Tag Archives: hanameishi

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.

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