Tag Archives: hanamachi

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.

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.

Colorful calling cards used by maiko

Hanameishi: The Maiko’s Cheerful Name Card

What’s the story of hanameishi 花名刺 ?

The maiko hands her guest a small card.   Like other small things associated with maiko, the cheerful card evokes a sense of girlish play.  A sweet souvenir, it’s also a saavy marketing tool.

What’s the story here?  Today we learn about the maiko’s name card, its history, and uses.

The maiko’s pretty name card

Japanese are famous for the ritual of exchanging business cards. Maiko and geisha have their own style of name cards (hanameishi, literally, flower name cards). These bear their professional name and the name of their hanamachi.

Clients should never contact maiko directly, but only ask for them through teahouse managers. That’s why these cards do not give addresses or telephone numbers. About 2.5 by 8 centimeters in size, they are smaller than the usual business card.  Maiko carry their cards in pretty fabric cases.

Who created the first hanameishi?

This 1930s travel poster of Kyoto features a maiko, giving a flavor of the era.

Japanese Government Railways, 1930. Wikimedia.

Kyoko Aihara explains their origins. From the late Meiji period (1868-1912) through the Taishō era (1912-26), some geisha had their names printed on small, colorful match boxes. They used these as their calling cards.

Artist Matsumura Suihō (1888-1967), kimono designer and Gion aficionado, came up with the idea of creating small paper cards for maiko with playful designs. Matsumura hand-printed his cards on  washi paper. His granddaughter Hayashi Hisako still makes these cards in the old style. She uses the vast storehouse of prints that Suihō created (Aihara 2011:120-23).

How do hanameishi bring good fortune?

Today hanameishi in sticker form are popular and associated with comic word play. Maiko joke that clients will profit by attaching the hanameishi to their wallets. This will inspire  okane ga maikomu, that is, “money will come dancing in”— a pun on the word maiko. Geisha say that using their stickers will lead to motto maikomu, even more money will come in,” a play on motto (more) and moto maiko (a former maiko) (Ota, et al., 2009:148, n21).

Hanameishi recall the name cards of Edo-era pilgrims

Rather than storing them in their wallets, some clients become avid hanameishi collectors. They carefully preserve them in albums. These stickers recall the ancient custom of pilgrims making name cards (senjafuda). They would stick their cards to shrines and temples to seal their good fortune. Edo-era merchants created unique woodblock-printed cards, which also were associated with humorous word-play, to exchange (kokan nōsatsu) (Salter  2006: 101-104).

What shapes and designs do today’s name cards feature?

Colorful calling cards used by maikoMaiko and geisha order different hanameishi to express the seasons. They may use as many as one thousand a year. Patterns may include signs of nature such as flowers and birds, that year’s sign of the Chinese zodiac, cute animals, and toys.

 

Gion geiko Kokimi designs her hanameishi with flair

Gion geisha name card. Name in pink against deep gold background.Pondering the design for her newest hanameishi, geiko Kokimi asked to see what designs others were using.  She was amazed at the creativity and variety. She observed that some altered the usual shape, making theirs round or square. Some signaled their favorite food or sport.  Here, Kokimi’s card bears her name in vivid pink. We see Gion Kōbu’s crest top left. This is only one of many creative hanameishi used by Kokimi (Yamaguchi 2007: 102-03).

An artful design from Miyagawa-chō

The name card of Miyagawa-cho okiya Kaden.

The name card for the Kaden okiya in Miyagawa-chō. 2019.

This hanameshi comes from Ikuda Takeda (Koito), who leads the Kaden okiya. We see the district name at the top (Miyagawa-chō) and the name Kaden within the folded paper design. The folded paper recalls koibumi, the Japanese love letter, that we explored last week.

You can read about the maiko’s life at Kaden in A Geisha’s Journey. Photographer Naoyuki Ogino collaborated with former maiko, now geiko Komomo, for nine years. His photographs of her daily life at Kaden and Komomo’s own account reveal the rigor and fun of maiko life in the 2000s.

A Geisha’s Journey, 2008.

Create or order your own hanameishi

Hanameishi are not the sole preserve of geiko and maiko.  Teenagers enjoy printing their own inexpensively at Kyoto game centers.  You can also order maiko-style name cards from specialty shops; I found one online.  The National Saturday Club offers a wonderful online tutorial and template,  Design a Japanese Senjafuda.

REFERENCES

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

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

Ōta Tōru and Hiratake Kōzō, eds. Kyō no kagai: Hito, waza, machi [Kyoto’s hanamachi: People, arts, towns]. Tokyo: Nippon Hyōronsha, 2009.

Salter, Rebecca.  Japanese Popular Prints: From Votive Slips to Playing Cards. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2006.

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

Jan Bardsley, “Hanameishi: The Maiko’s Cheerful Name Card,” Janbardsley.web.unc.edu. August 19, 2021

 

 

 

Maiko Stories: Hidden Laundry Spaces

The friendly sight of clothes hanging on the line

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

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

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

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

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

Laundry in everyday Pontochō, 1954

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

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

Hanging clothes on the okiya’s hidden veranda today

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

A private space for confidential chats

Twins Nozomi (maiko Yumehana) and Megumi. https://www.pref.shimane.lg.jp/admin/seisaku/koho/photo/172/4.html

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

The would-be maiko learns laundry skills

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

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

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

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

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

The laundry space in maiko stories

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

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

References

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

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

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

Jan Bardsley, “Maiko Stories: Hidden Laundry Spaces,” janbardsley.web.unc.edu, May 19, 2021.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Maiko Greetings with “Stroke of a Pen” Notes

Which pretty notepad will the maiko choose?

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

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

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

Gion shop, Yamakyo. Gion Shopping Street Promotion Associates Website. https://www.gion.or.jp

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

Greeting the okami-san with a short note

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

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

 

 

What are ippitsu-sen? How are they used?

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

A little research produced some interesting answers.

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

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

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

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

Getting started with ippitsu-sen: Choose your favorite design

Sakura and Japanese candy design. https://minne.com/items/26153939. May 11, 2021

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

Do you write vertically or horizontally?

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

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

Did Momohana’s ippitsu-sen appeal?

This ippitsu-sen notepad features cats.amazon.co.jp

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

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

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

References

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

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

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

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

 

Carnations

Maiko celebrate Mother’s Day in the Hanamachi

Gifts of Pink Carnations to Hanamachi Mothers

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

Photo by FLY:D on Unsplash

The Maternal Role of Hanamachi Mothers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mother’s Day Carnations in the Hanamachi

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

 

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

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

References

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

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

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

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

 

 

How a Star Maiko Makes a Good Impression: Afternoon Greetings

 

Boudewijn Huysmans   Unsplash

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

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

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

The maiko must develop good relations with teahouse managers

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

Artist Koyama explains the custom

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Afternoon greetings as a staple of maiko life

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

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

Geisha, A Life.

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

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

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

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

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

References

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

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

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

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

Mokuroku celebrate cast of Lady Maiko.
https://news.mynavi.jp/article/20140914-a035/

A wall full of bright mokuroku posters! Typically, they mark the debut of a new maiko or geiko. But these posters cleverly celebrate the upcoming premiere of a maiko movie.  It’s the 2014 musical, Lady Maiko, loosely based on My Fair Lady.

What’s the story of actual mokuroku? How do we read their signs?  We explore these questions in today’s blogpost, returning to read this maiko movie poster, too.

What is the mokuroku?

On the day of her debut, the maiko sits before mokuroku sent in her honor. Sankei West 2015.12.11 https://www.sankei.com/west/photos/151205/wst1512050058-p5.html

Photos of debuting maiko and geiko often show them sitting in front of large, red-rimmed, gaily colored posters (mokuroku目録).  The abundance of bright color and good wishes celebrates their career milestone. Although books on the hanamachi frequently show these vivid posters, few explain them.

Who commissions mokuroku?

Supporters of the new maiko or geiko—regular teahouse clients, elder sister geiko, Kabuki actors, and others associated with her hanamachi—have mokuroku made and sent to her okiya. There, they will be hung on the walls in the entrance and outside the okiya, too.  They will be up for a short period, from a few days before the event to a few days after. My sources report that it’s unclear when this practice started.

How large are mokuroku? What materials are used?

Mokuroku are roughly 100 x 80 centimeters (40 x 32 inches). The paper is hōshogami (奉書紙), defined by Jim Breen as a “variant of traditional white Japanese paper, made from high-quality mulberry wood.”

In the past artists used natural mineral pigments for color, but today they use acrylic paints. They also use black ink.  It appears that mokuroku cost about 7,000 yen (roughly US$70) apiece.

How do women remember the mokuroku gifted them?  One former maiko-geiko describes her reaction.

“I was lucky to have many mokuroku displayed…My goodness, what a festive sight it was.”

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

In her 2015 memoir, Gion leader Arai Mameji, who debuted as a maiko in 1969, recalls the many mokuroku brought to her okiya by the dresser on the day before her misedashi (debut).  Each one bore the name of the supporter who had gifted it.

Arai exclaims, “I was lucky to have many mokuroku displayed. Naturally, they were hung on the walls, but even on the ceiling, too. My goodness, what a festive sight it was” (26).

She credits her resourceful elder geiko sister for using her own network to encourage this support.  Since a new maiko has no clients, Arai writes, she must depend on the active support of her elder sister. Arai reports that the mokuroku custom began in Gion, finding favor in other hanamachi, too.

Let’s take a closer look at one mokuroku to learn the conventions.

This dynamic mokuroku was created by the current head of Eirakuya, the fourteenth Hosotsuji Ihee. Eirakuya is the legendary textile firm in Kyoto. Hosotsuji Ihee displays this mokuroku on his blog: http://eirakuya.jugem.jp/?eid=783

Who does this mokuroku honor?
Mamechiho-san

You will find the new maiko or geiko’s name in large script to the left.

  1. (Left): The maiko’s name here is Mamechiho 豆ちほ
  2. (Lower left): Literally, “to [Mamechiho] san.” さん江

is an ateji, a character used for its sound.
The usual kana would be , used to indicate to whom something is directed.

Who is congratulating her? Eirakuya Hosotsuji Ihee
永楽屋細辻伊兵衛

You will find the well-wisher’s name in large script in the lower right/lower center. Eirakuya  永楽屋  the firm’s name, (to the right) is written vertically here and read top-to-bottom.

Hosotsuji Ihee 細辻伊兵衛  has written his name diagonally. Read this right-to-left. He is also the artist of this mokuroku.

The red strip below the artist’s name is a decorative element commonly used in congratulatory greetings and, as thin strips of paper, on gifts: noshi 熨斗. This one signifies that the name above is that of the donor.

What is  in the middle? Good luck symbols

You will find large, multicolored good luck symbols, engimono 縁起物 in the center of every maiko mokuroku.

This mokuroku has a cluster of good luck symbols. We see the “lucky bamboo grass” (fukuzasa 福笹) with lucky charms attached.

The charms: Ebisu (left), the sea bream and god of good luck, 恵比寿; Daikokuten (right), a god of prosperity 大黒天; and round “gold” coins, koban 小判. These “lucky grass” arrangements are also associated with the January celebrations at Ebisu Shrines in the Kansai area.

JAPAN INFO has good explanations of several engimono: https://jpninfo.com/8046.    Here’s another example of Lucky Grass with charms attached:

Lucky Grass. Garden Plus. https://www.garden.ne.jp/blog/recipe/honbu/14051

What is written at the top of mokuroku?
Hopes for good fortune

The mokuroku artist chooses among several fixed celebratory phrases to pen at the top of the poster in sumi ink.  Here are some common ones.  I give the ones that appear in this mokuroku in red:

Ichihigara:  一日柄:Better every day

Hibi ni kagayaku:  日々輝く:  Every day may you shine even more

Hibi ni noboru:  日々昇:  Every day may you ascend even higher

Hibi ni nigiwai:日々賑わい: Every day do a thriving business

Takusan  たくさん:Much [success]

Daininki 大人気:Great popularity [Note the abbreviation of the old form of 氣 as 米]

What is in the top right hand corner?  More noshi

Want to see many more maiko mokuroku? 

Try using the kanji for “maiko mokuroku” 舞妓目録 in the search engine. (If you only put mokuroku目録, you will find the envelopes and certificates used for other celebratory events in Japan).

You’ll notice that the basic layout of the poster remains the same, but the lucky charms in the middle, and of course, the names of the donor/recipient change.

What about the mokuroku movie poster?

How does our new knowledge of mokuroku conventions let us in on the humor of the movie poster with which we began?

Mokuroku celebrate cast of Lady Maiko.
https://news.mynavi.jp/article/20140914-a035/

We see the same congratulatory messages at the top and good luck charms at center. But the “maiko” name? It’s that of the film’s “maiko” actress, Ms. Mone Kamishiraishi 上白石 萌音   She’s pictured here wearing a red skirt and white blouse.  The lovely umbrellas, also associated with maiko, celebrate the movie, too.  On the left, the movie’s Japanese title, and to the right, “Great hit! Great hit!”  A smart way to use hanamachi custom to promote this maiko musical.

Wishing you much success this week!

References

Ōta Tōru and Hiratake Kōzō, eds. Kyō no kagai: Hito, waza, machi [Kyoto’s hanamachi: People, arts, towns]. Tokyo: Nippon Hyōronsha, 2009.

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

Jan Bardsley, “The Artful Debut, Congratulatory Mokuroku Posters,” https://janbardsley.web.unc.edu/ April 5, 2021.