Tag Archives: geisha

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.

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.

 

 

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.

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.

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

A Maiko Treat: Fruit Sandwiches

Fruit sandwiches?  What are these pretty  snacks?  How do they connect to maiko?  Now, here’s food for a sweet adventure!

Let’s start with the basics.  What is a fruit sandwich?

Basically, it’s a sandwich made from small pieces of juicy fruit slathered in whipped cream. They are tucked between two slices of white bread (crusts removed).  When plated, the sandwiches present the bits of fruit like enticing, edible gems.  Common fruit fillings:  strawberry, oranges, kiwi, and melon.  The sandwiches may also feature a single fruit.

In Japan, you can find fruit sandwiches in speciality stores and corner convenience stores alike. Some feature fruit cut like flowers.

How do you make a fruit sandwich?

Thanks to Just One Cookbook for permission to use this lovely photo.

Watching an experienced chef create a fruit sandwich makes it easy to understand.  Namiko Chen, host of the popular website Just One Cookbook, gives easy step-by-step directions. I enjoyed watching her video. Namiko makes the process look creative and fun. Here’s the photo from her lovely  website, too.

 

 

 

 

What’s the connection to maiko?

Kyoto Fruit Parlor Yaoiso sells fruit sandwiches. Nikkei 2019.

The owner of the Kyoto fruit shop Hosokawa told Nikkei News in 2019 that fruit sandwiches have long been a snack for maiko, geiko, and Kabuki actors. They consume them while busy with their arts lessons.  They eat the petite snacks without getting their hands dirty.

Hosokawa’s Fruit Sandwich. Nikkei, 2019.

Today, the sweet, pretty quality of the fruit sandwiches connects well to the girlish aura of maiko.  In Japan sweets consumption tends to be associated with girls and women.

 

 

 

 

Fruit sandwiches in maiko manga

Maiko-san-chi-no Makanai-san, 2017. Koyama Aiko. Vol. 3.

Koyama Aiko, author of this charming manga about maiko life, tells her own fruit sandwich tale.

It’s Christmas in the hanamachi. Clients bring strawberry and cream cakes as gifts. But maiko Momohana has been too busy to get even one bite. She feels Christmas has passed her by.

Kiyo comes to the rescue!  She finds fresh cream in the refrigerator. She whips it up, slices strawberries, and makes a tasty fruit sandwich for maiko Momohana. They have a merry Christmas snack.

Fruit sandwich for Christmas. Aiko Koyama, 2017.

One fan of Aiko Koyama’s maiko manga read this episode, too.  On her website, Mangashokudo, the fan shows readers how to make a fruit sandwich with strawberries, peaches, and mandarin oranges.

 

Fruit sandwiches are fun to make!

I had to try making one, too. With lots of help from a friend who is a very good cook. We followed the Just One Cookbook directions.

Homemade in North Carolina. 2021.

We could not find Japanese bread (shokupan) locally. But we got some white bread at a bakery nearby. Not quite the same effect, but still tasty.

 

 

 

 

 

References

Koyama Aiko.  Maiko-san-chi-no Makanai-san. Episode 23, Volume 3, 2017. For its new online anime adaptation, NHK World translates the manga title as Kiyo in Kyoto: From the Maiko House.

Yamamoto Sayo. “Did Fruit Sandwiches Originate in Kyoto?” Nihon Keizai Shinbun. January 10, 2019. (In Japanese).

Thanks again to JUST ONE COOKBOOK for permission to use their lovely photo and link to their fruit sandwich instructions. Such a wonderful website!

Jan Bardsley, “A Maiko Treat: Fruit Sandwiches,” https://janbardsley.web.unc.edu/  July 1, 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