko’s Christmas” tenugui from Eirakuya–shown above– across the wide computer screen. It’s an easy way to brighten up my desk for the holidays. Looking at this, you can almost forget December writing deadlines.

Holiday card from Greeting Life, Inc., Kyoto. 2021.

Displaying this delightful holiday card from Haruka sparks joy, too. Here, the maiko sits quietly at Renge-ji Temple. She gazes at its lovely garden. Tiny Santa Claus characters rambling around her seem comically misplaced. Merry mischief makers!

Christmas Decorations in Japan

Christmas 2018. Shizuoka. Jan Bardsley

Of course, I enjoy Christmas in Japan, too. Festive lights and special department store windows, prettily decorated Christmas cakes, and ornamented trees brighten the urban landscape in December. Spectacular light shows, known as winter illuminations, create fantasy spaces of LED lights, even in the Kyoto area. In 2018, Phil and I had great fun in Shizuoka City (near Mt. Fuji), hearing the brass band outside the train station belting out bouncy Christmas tunes, seeing Santa Claus-costumed dancers and Dixie Land band members in the shopping street, and attending a handbell-ringing concert by local high school girls.

Brass Band Shizuoka, 2018. Jan Bardsley.

Maiko and Geiko Join in Unofficial Christmas Fun

Christmas inspires hanamachi fiction, too. Koyama Aiko’s manga about superstar maiko Momohana and her cooking pal Kiyo “whip up” a sweet story.

Koyama Aiko, 2017.

The NHK-World Japan online anime “Kiyo in Kyoto: From the Maiko House” imagines maiko enjoying sugary delights in “Christmas in Kagai.” (Kagai is another pronunciation for hanamachi, the “flower districts” of teahouses and okiya).

As “Christmas in Kagai” opens, it’s nighttime. We see a giant lighted Christmas tree outdoors and illuminations. But when the view shifts to the hanamachi, the quiet streets look the same as ever. Only the usual hanamachi lanterns stand out.  The narrator explains:

“There are no special Christmas events in kagai. No Christmas light decorations. And no Christmas trees. But there are hints of Christmas.”

Takashimaya Christmas Cake 2021.

The anime shows these jolly hints. One elderly teahouse okami-san (manager) wraps her obi with a bright red, green, and white obijime cord. Western-style flower arrangements in the room carry the Christmas theme. Clients bring gifts of brightly decorated Christmas cake, like the pretty 2021 confection shown here from Takashimaya.

Indeed, so many cakes arrive at Kiyo’s okiya that soon the maiko have had their fill of whipped cream and strawberries. Too busy practicing her dance, the diligent maiko Momohana has not had a single bite!  Kiyo comes to the rescue, whipping up a tasty strawberry fruit sandwich for her pal.  The “Christmas in Kagai” anime ends with a lesson in how to make fruit sandwiches, a maiko favorite.

An Elegant Geiko’s Christmas-themed Obi 

Kiriki Chizu’s chic Christmas obi. Posted on her blog Dec. 12, 2021.

“In Gion, the kimono is the indispensable heart of style,” writes former geiko Kiriki Chizu (226).  As we see on her blog, Kiriki always turns an elegant figure in her tasteful kimono. Invoking Christmas gives an unusual seasonal dash to her ensemble.

In December, Kiriki sometimes posts photos of her chic yuletide obi. In 2017, she wrote about wearing it to Kabuki, “I wore my Christmas wreath obi. Kimono help you enjoy the feeling of the season, and that makes me happy.”  This December, she paired the obi with a  pale mauve kimono. In her book The Gion Way, Kiriki credits her sartorial flair to her okiya mother’s tutelage during her maiko days. She’d advise, “Doing the same thing as others is never stylish” (227).

Enjoy Seasonality, Feel Free to Invent

The Gion Way, 2007.

Thus, Kiriki learned to enjoy inventing her own creative moments within  kimono conventions. Among these, the Christmas wreath most delights her.  When a certain Kabuki actor’s wife, an aficionado of kimono, spotted her wearing the obi from afar, she rushed up to Kiriki. “Ooooh my, oh my, oh my…what is that?,” she asked with glee.  With great satisfaction, Kiriki responded, “Oh, this? It’s Christmas.”  Kiriki’s sole regret: she can only wear this chic obi in December (228).

Happy Holidays from Chapel Hill

Here’s to enjoying the year’s end in 2021 with your own ways of celebrating the season.

Maiko Solar Doll. 2021.

REFERENCES

Today’s featured image, the design “Maiko’s Christmas” is found at the website of Eirakuya, Kyoto’s famed textile firm, known for its tenugui (cloth hand towels).
https://eirakuya.shop-pro.jp/?pid=85952743

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. For much more discussion of Kiriki’s book, see Maiko Masquerade: Crafting Geisha Girlhood in Japan, 2021. Translations here are mine.

Koyama Aiko.  Maiko-san-chi-no Makanai-san. Serialized manga. Volume 17. Episode 23, Shōgakukan, 2017. NHK World Japan translates the manga title for its anime adaptation as Kiyo in Kyoto: From the Maiko House.  Here, I reference anime Chapter 17: “Christmas in Kagai.” https://www3.nhk.or.jp/nhkworld/en/ondemand/video/2094006/

Jan Bardsley, “Merry Maiko Christmas,” https://janbardsley.web.unc.edu/  December 20, 2021.

Kotohajime 2021: Maiko Prepare for the New Year

On December 13th, Kyoto’s hanamachi bustle with activity. It’s Kotohajime 事始め, the annual event marking the “beginning of preparations” for the new year.  What kind of rituals take place today? What is their purpose? On Kotohajime 2021, we explore this custom.

Cancelled for the most part last year due to the pandemic, Kotohajime rituals resumed this year–wisely, with masks.

On Dec. 13th, geiko, maiko, and shikomi trainees visit their arts teachers and the teahouse managers. They express their gratitude and request the favor of their guidance in the new year. Clad in lovely kimono, the women start their rounds at 10am.  Amateur photographers record the sight to post on Flickr. Onlookers crowd the area to see the event, too. News team broadcast reports for audiences in Japan and abroad.

NHK News posted this video and article of today’s event in Gion, the largest hanamachi.

A Sight of The Old Capital

Kawabata, 1968. Wikimedia.

Colorful Kotohajime activity in the hanamachi figures in famed author Kawabata Yasunari’s 1962 novel set in Kyoto, The Old Capital, translated by J. Martin Holman.  Kawabata found Kotohajime most closely observed in the Gion hanamachi:

“On this day, this ‘early new year,’ the striking dress of the maiko and the geisha as they came and went enlivened the atmosphere around Gion more than on any other day” (160).

 

 

Greeting Inoue Yachiyo V in Gion on Kotohajime

Today, the news brings viewers right to the center of this activity.

This 2019 Kyodo News broadcast shows the Kotohajime rituals taking place at the residence of the head (iemoto) of the Inoue School of Kyoto Dance, Inoue Yachiyo V.  The large room normally used for dance practice displays colorful rice cakes on a tiered stand. These kagami mochi are “offerings to the deities” from the maiko and geiko.

Inoue Yachiyo V greets geiko and maiko, 2019. The Sankei News.

Sankei News shows the geiko and maiko seated in a line before Inoue Yachiyo V. Each patiently waits her turn to offer the New Year’s greeting, “Congratulations, teacher.” In response, Inoue encourages her students, presenting each a folding fan to use in her dance practice in the new year.

 

Maiko Momohana Reflects on her Year of Dance Training

Momohana. Koyama Aiko, 2020.

Manga artist Koyama Aiko picks up on the ritual as a time for reflection, too.  She imagines her star maiko Momohana interviewed by a TV news team. The reporter asks, “Today, on Kotohajime, may I ask how you reflect on the past year?” Momohana responds modestly, “I’m painfully aware of missing the mark this year and I will concentrate more than ever next year.”  Her answer mirrors the responses we hear given by actual maiko on news videos!  Catching the interview, her friend Kenta remembers how even as a child, Momohana had terrific resolve. In the next frame, Koyama depicts little Sumire in pigtails standing tall, fierce with determination.

Kotohajime: The Busiest Time of the Hanamachi Year

Anthropologist Liza Dalby, who did fieldwork in the Pontochō hanamachi in the mid-1970s, remembers Kotohajime as “one of the busiest times of the year” (250).  “Not only are all the clients making plans for end-of-the-year parties, the geisha have more than the usual responsibilities and ceremonial duties vis-à-vis one another and the ex-geisha who run the teahouses” (160).

The Beginning of the New Year at the End of the Old Year?

“Although the year has not ended,” writes Kyoko Aihara, “this is the day that new year preparations begin in the hanamachi. This day marks the start of the new year” (215).

Kokimi Cover

Bare-faced Geiko, 2007.

“Kotohajime, you say? Why does all this talk about the new year happen at the end of year?” Gion geiko Kokimi imagines her readers may find it strange that this new year event takes place on December 13th.  When she first came to the hanamachi, she, too, was surprised to hear all the congratulatory new year greetings mid-December (116). But Kotohajime was once more commonly practiced in Japan.

 

According to Japan Reference, December 13th used to be more widely observed as the day to begin preparations for the new year’s holiday, the most important in Japan. It was time to give the house a thorough cleaning and display seasonal decorations. These days Japanese tend to do this at the end of December. But the hanamachi follows the old custom.

Reading almanacs led Liza Dalby to discover that, “for most people in agricultural Japan o-koto hajime meant something quite different than it did for geisha. ‘The beginning of things’ referred to the chores of the farming season, which started in earnest just after the lunar new year. Farmers also observed ‘the finishing of things’ (o-koto osame) around the first week of December, leaving a six-week interval of relatively quiet time. Interestingly, I never heard of o-koto osame in the geisha world. For geisha, some times are busier than others, but things are never finished” (251).

Learning from the Kotohajime Custom

It’s reassuring to see the hanamachi returning to life this year.  Reading about Kotohajime past and present, I take a moment to feel gratitude to my teachers, family, and friends. And there’s plenty for me to do, too, to get ready for the new year.

REFERENCES

*Note that the event is also romanized as two words, sometime hyphenated: koto hajime; koto-hajime. It’s also translated as “the beginning of things” and “things to do for the New Year.”

The featured image today is found on Yasuhiro Imamiya.jp.  It shows Gion maiko visiting iemoto Inoue Yachiyo. Imamiya’s blog has many beautiful photos of Kyoto events:  http://www.imamiya.jp/haruhanakyoko/event/koto.htm

Aihara Kyoko. Kyoto maiko to geiko no okuzashiki [The salon of Kyoto maiko and geiko]. Tokyo: Bungei Shunjū, 2001.

Dalby, Liza Crihfield. East Wind Melts the Ice: A Memoir Through the Seasons. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2007.

Kawabata, Yasunari, and J. Martin Holman, translator. The Old Capital. Berkeley: COUNTERPOINT, 2006.

Koyama Aiko. Maiko-san-chi no Makanai-san. Serialized manga. Volume 15. Episode 161, Shōgakukan, 2020.  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

Online News Articles:
Kyodo News, “Maiko-san-ra mo shōgatsu-jitaku Kyōto no hanamachi `kotohajime'”
Dec. 13, 2019, Accessed Dec. 12, 2021.

NHK News Web, “‘Beginning of things’ at Kyoto Gion Geisha and Maiko New Year’s greetings. Dec. 13, 2021, Accessed Dec. 13, 2021.
https://www3.nhk.or.jp/news/html/20211213/k10013386201000.html

The Sankei News, “Kyoto, Gion de Kotohajime, Gei-maiko ga aisatsu”
Dec. 13, 2019, Accessed Dec. 12, 2021.
https://www.sankei.com/article/20191213-SRP6WMXNLJPH7L6XGKIYAQMHZY/

Jan Bardsley, “Kotohajime: Maiko Prepare for the New Year,” Janbardsley.web.unc.edu. December 13, 2021

What’s inside the maiko’s handbag?

What does this maiko carry? It suits her silky formal costume perfectly. When does she use this bag? What does she carry inside? We explore all these questions in today’s post.

But then, we take things a step further. We look at the fascination with the contents of women’s handbags more broadly. If the handbag offers a window into a woman’s personality, what does the maiko’s kago say about her?

What is a maiko’s kago?

The maiko in our featured photo carries an ozashiki kago.  It’s a kind of handbag assembled from a drawstring cloth attached to a long, woven basket-base or kago. Maiko carry these when wearing their formal kimono to ozashiki (teahouse parties). Hence, the formal name ozashiki kago, or for short, simply kago.

How do kago suggest the seasons?

Koyama Aiko, vol. 6, 2018.

Kyoko Aihara (2011) explains how the choice of textile for the kago, and its color and pattern,  can signify the season. These choices can also indicate the maiko’s maturity in her apprenticeship.

In winter, the kago will have a dark base, like the one Momohana carries here in February.  The fabric might be chirimen (silk crepe). The fabric’s images might be lucky items (takara zukushi), spinning tops (koma), or the wooden paddles (hagoita) associated with the old New Year’s game.

In the summer, the maiko’s kago will feature fabrics like linen or silk gauze. The woven base remains natural.  Patterns on the fabric will suggest summer, employing images of morning glory, fireworks, or fireflies. But, as Aihara reminds us, kago patterns are not exclusively seasonal (119).

As the maiko matures, the color of the kago fabric changes. Aihara observes that at her debut, the maiko may carry a kago featuring bright red chirimen. As she matures, the maiko may use blue or yellow-rose fabric, for example (120).

Maiko etiquette: Proper kago use at the teahouse

Manga artist Aiko Koyama introduces her readers to the maiko’s use of kago.

Koyama Aiko. Maiko-san-chi no Makanai-san. Epi. 75, Vol. 8, p. 7 (2018).

In this episode of Koyama’s popular girls comic, animated as Kiyo in Kyoto, we see trainee Rika carrying Momohana’s kago  for her as they walk one evening to the appointed teahouse.  At the entrance, Momohana takes the bag.  But, as we see in this frame, when Momohana enters the teahouse, she asks to leave her kago in the okami-san’s office downstairs.  This follows custom as maiko and geiko do not bring kago into the ozashiki.

Even cosplaying “maiko”  carry kago

Maiko makeover experience. credit: Studio Kokoro.
https://www.kokoro-maiko.com/english/

Maiko cosplay gives tourists a chance to play with kago fashion. Photo studios in Kyoto sometimes add kago to the cosplayer’s maiko outfit.

The studio dressers show the correct way to carry it.  Here, the young tourist on the left carries one with a red and white pattern.

Fascination with what’s inside handbags

When I searched for images of  the maiko’s kago, I happened on lots of videos, stories, and studies of the contents of women’s handbags.

I even discovered an inviting museum in Little Rock, Arkansas devoted to the topic: Esse Purse Museum, founded by Anita Davis. Intrigued, I read Esse’s What’s Inside? A Century of Women and Handbags, 1900-1999. Davis writes, “The purse holds power” (10). Inside the woman’s handbag, we find, “hints about her identity…and what she chooses to carry” (10).

Helen Mirrin. IN THE BAG. Released on 04/18/2019

British Vogue presents In the Bag, short, comic, online videos with celebrities showing the contents of their handbags. Emma Watson, Serena Williams, Helen Mirren, and others laugh at their surprise discoveries or the eccentricities revealed. One star finds stale chocolate, another finds lost glasses, and one carries a hot water bottle wherever she travels.

Writing about a 2015 online marketing survey of American women’s hand bag use, Lisa Rios observes that the most common items carried were: a wallet, keys, smart phone, and pen, and 15% of those responding to the survey reported carrying a handgun. Her advice to marketers: “Understand her secret self. Handbags are a land of contradiction and comforts.”

What’s inside the maiko’s kago?

Given all this attention to the contents of a woman’s handbag as a window on her life, work, and personality, we have to ask, “What does a maiko typically carry to ozashiki? What do these contents reveal?”

It turns out that maiko may pack all kinds of handy items in the kago.

There’s a mix of tradition (maiko cosmetics) and contemporary tools (a cellphone).  They may pack fresh tabi socks, a Japanese wrapping cloth (furoshiki), a small notebook, and a small emergency umbrella.  Of course, maiko carry a supply of their hanameishi name cards.

Koyama Aiko. Maiko-san-chi no makanai-san. Epi. 75, Vol. 8, p. 7 (2018).

What’s inside Momohana’s kago?  She has her kuchibeni lip coloring and lip brush.  She also packs tissue,  hanameishi, and a small paperback book.  Hmm, what’s she reading?  Too bad we can’t see the title.

Ichimame’s kago. Maiko Etiquette, 2007.

In her 2007 book Maiko Etiquette, Ichimame describes packing a tenugui (cloth towel) for protecting her kimono if she will be dining. She includes cough drops to keep her throat from getting dry over an evening’s hours of conversation (66).

 

Ichimame”s Day-off Fashion. Maiko etiquette, 2007, p. 89. Illustrator, Katsuyama Keiko

 

On her day off, however, when Ichimame wears typical teenage street clothes, she takes a backpack and a wallet (92).

What’s missing from the maiko’s kago?

Two standout items: keys and  a wallet.

Looking at videos and surveys of women’s handbags, you notice almost everyone has a wallet for cash, cards, and personal iterms, and keys to their home and/or car.  This reminds us of the maiko’s position.  She takes taxis or walks to the teahouse and back to her okiya. People will expect her at both places–no need for keys. The taxi will charge the expense to her okiya.

As an apprentice, she will receive some spending money and she may accept tips, but she does not need money for her engagements or lessons.  The lack of money and keys underscores the maiko’s innocence and dependence. It also avoids associating the maiko with materialism.

The “Bad Girls” handbag tells a different story

Ganguro style. 2008. Wikimedia Commons.

In contrast, as Sharon Kinsella observes, reporters hoping for scandalous stories about kogals (kogyaru) would ask them to dump the contents of their purses for the camera. “Reporters looked especially for cash, personal organizers, list of phone numbers, brand-name wallets, cell phones, and expensive cosmetic pouches and cosmetics. Merely the appearance of these items…was enough to stimulate ideas about precocious acquisitiveness and prostitution” (88). The reporters’ act aims at policing young women whom the media deems delinquent.  Here, fascination with handbag contents becomes especially voyeuristic and sexualized, while both demonizing and exploiting the “bad girl.”

Although kago are expensive, they are associated with Japanese craftsmanship and the preservation of a traditional arts world. And, as the few examples in the literature on maiko show, the kago is filled only with items that allude to the maiko’s attention to her clients and proper maiko deportment. It’s a good girl’s handbag.

Featured Image on Unsplash

Maiko with kago. Gion, Kyoto, 2017.
Boudewijn Huysmans. Unsplash.

Today’s featured image comes from Boudewijn Huysmans. Thanks for posting this on Unsplash.

He reports taking the photo in Gion in fall 2017. The maiko politely stopped for the photo, but only for 15 seconds. Yet, she delighted the photographer with the perfect coordination of her maiko costume. He writes, “Nothing about her appearance was out of tune”.  Certainly, her ozashiki kago finishes her maiko look.

 

REFERENCES

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

Davis, Anita. What’s Inside? A Century of Women and Handbags, 1900-1999. Et Alia: Little Rock, AK, 2018.

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

Kinsella, Sharon. Schoolgirls, Money and Rebellion in Japan. New York : Routledge, 2014.

Koyama Aiko. Maiko-san-chi no Makanai-san. Serialized manga. Episode 75, Volume 8. Shōgakukan, 2018.  Cover image is Volume 6, 2018. For its new online anime adaptation, NHK World translates the manga title as Kiyo in Kyoto: From the Maiko House.

Rios, Lisa. “ConneCKtions Research Study: What’s in her handbag?”  Cramer-Krasselt, 2021. Online at https://c-k.com/connecktions-research-study-whats-in-her-handbag/ Accessed August 31, 2021.

Jan Bardsley, “What’s inside the maiko’s handbag?” Janbardsley.web.unc.edu. October 15, 2021.