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

Tag: kagai

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.


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,”, April 15, 2021.

Maiko, Noodles, and the 47 Rōnin

The Storehouse of Loyalty – Chūshingura (47 Rōnin) ukiyo-e set by Hiroshige Utagawa, circa 1836.  Wikimedia Commons.

Maiko dancing and serving soba noodles to guests?  What was the story behind this March event?  In today’s post, I take up an annual Gion event with one foot in history and the other in myth.

Honoring Ōishi Kuranosuke, Leader of the 47 Rōnin

Ichiriki Teahouse Photo: Mariemon Wikimedia Commons

On March 20, Gion Kōbu honors the memory of Kyoto revolutionary Ōishi Kuranosuke, the leader of the 47 rōnin (masterless men). The ceremony takes place at the exclusive Gion teahouse, Ichiriki. Only regular clients are invited.

Inoue Yachiyo V V

At the Ichiriki ceremony, Inoue Yachiyo V, designated a Living National Treasure, performs.  She dances Fukaki kokoro (Deep Heart) in front of a Buddhist mortuary tablet (ihai) honoring the men.  Maiko and geiko also dance.  They later serve tea and hand-made soba noodles to the guests (Mizobuchi, 15).

Who was Ōishi Kuranosuke? What’s his connection to Gion?

As part of an elaborate plot to avenge the death of his lord, the stalwart Ōishi assumed deep cover by disguising his true character. He played the part of a dissolute. For two years,  he frequented the Ichiriki teahouse until he and the 47 rōnin were ready to attack and kill their lord’s enemy.  The men were arrested and ordered to commit ritualized suicide (seppuku), which they did on March 20, 1703. Long romanticized in all manner of Japanese arts as symbolizing samurai loyalty, Ōishi and the 47 rōnin are buried at Sengakuji, a Zen temple near Shinagawa, Tokyo—their graveyard now a tourist site.

Why soba noodles?

Photo Masaaki Komori  Unsplash

Lori Brau highlights the soba symbolism here. She explains how  uchiiri soba (soba of the raid) allude to the story that Ōishi and his band gathered at a soba shop. They ate this simple meal together before launching their raid and accomplishing their vendetta. Brau notes, “Soba’s tendency to break easily, due to its lack of gluten (which adds viscosity), renders it an apt symbol for parting (71).”

According to Lesley Downer, doubt exists as to whether the current Ichiriki was actually the site of Ōishi ’s debauchery. But, the connection has worked in the teahouse’s favor as “there were always people willing to dissipate an evening at the scene of the most celebrated partying in Japanese history (162).”

Why do tales of the 47 Rōnin  endure?

The Gion ceremony offers only one way of remembering Ōishi and the 47 Rōnin. All manner of art forms–puppet theater, Noh, film and TV, graphic novels and anime–have recounted versions of the tale. The tale has been put in service of widely different movements, including “popular rights, Christianity, capitalism, Marxism, pacifism, and contemporary cartoon culture (Tucker, 3).”

I caught up with John Tucker, Professor of History at East Carolina University, to ask why the tale endures. He’s the author of The Forty-Seven Rōnin: The Vendetta in History (Cambridge UP, 2018).   John responded, The historic 47 Rōnin vendetta became an unparalleled sensation in Japan due to its retelling on stage as Chūshingura (Storehouse of Loyal Retainers). And of the eleven acts in that play, the most popular ones present Ōboshi Yuranosuke (Ōishi  Kuranosuke) as a dissolute hedonist enjoying himself in Kyoto’s pleasure quarters even while plotting to take murderous revenge on his late-lord’s enemy.”

Ōishi’s “shrewd tango with life”

Author John A. Tucker
Cambridge UP, 2018

“Everyone knows the grisly end and so relishes the chance to share vicariously Ōishi’s last and quite shrewd tango with life,” explained John. “After all, his time in the pleasure quarters made Ōishi most fully human, alive with passions and flaws even if the latter were so much subterfuge for his mortal sincerity and lethal vengeance. In affirming life unto death, Ōishi epitomized an existential ideal that all admire, though few might actually realize.”

Want to learn more?  I recommend John Tucker’s The Forty-Seven Rōnin for an approachable, well-researched guide. Historian Peter Nosco praises the book as,  “The definitive book-length study by a uniquely qualified scholar of one of Japanese history’s most contested events.”   Perhaps read The Forty-Seven Rōnin this March while enjoying soba.


Brau, Lori. 2018. “Soba, Edo Style:  Food, Aesthetics, and Cultural Identity.” In Devouring Japan: Perspectives on Japanese Culinary Identity, edited by Nancy Stalker,  65-80.  New York: Oxford University Press.

Downer, Lesley. 2002. Women of the Pleasure Quarters: The Secret History of the Geisha. New York: Broadway.

Mizobuchi Hiroshi.  2002.  Kyoto kagai. Kyoto: Mitsumura Suiko Shoin Publishing Co., Ltd.

Tucker, John A.  2018. The Forty-Seven Rōnin: The Vendetta in History.  Cambridge University Press.

Jan Bardsley, “Maiko, Noodles, and the 47 Rōnin,”  March 18, 2021.

Welcome to my blog

Solar Dolls. ”We bow with solar power.”

Welcome to my blog

Happy Girls’ Day!  Celebrated in Japan on March 3 with displays of dolls representing the ancient court,  Girls’ Day features special foods, too. Now there’s even a KitKat bar flavored like “strawberry daifuku” (mochi balls filled with strawberries), a Girls’ Day treat.

For my Girls’ Day celebration, I’m choosing to display solar-powered maiko dolls.  The dolls capture the playful spirit of maiko souvenirs. Solar dolls coax you to relax, smile, and show your childlike side. The perky solar maiko atop my desk reminds me to have fun with this blog.



Solar maiko  also calls to mind the associations of “solar power” and feminism in Japan. In 1911 when Seitō (Bluestockings) burst on the scene, it’s rallying cry became, “In the beginning, woman was the sun.”

Manga artist Takenaka Ranko’s 1996 graphic history of the Bluestockings and leader Hiratsuka Raichō

Produced by young Japanese women in Tokyo, Seitō invited women to seek adventure and expand their boundaries, even as they advocated for education and equality.


My blog follows these twin trajectories, having fun while expanding knowledge. I begin with posts about maiko, Kyoto’s apprentice geisha. Researching my book Maiko Masquerade, I ran into lots of stories about maiko and geisha past and present, about art and objects, books and movies, people and places. I’m writing this blog to tell these stories, the comic and the serious, and share images. Let’s see where this solar-powered path goes.

I look forward to your comments. Happy Girls’ Day and thanks for visiting.
Jan Bardsley.

Jan Bardsley, “Welcome to my blog,” March 3, 2021




Celestial Rescue for the Anxious Maiko

Closing her eyes, she clasps her hands. The maiko prays before the Shinto shrine. Her silver kanzashi hair ornament glitters. But her anxious posture shows how much she wants the kami to hear her plea.

Who is this anxious maiko?
Why does she pray for celestial comfort at this shrine?

The maiko is Yumehana (given name Nozomi), the TV drama is Dandan, and her anxieties center on dance. It has been a tough day.  First, we saw Yumehana’s dance teacher harshly correcting her at the morning lesson. Next, we saw Yumehana’s rival, maiko Suzuno, taunting her at the evening party. Wickedly clever, Suzuno even maneuvered Yumehana into performing her weakest dance in front of clients at the party.  Desperate to improve her dance skills —the maiko’s signature art—Yumehana makes her plea at Tatsumi Daimyōjin Shrine辰巳大明神神社.

Tatsumi Daimyōjin Shrine, petite and unassuming, sits right at the heart of Gion’s most photographed, picturesque location.

You will find the shrine at the foot of Tatsumi Bridge which spans Shirakawa (White River), a gentle stream. Old teahouses on one side of Shirakawa amid weeping cherry trees make this a picturesque sight. One of the most photographed in Kyoto, the scene calls to mind romantic notions of Gion’s past.

Photo of bridge over Shirakawa stream in Gion.

Taken on 26 July 2010. Credit gorian21  Wiki Commons.

But what attracts maiko Yumehana here to pray for dance proficiency? 
A little digging produced two important clues.

First, we learn that the kami of the shrine is Benzaiten 弁財天, who is “a deity highly popular among artists and musicians, as a patroness and guardian deity of the arts (Reader).”

Wooden sculpture of the goddess Benzaiten at the Hogon-ji Temple. Watsky, A. M. (2004).  Wikimedia Commons

Originally a Hindu deity, Benzaiten, also known as Benten, has found homes in Japan in Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines alike. She’s also one of the Seven Lucky Gods, “a multicultural, mixed gender, and religiously diverse group of deities who share the common cause of providing benefits to people (Reader & Tanabe,157).”


Next, we find that the sound “tatsu” in Tatsumi reminds us of the verb tatsu, “to improve one’s skill.” In fact, maiko and geiko really do pray for arts improvement at Tatsumi Daimyōjin Shrine, invoking Benzaiten’s blessings to “improve” their arts.

But Dandan does not leave everything up to Benzaiten. 

When Yumehana’s mother, the successful geiko Hanayuki, catches sight of her daughter, viewers see her empathy. Hanayuki remembers battling the same anxiety in her own maiko days.  But she faces Yumehana with practical advice and parental tough love, “Well, if that’s the case, then there’s nothing else to do but concentrate on your lessons every single day.”

The scene underscores one of the prime messages of Dandan—struggle against insecurity and work hard at achieving your goals.

Setting this exchange at Tatsumi Daimyōjin Shrine, Dandan acquaints viewers with this small Gion landmark, inviting us to find out about its history and the celestial comfort it offers to townspeople and artists alike.

Visitors to Kyoto can easily find Tatsumi Daimyōjin Shrine on tourist maps of the Gion. Shinto ceremonies are performed at the shrine four times a year by a priest from the much larger Fushimi Inari Shrine.  The petite shrine is especially beautiful in spring when nearly covered by the weeping cherries.

Featured Image:  Maiko Yumehana photographed near Tatsumi Daimyōjin Shrine. NHK TV Guide to drama Dandan, 2008.  Japan Broadcasting Publishing Association.


Gion Shopping Street Promotion Associates  祇園商店街振興組合  Japanese-language website:

Ian Reader. 2008. Shinto. Simple Guides series.  Kuperard.

Ian Reader and George J. Tanabe. 1998. Practically religious: Worldly benefits and the common religion of Japan. Honolulu: University of Hawaiì Press.

Jan Bardsley, “Celestial Rescue for the Anxious Maiko.”  Sept. 29. 2020
This blog is for educational purposes only. I strive to locate and credit all sources and images cited here.


© 2023 Jan Bardsley

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑

Follow this blog