Tag Archives: Koyama Aiko

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

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.

 

Treat a Maiko to Dinner (Hint: Mac and Cheese, Please).

Fine dining.
Jamie Coupaud. Unsplash.

How do maiko get treated to fancy dinners?
What maiko misadventures occur in stories of these events?

Today’s post explains the custom of clients taking maiko out to dinner, gohan tabe. We see the custom described in a TV drama, memoir, and a girls comic.

Dining out with the dashing talent scout

Talent manager talks with maiko Yumehana and her twin Megumi. in a scene from NHK-TV drama Dandan, 2008-09.

How exciting to be on a “date” with the young dashing talent scout Ishibashi-san! Usually only her twin Megumi, a college student, gets to do fun stuff.  Dressed in her formal finery, maiko Yumehana basks in Ishibashi’s attention.  Little does she know this elegant dinner is prelude to calamity.  For now, she enjoys the delight of the gohan tabe custom–when generous, long-time clients treat a maiko to dinner at a fine restaurant.

But before we discover the path to Yumehana’s misadventure, let’s explore the changing conventions of gohan tabe.

Dinner to the rescue of the busy maiko

Fine dining. Photo by Johen Redman on Unsplash

Having only two days off per month, maiko follow a busy schedule of daytime arts lessons and evening parties. To give the maiko a break, and with the permission of her okiya mother, a client will invite her for a meal at a fine restaurant. The client pays for the maiko’s time from the point that she leaves her okiya to the time she returns. He covers all costs of the meal and taxis.  For maiko, gohan tabe events are a welcome rescue from the strict supervision of their seniors–older maiko, geiko, and teahouse managers.

Watch your table manners

Arai Mameji. 2015.

In her memoir, Arai Mameji, who became a maiko in 1969, recalls gohan tabe experiences. In the 1970s, okiya mothers accompanied maiko on these dinners. They insisted on chaperoning a maiko on any client outing. Arai also remembers being told to take care to follow proper table manners. Today, however, clients may take maiko to dinner without a chaperone.

As more women become teahouse clients, I wonder whether they, too, will participate in gohan tabe.  So far, I have seen no evidence of that.

Maiko Taste: Macaroni over Posh Cuisine

On gohan tabe outings, maiko taste an elite world of luxury dining. But many report feeling out of their depth. French menus, elaborate table settings, and hushed environments are all new.  Fictional maiko are befuddled, too.

Maiko Momohana dines out with client and okiya mother. Koyama Aiko. Maiko-san-chi no Makanai-san, Vol. 4, Episode 40. page 116. (2017).

After paying for an exorbitantly priced meal, clients may be surprised to learn that maiko much prefer macaroni.  This scene from Koyama Aiko’s maiko cooking manga shows Momohana on a gohan tabe outing. Having no idea how to read the menu, she orders what her mother does.  Later, she tells other maiko that she has no idea what she ate. Back home at the okiya, she happily tucks into macaroni gratin.

Maiko Yumehana’s Gohan tabe Mishap

Returning to maiko Yumehana’s dinner with Ishibashi, we notice an unusual situation. Most teahouse clients are much older men, but Ishibashi is only in his twenties.  This transforms gohan tabe into a cool date.

Twins Nozomi (maiko Yumehana) and Megumi harmonize magically. Here they are in Megumi’s hometown Matsue. https://www.pref.shimane.lg.jp/admin/seisaku/koho/photo/172/4.html

Calamity ensues when Ishibashi coaxes Yumehana to accompany him next to a “live house,” a young people’s hang out with live music. A talent scout, Ishibashi wants Yumehana to become a professional pop singer. Soon we see maiko Yumehana singing a pop song with Megumi at the live house. Big mistake! 

Actress Ishida Hikari as geiko Hanayuki.https://www2.nhk.or.jp/archives/jinbutsu/detail.cgidas_id=D0009070162_00000

Suddenly, Yumehana’s geisha mother Hanayuki appears! She catches Yumehana in the act of disrespecting her maiko uniform.  Ever the poised professional, Hanayuki gently scolds Ishibashi. She thanks him for inviting Yumehana to gohan tabe, but reminds him of the custom’s boundaries. At teahouse parties, he may request any maiko dance in Yumehana’s repertoire. However, he must never ask her to go beyond the bounds of the maiko’s traditional arts.  She cannot sing pop songs and certainly not dressed as a maiko. Yumehana must hurry to her next engagement, unsettled by her love of pop singing (and affection for Ishibashi).

For Hanayuki, this is definitely a case of gohan tabe gone wrong.

Don’t Harass Maiko

Don’t Harass Maiko

AKIMAHEN: THE GUIDE TO GOOD MANNERS IN KYOTO.

Catching sight of a maiko off to an assignment in formal costume offers an “only in Kyoto” experience.  This enthusiasm has led to the hanamachi (geisha neighborhoods), especially Gion Kōbu, becoming tourist areas.

But this successful promotion of the maiko as Kyoto mascot has led to tourist enthusiasm almost impossible to manage.

Some tourists demand selfies. Others engulf maiko with flash photography.  Videos show tourists crowding around maiko or running ahead to snap photos of maiko coming toward them. Day and night. Tourist exuberance became so intense that maiko had to take taxis to go even a short distance.

How should a maiko respond to tourist paparazzi?

Manga by Koyama Aiko.
Maiko-san-chi no Makanai-san, vol. 6 (2018)

Artist Koyama Aiko takes up the problem in her popular manga, now an NHK-World Japan anime. This manga frame shows the shikomi (trainee) Riko accompanying maiko Momohana to an evening assignment. Riko scowls at the rude tourists. But Momohana, celebrated as a perfect maiko, never loses her poise.  Although Riko gets scolded by an elder for her “bad attitude,” I think Koyama depicts her anger sympathetically in this episode. (See Maiko Masquerade, 137; Koyama, Maiko-san-chi, Vol. 6, 65-74).

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

As a maiko in the late 1960s, Iwasaki Mineko experienced her share of harassment on the street, too. In those days before Gion became a tourist site, Iwasaki had to fight off unruly, drunk men.  She had to run away from men trying to grab her. One even “dropped a live cigarette butt down the nape of my kimono (190).” Iwasaki fought back–yelling and even biting one harasser’s hand until it bled.  She, too,  finally had to “travel everywhere by taxi, even if my engagements were only a few hundred feet apart (191).

How has Kyoto tried to help the maiko?

In 2020, of course, the pandemic caused a sharp decline in tourism. Will the “tourist paparazzi” problem resume in the post-pandemic? What measures were taken to curb the problem?

Gion Hanamikoji Street, Kyoto, Japan Maiko Mameroku-san.   Unsplash uploaded by Jie@imjma

Gion deluged by tourists

In 2019, TBS News carried a report (in Japanese) on maiko harassment by tourist paparazzi:  Tourists from abroad flooding into Gion are disturbing the quiet charm of the neighborhood.   One café owner complains that tourists stand outside his shop trying to take photos of maiko through the windows. Some even open the door and go inside to get the picture.  The report is careful not to single out any particular nationality of tourists.  Some scenes show respectful tourists quietly listening to their guide, but this is still viewed as a nuisance.

Signs of the Times

Kyoto tried posting manners signs. Signs sprung up around Kyoto tourist areas warning tourists “not to touch the maiko.”  The Kyoto City Official Travel Guide, among its five tips for enjoying Gion, cautions tourists about taking photos of maiko and geiko. (Note that in English, this warns against objectionable behavior to “geisha” but in Chinese, uses “maiko” (舞妓).

“Maiko, who can be said to be a symbol of Gion, is a practice in the daytime and a repetition of work at night. It’s a busy day, and it ’s not uncommon to have many requests, especially at night. When they see Maiko in Gion, they are on their way to work. Let’s not disturb them.” PHOTO: https://kyoto.travel/en/info/manner.html

Kyoto also initiated a smartphone app in 2019 that cautioned tourists, once they stepped foot in Gion, to mind their manners:  “Show good manners in Gion. Gion is a residential area. Please behave with courtesy.”

They also hired individuals (the tape shows these are older men) who can speak English or Chinese to patrol the area, asking tourists to move on, stop taking photos, and generally trying to keep order.

In 2019, taking photos in small residential alleys in Gion was banned.

In 2021, Gion and other hanamachi are likely more concerned about bringing  tourists back to the districts and their shops and cafes. Let’s hope when tourists come back, everyone respects the maiko.