Tag Archives: Kyoto

The Kimono Tattoo Wins Indie Book Award

Happy news for fans of mystery writer Rebecca Copeland.  Her book The Kimono Tattoo has won the 2022 Independent Press Award in the category of Multi-Cultural Fiction.

Silk unravels. A tattoo is forever.
Layer by layer the truth is revealed.
                         —  The Kimono Tattoo

A fast-paced mystery set in Kyoto, The Kimono Tattoo  follows American translator Ruth Bennett on her risky quest for the truth about a bizarre murder. Ruth’s expertise in kimono history and fluency in Japanese give her the tools.  Her host of friends come to her aid. Readers enjoy traversing Kyoto, too. From ancient temple grounds to convenience stores and hidden tattoo parlors, we’re soon on the beat with Ruth.

Let’s catch up with Rebecca Copeland to get her thoughts on this well-deserved Indie Award.

What is the Independent Press Award?

JB: Congratulations, Rebecca.   What’s the story of this award?

RC:  Thanks, Jan.  The Independent Press Award aims to bring attention to independent publishers across the country and the great variety of books they publish. I’m grateful to my publisher Brother Mockingbird for nominating The Kimono Tattoo.

The Independent Press Award recognizes excellence by category. As you can imagine, they need lots of categories to cover the myriad kinds of books published every year.  There’s action and adventure, horror, historical fiction, advice guides, and many more. The Kimono Tattoo won in “Multicultural-Fiction.”

Experiencing Multicultural Kyoto — Past and Present

Kyoto Trademark: Maiko. Posted to Wikimedia Commons by Bermi Ferrer. Oct. 15, 2010.

A window on how people experience cultural identity…
a sense of home and belonging

JB:  Thinking about The Kimono Tattoo as multicultural gives me a new way to look at your mystery.  One that draws on my own experiences of Kyoto.

I recognized the mystery’s setting and the kinds of characters right away…..well, except for the criminal ones…from my times in Kyoto and the people I met. There’s the lead, Ruth, a bilingual American expat, and her sidekick Maho, who feels more American than Japanese, and the elegant Japanese entrepreneur, Mrs. Shibasaki.  This kind of “expat in Japan” circle felt so familiar to me.

But, in fact, The Kimono Tattoo does more than that. You give us a window on how people experience cultural identity and work to achieve a sense of home and belonging.

Creating complex characters

The Kimono Tattoo, 2021.

RC:  Thanks for that point.  Yes, as I imagined Ruth and the other characters, I inevitably mapped them onto my understandings of Japan society, especially its literary traditions and kimono design world.  And I built some — especially Ruth and Maho — around lives shaped by bilingual and bicultural experiences.  But I also saw each character as unique, as more than the sum of their language, education, and social class.

The Brilliant, Elusive Satoko —  Mastermind of the “Kimono Tattoo”

JB:  Satoko, the elusive mastermind behind the “kimono tattoo,” certainly strikes me as motivated by more than her background and even her family’s commercial involvement with kimono. She’s a brilliant artist. And her creativity ties her to the material and cultural history of kimono, and even ghosts!

Unlined Kimono for a Woman (Hitoe) Motif: Swallows flying over and streams (1910-1920). Khalili Collections. Wikimedia Commons.

RC:  I find Satoko’s trajectory fascinating, too.  Part of the fun of writing The Kimono Tattoo came from doing the research needed to depict that history well and to invent new legends that furthered my own plot and helped build Satoko’s character.

JB:  In that way, The Kimono Tattoo  not only opens our eyes to the multicultural interactions of people in contemporary Kyoto but invites us to consider a multicultural past.  Japanese characters and customs do not emerge as monolithic or uncomplicated.  That is, we learn about customs, dance, fashion, family structures, and even Japanese literature, too.

RC:  Thank you for noticing that.  So many in the States still think of Japan as such a remote and strange place.  I’ve spent my career—as have you—trying to make Japan more approachable, teaching students about Japanese culture while at the same time challenging them to think more deeply about their own cultural practices and biases.  Travel is one way we learn more about ourselves!

A novel slips readers into a new space

I hope that The Kimono Tattoo will carry readers to Kyoto, enticing them to learn more about Japanese culture. At the same time perhaps it will push readers to question their own assumptions and misunderstandings.  I don’t know. It’s a lot to ask!  And I want the novel to also be “entertaining.”  I think that’s what distinguishes the novel from my earlier academic books.  A novel slips readers into a new space without making too many demands, and before they know it, they’re walking around in a different world.

The Kimono Tattoo – An Official Book Club Pick for June

Official Selection. The Intl Pulpwood Queen & Timber Guy Book Club, June 2022.

JB:  I see, too, Rebecca, that The Kimono Tattoo has earned yet another honor!  It’s been chosen as the “International Book of the Month” for the month of June by the International Pulpwood Queens and Timberguys Book Club.

RC:   Yes!  I was so excited about that.  The International Pulpwood Queen and Timber Guy Book Club is the largest book club in the world with regular meetings and discussions.  There are over 800 chapters with 20 chapters in foreign countries.

The Club holds an annual convention. This year the convention was virtual with zoom meetings all day long for a week!  My publisher and I were invited to have a conversation about The Kimono Tattoo on one of the afternoons.  The amount of participation and enthusiasm for BOOKS and for reading that this Book Club generates is truly invigorating.  It’s an honor to have The Kimono Tattoo represent the month of June.

JB:  Congratulations again on these honors, Rebecca.  And I can’t wait to read the next of Ruth’s adventures.

Rebecca Copeland

For more on how Rebecca Copeland created The Kimono Tattoo, visit her blog: https://www.rebecca-copeland.com/blog/

For my other interviews with Rebecca, see these past posts:

Dance, Mystery, and Murder in The Kimono Tattoo

Yamamba: In Search of Japan’s Mountain Witch

Jan Bardsley. “The Kimono Tattoo Wins Indie Award.” Janbardsley.web.unc.edu. March 24, 2022.

 

 

 

Backstage with Hungry Maiko in Early January

In early January, maiko return to Kyoto from their New Year’s holidays.  What a change is in store!

Visiting with their families, they had a chance to let their hair down — literally. They wore casual clothes. They hung out with their old pals. And they relaxed into their local dialects.  Back in Kyoto, it’s time to assume the maiko persona once more.

Let’s look at some comic scenes in the apprentices’ return to okiya life.  They savor their last moments of vacation freedom and bring back tastes of home. These food souvenirs, called omiyage, represent an important gift-giving custom practiced throughout Japan. (That’s a topic for a future post).

Tasty Treats from around Japan

Arriving at their okiya, maiko share food gifts unique to their hometowns. Since the vast majority of maiko come from outside Kyoto, many different foods appear all at once. Each nicely wrapped.

For one example, our featured image (above) shows maple-leaf shaped Momiji manjū cakes. Filled with coarse red bean paste, they are famous in Miyajima (or Itsukushima) in Hiroshima Prefecture. Perhaps maiko hailing from Hiroshima would bring these to their okiya.

Describing the bounty of gifts, geiko Yamaguchi Kimijo writes, “It’s as though Gion turns into a department store of famous products from all over Japan.  From the ends of Kyushu in the south to Hokkaido in the north” (128).

Maiko Must Return to the Hanamachi Dialect

Musing on the January return of maiko, Yamaguchi Kimijo observes their lapse into hometown dialects. Even after a short vacation, many find using the hanamachi dialect awkward. Kimijo hears odd intonations popping up as maiko try to get back into the linguistic swing of things. Their hometown dialects are as varied as the hometown foods. Still, the rhythm of hanamachi life soon resumes.

“There’s a point when the famous local specialties from all around Japan and the hometown dialects, too, have disappeared.
That’s when the new year has truly come to Gion” (129).

Kokimi Cover

Bare-faced Geiko, 2007.

Koyama’s Maiko Enjoy Hometown Food Gifts, too

Aiko Koyama, 2017.

Imagining the maiko’s return, manga artist Aiko Koyama shows them fascinated with each other’s food gifts. These maiko munch on all sorts of goodies and take pride in their hometown foods.  “That’s mine, from Hokkaido.” “That’s mine, from Hiroshima.”

 Maiko Momohana and Friends Catch a Fast-Food Break

Aiko Koyama, 2017.

Aha!  The food action in this manga story takes a new turn when their okiya mother gives the maiko money for a last hurrah of fast food.  Off they go in their casual clothes! Once in their maiko hairstyle and kimono, they should not be seen in this contemporary realm of convenience.

At the fast-food place, they meet newly returned maiko from other okiya, too. A flurry of greetings ensues.

Maiko Momohana suggests that her group take their teriyaki burgers down to the bank of the Kamo River. It’s super windy and cold.  But Momohana appreciates the chance for them to gather incognito. Since they are dressed casually, no one knows they are maiko.  As a result, they can enjoy watching others instead of standing out themselves.

A Taste of Teenage Freedom

Aiko Koyama, 2017.

Koyama depicts even proper Momohana and cook Kiyo enjoying every bite of the huge sandwiches.  Looking at her juicy burger, another girl says, “Well, I guess today I’m not back to being a maiko yet.”

The Quest to Become a Maiko-like (maiko-rashii) Maiko

Maiko Masquerade (UC Press, 2021)

These comic moments of maiko reverting to their hometown teenage selves reminds me of the flip side—their ongoing quest to become maiko-rashii maiko.

As we see in Maiko Masquerade, contemporary maiko fiction plays with the idea of the backstage maiko striving to squelch her appetite to perform as the ideal apprentice.  The fiction trains us to admire the maiko’s work, her successful maiko-rashii moments, and empathize with her struggles.  No doubt these moments remind us of our own efforts to conform to a public role. After vacation, we, too, must once again assume our professional persona and get to work.

Formal New Year Beginnings: The Opening Ceremony

Of course, formal rituals and costume help the maiko switch back into her apprentice persona.

Gion Opening Ceremony. Sankei News, 2019.

As we saw in earlier posts, Gion Kōbu and other hanamachi hold their annual Opening Ceremony.  All the maiko and geiko dress formally, and the maiko wear a veritable bouquet of hair ornaments (kanzashi). It’s quite a sight to see them proceed through the hanamachi to the ceremony.

This glimpse into the backstage helps us appreciate the work ordinary girl must do to get in gear for the new year and perform maiko-likeness.

Next Post: Documenting the Hanamachi:  Film Review of Hannari: Geisha Modern


Today’s post explored the comical side of hungry maiko backstage.  In our next post, however, we look at filmmaker Miyuki Sohara’s attempt to capture the serious side of hanamachi culture.  We consider the film, Hannari: Geisha Modern.

Featured image: “Food in Miyajima, Hatsukaichi, Hiroshima, Japan.”
Posted by Daderot, 2001. Wikimedia Commons. This lovely photo features Momiji Manjū  Cake.

REFERENCES

Koyama Aiko. Maiko-san-chi no Makanai-san. Serialized manga. Volume 3.  Shōgakukan, 2017. “Kyoto, Once More” (Episode 27) of the manga with English translation is available online: https://mangaboat.com/manga/maiko-san-chi-no-makanai-san/ch-027/

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

Jan Bardsley, “Backstage with Hungry Maiko in Early January,” janbardsley.web.unc.edu, January 27, 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.

Merry Maiko Christmas

True, Christmas is not an official event in the hanamachi. But in today’s post, we learn how playful maiko characters pop up in Christmas merrymaking.  Even a former geiko’s ensemble nods to the holiday.

Making My Desk Maiko-Christmas Ready

Nothing like some cheery maiko to welcome December to my study.

I hang the “Maiko’s Christmas” tenugui from Eirakuya–shown above– across the wide computer screen. It’s an easy way to brighten up my desk for the holidays. Looking at this, you can almost forget December writing deadlines.

Holiday card from Greeting Life, Inc., Kyoto. 2021.

Displaying this delightful holiday card from Haruka sparks joy, too. Here, the maiko sits quietly at Renge-ji Temple. She gazes at its lovely garden. Tiny Santa Claus characters rambling around her seem comically misplaced. Merry mischief makers!

Christmas Decorations in Japan

Christmas 2018. Shizuoka. Jan Bardsley

Of course, I enjoy Christmas in Japan, too. Festive lights and special department store windows, prettily decorated Christmas cakes, and ornamented trees brighten the urban landscape in December. Spectacular light shows, known as winter illuminations, create fantasy spaces of LED lights, even in the Kyoto area. In 2018, Phil and I had great fun in Shizuoka City (near Mt. Fuji), hearing the brass band outside the train station belting out bouncy Christmas tunes, seeing Santa Claus-costumed dancers and Dixie Land band members in the shopping street, and attending a handbell-ringing concert by local high school girls.

Brass Band Shizuoka, 2018. Jan Bardsley.

Maiko and Geiko Join in Unofficial Christmas Fun

Christmas inspires hanamachi fiction, too. Koyama Aiko’s manga about superstar maiko Momohana and her cooking pal Kiyo “whip up” a sweet story.

Koyama Aiko, 2017.

The NHK-World Japan online anime “Kiyo in Kyoto: From the Maiko House” imagines maiko enjoying sugary delights in “Christmas in Kagai.” (Kagai is another pronunciation for hanamachi, the “flower districts” of teahouses and okiya).

As “Christmas in Kagai” opens, it’s nighttime. We see a giant lighted Christmas tree outdoors and illuminations. But when the view shifts to the hanamachi, the quiet streets look the same as ever. Only the usual hanamachi lanterns stand out.  The narrator explains:

“There are no special Christmas events in kagai. No Christmas light decorations. And no Christmas trees. But there are hints of Christmas.”

Takashimaya Christmas Cake 2021.

The anime shows these jolly hints. One elderly teahouse okami-san (manager) wraps her obi with a bright red, green, and white obijime cord. Western-style flower arrangements in the room carry the Christmas theme. Clients bring gifts of brightly decorated Christmas cake, like the pretty 2021 confection shown here from Takashimaya.

Indeed, so many cakes arrive at Kiyo’s okiya that soon the maiko have had their fill of whipped cream and strawberries. Too busy practicing her dance, the diligent maiko Momohana has not had a single bite!  Kiyo comes to the rescue, whipping up a tasty strawberry fruit sandwich for her pal.  The “Christmas in Kagai” anime ends with a lesson in how to make fruit sandwiches, a maiko favorite.

An Elegant Geiko’s Christmas-themed Obi 

Kiriki Chizu’s chic Christmas obi. Posted on her blog Dec. 12, 2021.

“In Gion, the kimono is the indispensable heart of style,” writes former geiko Kiriki Chizu (226).  As we see on her blog, Kiriki always turns an elegant figure in her tasteful kimono. Invoking Christmas gives an unusual seasonal dash to her ensemble.

In December, Kiriki sometimes posts photos of her chic yuletide obi. In 2017, she wrote about wearing it to Kabuki, “I wore my Christmas wreath obi. Kimono help you enjoy the feeling of the season, and that makes me happy.”  This December, she paired the obi with a  pale mauve kimono. In her book The Gion Way, Kiriki credits her sartorial flair to her okiya mother’s tutelage during her maiko days. She’d advise, “Doing the same thing as others is never stylish” (227).

Enjoy Seasonality, Feel Free to Invent

The Gion Way, 2007.

Thus, Kiriki learned to enjoy inventing her own creative moments within  kimono conventions. Among these, the Christmas wreath most delights her.  When a certain Kabuki actor’s wife, an aficionado of kimono, spotted her wearing the obi from afar, she rushed up to Kiriki. “Ooooh my, oh my, oh my…what is that?,” she asked with glee.  With great satisfaction, Kiriki responded, “Oh, this? It’s Christmas.”  Kiriki’s sole regret: she can only wear this chic obi in December (228).

Happy Holidays from Chapel Hill

Here’s to enjoying the year’s end in 2021 with your own ways of celebrating the season.

Maiko Solar Doll. 2021.

REFERENCES

Today’s featured image, the design “Maiko’s Christmas” is found at the website of Eirakuya, Kyoto’s famed textile firm, known for its tenugui (cloth hand towels).
https://eirakuya.shop-pro.jp/?pid=85952743

Kiriki Chizu. Aisare jōzu ni naru Gion-ryū: Onna migaki [The Gion way to skill in becoming loveable: A woman’s polish]. Tokyo: Kōdansha, 2007. For much more discussion of Kiriki’s book, see Maiko Masquerade: Crafting Geisha Girlhood in Japan, 2021. Translations here are mine.

Koyama Aiko.  Maiko-san-chi-no Makanai-san. Serialized manga. Volume 17. Episode 23, Shōgakukan, 2017. NHK World Japan translates the manga title for its anime adaptation as Kiyo in Kyoto: From the Maiko House.  Here, I reference anime Chapter 17: “Christmas in Kagai.” https://www3.nhk.or.jp/nhkworld/en/ondemand/video/2094006/

Jan Bardsley, “Merry Maiko Christmas,” https://janbardsley.web.unc.edu/  December 20, 2021.

Mask up like a maiko

Summer 2021.  Sadly, the pandemic continues. Following precautions, maiko wear masks.  And some people wear “maiko masks.”  Today we learn about summer greetings in the hanamachi and mask advisories in Japan.

How did maiko perform summer greetings in 2021?

On August 1, Kyoto’s hanamachi celebrate Hassaku八朔. Geiko and maiko visit their arts teachers to pay their respects. They also call at the teahouses in their district to thank them for their patronage.  Hassaku originated in farming communities. Farmers performed rituals on the first day of the 8th lunar month in hopes of an abundant harvest.

The photo shows maiko wearing masks to make Hassaku greetings

“Wearing masks, taking ample precautions, geiko and maiko pay Hassaku respects.” Kyoto Shimbun August 1, 2021.

This August, Kyoto Shimbun featured this photograph of geiko and maiko wearing masks during their greetings.  Also, they had to take care in the scorching heat.  Kyoto Shimbun reports that some in the hanamachi called for suspending the ritual this year. Those participating wore lighter summer kimono instead of the formal black kuromontsuki.  They also made their rounds in small groups this year.

Since 2020, videos of masked maiko in dance practice have also popped up on YouTube.

Add a touch of maiko fun to masking

Mask with maiko figures.
Creema 2021.

Mask case. Eirakuya 2021.

 

 

 

 

 

 

We also find examples of “maiko masks” and mask cases. Creema offers this pink, maiko-laden mask. I found maiko masks sold on several other sites, too.

The Kyoto textile firm Eirakuya produced a mask case featuring a maiko walking among the torii at Fushimi Inari Shrine.

When not to wear a mask: Heat Advisories

In Order to Avoid Heatstroke. Amagasaki . Jun 1, 2021.

This heat advisory posted in Amagasaki City in Hyogo Prefecture warns residents to avoid heat stroke.

Outside and safely distanced, it’s better to take off your mask in the summer heat.

 

The fun of teacher-student greetings in August

Thinking about Hassaku greetings in the hanamachi reminds me of greeting teachers in the U.S.   As a graduate student at UCLA, I loved visiting my professors in August, excited to tell them about my summer research in Japan. I appreciate their encouragement all the more now.  Later, as a professor myself, I enjoyed meeting my students and hearing about their summer adventures.  Trips abroad, summer camp counseling, internships–so many experiences they’d had.

I do look forward to the return of easier face-to-face communication.

I am vaccinated and I do wear my mask in public places.

Jan Bardsley, “Mask up like a maiko,”janbardsley.web.unc.edu, August 10, 2021.

 

A Maiko’s Party Manners: Taboo Behaviors at Ozashiki

A maiko learns the proper etiquette for parties (ozashiki) at teahouses (ochaya). But what behaviors must she avoid?

Cover, Maiko etiquette by Kamishichiken Ichimame. Copyright © 2007. Daiwa Shobō.

Maiko Ichimame describes some basics in her 2007 book, Maiko Etiquette. The book’s illustrator Katsuyama Keiko catches our attention with her comic of maiko taboos, featured here.

What do the taboos tell us about the maiko’s role at teahouse parties?  First of all, we see a concern for aesthetics: the maiko must move beautifully. We also see that attending parties is part of a maiko’s job. She is not there to have fun, but to ensure the guests enjoy themselves. She must remain alert to the guests’ needs. This way she shows respect and concern for her guests.

As I describe in Maiko Masquerade, etiquette training, along with dance lessons, mark the most important aspects of maiko training. Contemporary guides to the hanamachi in Japanese celebrate the maiko’s performance of Japanese etiquette. Although Ichimame explains many aspects of her maiko life in this personal account, she titles her book, Maiko Etiquette. Katsuyama Keiko’s lively illustrations keep the book’s mood light, making even a lesson about taboos fun to contemplate.

Do not pour backhanded.

Always face the guest to pour a beverage.  Ichimame explains that in the past when a warrior would commit seppuku, he would wield the sword backhanded.  (Not a good look at a party!)

When the client offers to pour your drink, do not offer your cup with one hand.

Hold your cup with both hands when offering it and when drinking from it.

Hold the sake cup in your right hand and support it with your left hand. Do the same thing with cups or glasses for other beverages.

If you absolutely must use one hand to pass something to the guest who is somewhat distant from you, say, “Onīsan (Elder brother), I apologize for passing with one hand.” お兄さん、片手ですんまへん。

[Male clients are generally addressed as Onīsan (elder brother), female clients as Onēsan (elder sister). Ichimame’s reference implies that clients are typically men].

Rest your hands on your knees when talking with clients.

Don’t rest your hands on the table.  Of course, never rest your elbows on the table either.

Do not rest your hips directly on the tatami.

Even when sitting formally (seiza) makes your legs sore, do not move so that your hips are directly on the tatami floor.  Rather, move your feet into the ハ position and rest on them.  Sit up straight. Push your weight to the front.  If you feel like your legs are going to fall asleep then make an excuse so you can stand up and move.  You might say that you need to get more sake or something like that.

An interesting article on how to sit in the formal seiza style.
https://japanology.org/2016/07/how-to-conquer-seiza-the-foreigners-nightmare/

Do not disrupt the party by getting up too much.

Of course, it’s a maiko’s job to make sure that nothing is needed at the party. If more beverages or something else is needed, she should offer to take care of it. But even if moving quickly to replenish drinks, the maiko must do so quietly, not making a lot of noise.

Do not talk with guests from a standing position.

At parties held in a tatami room, everyone will be seated on cushions on the floor. Sometimes a guest will start talking with a maiko just when she has stood up. It would be rude for her to answer from this “higher” position.  She should only respond after sitting back down on the tatami herself.

Do not become intoxicated.

Sometimes at parties,  maiko Ichimame, too,  is offered sake. While she may taste a little, she also asks for water or tea to drink rather than sake. No one wants to see a tipsy maiko!

REFERENCES

Kamishichiken Ichimame. Maiko etiquette.  Copyright © 2007. Daiwa Shobō. pages 84-86. Illustrated by Katsuyama Keiko, p. 86.

Jan Bardsley, “A Maiko’s Party Manners: Taboo Behaviors at Ozashiki,” Janbardsley.web.unc.edu. July 8, 2021

A Maiko Treat: Fruit Sandwiches

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

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

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

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

How do you make a fruit sandwich?

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

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

 

 

 

 

What’s the connection to maiko?

Kyoto Fruit Parlor Yaoiso sells fruit sandwiches. Nikkei 2019.

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

Hosokawa’s Fruit Sandwich. Nikkei, 2019.

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

 

 

 

 

Fruit sandwiches in maiko manga

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

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

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

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

Fruit sandwich for Christmas. Aiko Koyama, 2017.

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

 

Fruit sandwiches are fun to make!

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

Homemade in North Carolina. 2021.

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

 

 

 

 

 

References

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

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

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

Jan Bardsley, “A Maiko Treat: Fruit Sandwiches,” https://janbardsley.web.unc.edu/  July 1, 2021.

Cool Beauty in Kyoto: Uchiwa Summer Fans

What is the story behind the maiko’s uchiwa fan?

This pretty book-cover image shows a lovely way to stay cool in Kyoto’s summer months. Here, we see maiko Momohana lifting her chin to catch the breeze as her best friend Kiyo waves the fan.  The fan bears the maiko Momohana’s name in red, 百はな

One reader of Koyama’s manga ordered her own “Momohana” uchiwa.
https://www.goodhostelskyoto.com/blog/

What’s the story behind this distinctive fan?  How do Kyoto’s maiko and geiko use them? How does their display in the hanamachi create a pleasant summer mood?

Today’s blog post explores the story behind the maiko’s summer fan. We learn about their use in gift-giving, as a maiko accessory, and a sign of Kyoto. We even hear one geiko’s funny story about designing her own. 

What is an uchiwa fan?

Kasamori Osen and Fan Hawker by by Suzuki Harunobu-Tokyo National Museum. 18th century.

The uchiwa–a flat, round fan with a fixed handle– became a popular summer accessory in the Edo period (1603-1867).

Famous artists designed colorful prints for them. They created scenes of everyday life, portraits of famous actors and beautiful women.  Many of these stylish uchiwa prints are now held in museum collections.

 

What is the maiko’s uchiwa called?
Kyō-maru Uchiwa 京丸うちわ

The practice of fashioning these “Round Fans of the Capital” (kyō-maru uchiwa) as the summer gift of geiko and maiko began in the early Meiji era (1868-1912).


I received this uchiwa from a geiko as a gift in 2011. (Left), we see the maiko’s name, Ichimame, and her district name, Kamishichiken. (Right), we see the crest of her okiya. I photographed this in 2021 amid the greenery of North Carolina.

A Sign of Summer in Kyoto’s Hanamachi

Cheerful uchiwa offer a welcome reprieve from the heat and humidity of summer in Kyoto’s hanamachi. The crisp white paper of each round, flat fan perched atop a sturdy bamboo handle bears the name of an individual geiko or maiko brushed in bright red ink.

Pontocho uchiwa. Photo by yajico, 2005. Wikimedia.

On display in hanamachi restaurants, sweets shops, and small-goods stores, the fans signal the patronage of the local okiya. One finds uchiwa decorating tony bars and casual ramen shops alike. Shop owners hang uchiwa neatly in exacting vertical or horizontal rows or even gathered on walls like insouciant bouquets. They may cover a ceiling or wall.

Do you recognize the maiko and geiko names?

Customers familiar with the district’s geiko and maiko enjoy scanning these uchiwa displays to find names that they recognize (Aihara, 121).  Dalby, too, muses, “The red characters on the white fans make an intriguing design, and as we sat down I kept glancing at them for familiar names and new ones” (31).

Making uchiwa today in Kyoto

Komaruya, which makes and sells uchiwa and other fans. https://komaruya.kyoto.jp/

Continuing the tradition, Komaruya, a Kyoto shop that dates to 1624, employs a team of eight to craft these distinctive fans in stages, working from a single piece of bamboo, painstakingly applying the paper, and brushing the vermillion ink. The fans feature the okiya crest (kamon) on the “front.” On the “back,” they display the name of the geiko or maiko and her hanamachi, except in the case of the Gion uchiwa which omit the district name (Aihara, 124-25).

Uchiwa as summer gifts

Koyama Aiko. Maiko-san-chi no Makanai-san. Serialized manga. Volume 10, Episode 106, p. 119. (2019).

The dresser asks Kiyo’s help with uchiwa. Koyama Aiko. Maiko-san-chi no Makanai-san. Serialized manga. Volume 10, Episode 106, p. 118. (2019).

Every June okiya mothers take charge of purchasing fresh uchiwa to send to the teahouses and shops in their district.  Geiko and maiko delight in presenting them to regular clients as a form of the traditional summer gift (ochūgen), as manga artist Aiko Koyama explains in this frame.

Here, Kiyo receives an order of uchiwa for the maiko in her okiya.

A geiko designs her own uchiwa

On becoming an independent geiko, the artist takes responsibility for providing her own uchiwa.

Kokimi Cover

Bare-faced Geiko, 2007.

Gion geiko Kokimi humorously recounts her initial adventure in uchiwa design.

Following convention for a fully-fledged geiko, Kokimi needed to have her family crest on the front of the fan, and on the back, the characters for her family name Yamaguchi山口 rather than her okiya name, alongside her geiko name.

 

But what was Kokimi’s family crest?

Having no idea what her family crest might be, Kokimi visited Yamaguchi family graves in her native Tokunoshima.

There, she found something resembling an arrow that looked pretty cool. Plus, she adds with a smile, it was a crest “already in use!”

An Awesome Discovery

On receiving Kokimi’s suggested design, the uchiwa designer said he had never seen that kind of crest, but on looking it up, found that it meant “awesome arrow” (erai ya). He assured her that there was no problem with each new generation coming up with its own crest. Kokimi happily proclaims, “Hey, all you Yamaguchi out there, this is my family crest and I am going to run with it!”(141-42).

References

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

Dalby, Liza. Geisha. Berkeley: University of California Press,1983, 2008.

Koyama Aiko. Maiko-san-chi no Makanai-san. Serialized manga. Volume 14. Cover art. Shōgakukan, 2020, and Volume 10, Episode 106, 2019.  For its new online anime adaptation, NHK World translates the manga title as Kiyo in Kyoto: From the Maiko House.

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

[1] The Komaruya website has lovely photos of uchiwa. http://komaruya.kyoto.jp  [accessed 2 May 2018].

Jan Bardsley, “Uchiwa Summer Fans,”  janbardsley.web.unc.edu, June 24, 2021

Dance in The Kimono Tattoo: An Interview with Rebecca Copeland

The Kimono Tattoo, 2021.

The Kimono Tattoo, a fast-paced mystery set in Kyoto, follows American translator Ruth Bennett on her dangerous quest for the truth. Ruth’s expertise in kimono history and fluency in Japanese give her the tools. Her intrepid friends take risks to help. Amid the chaos, Ruth’s practice of Nihon buyō (Japanese dance) steadies her.

As we explored in our last blog, The Kimono Tattoo gives insight into the practice of Nihon buyō by its teachers and students.

 

Meet Rebecca Copeland

Today’s blog features a special treat. We get to catch up with the author, Rebecca Copeland.    Renown for her expertise in modern Japanese women’s literature, Rebecca has studied dance in Japan, too.  Our interview explores how her experiences learning Nihon buyō shaped the dance scenes in The Kimono Tattoo.

You can also hear Rebecca’s podcast on The Kimono Tattoo. It’s on the popular channel, Japan Station: A Podcast About Japan by JapanKyo.com

The fun of taking first steps in Nihon buyō

JB:  Great to talk with you today, Rebecca.  Let’s start with your first experiences of Japanese dance.

In your blog post on dance, you recount taking your first steps in dance in 1976 at age nineteen. You describe the fun of staying “for tea, sweets, and gossip” after the lesson.  Much later, rather like Ruth, you took Nihon buyō lessons as an adult in Kyoto.  But what were those first lessons like?

RC:  Thanks, Jan.  I first began studying Japanese dance when I was a college student in Japan. A young woman about my age offered to teach dance to the foreigners where she lived in Fukuoka.  At the time I did not know how extraordinary this was.  I’ve since learned how difficult it is to acquire the credentials and more importantly the permission to teach a traditional art.  But since this young woman was only providing foreigners with a form of “art appreciation,” her sensei thought it would be okay. After all, no one expected any of us to pursue dance seriously.

What stands out about these early dance lessons? What did you learn?

RC:  For me, it was much more than “art appreciation,” and even much more than dance.  I learned basic forms of etiquette.  I learned different ways to understand grace and elegance. I learned how to dress myself in a kimono and how to fold and store the kimono after use.

Even though my sensei knew I would never excel at the form, she still pursued her teaching with serious intention.  She was proud of her art.  It meant so much to her.  Clearly, it wasn’t just a hobby or a weekend exercise. It was a way of life. Her investment in her art touched me deeply. This experience, along with others I had that year in Fukuoka, influenced me to continue my study of Japan.

Now I see why Ruth Bennett knows so much about kimono. What about your later dance lessons as an adult?

In the mid-2000s, I lived for a year in Kyoto. I taught at what was then the Kyoto Center for Japanese Studies (a consortium of American universities). The students in my program were given the opportunity to study Japanese dance, but none of them did.  I asked the organizers if I could.

The class was offered by Nishikawa Senrei Sensei, of the Nishikawa School of Dance.  All the other students in the class were about the age I was when I first began studying dance in Fukuoka.

We began our studies with the same dance I had learned when I was 19, “Sakura, sakura.”  But because in Fukuoka I had trained in the Hanayagi-style, the movements were different.

That must have been frustrating. Like Ruth Bennett, you had to start all over again.

Yes, I do remember feeling very frustrated at first.  I knew I should know this.  But everything was new to me, and I felt so disoriented.

Actually, it had been that way from the start.  As soon as I arrived in Kyoto, I felt dislocated.  I was used to Tokyo. After that year in Fukuoka, my next visits to Japan had all been in Tokyo.  I had lived there off and on for close to ten years.  Kyoto was so different.  I found it hard to get around as I was unfamiliar with the bus system (in Tokyo I almost always took trains.)  Everything was different.

On top of that, I was in a class with quick young women who immediately picked up the dance movements.  I was always the one lagging behind.  But Senrei Sensei was very kind to me.    After class I would often linger and talk with her about literature.  That’s when I learned that sensei also choreographed new, original dances.  She performed one that year based on the French sculptor Camille Claudel.  Another dance of hers retold the famous Meiji-era story of Mori Ogai’s “Dancing Girl” (Maihime).

Senrei Sensei was incredibly talented. She invested her time teaching foreigners out of a spirit of generosity and passion, not unlike that of my first dance teacher.

Senrei Sensei must have been quite a talented artist in her own right.

Senrei Sensei

Absolutely. Senrei Sensei managed her own studio, curated her own recitals, choreographed her own dances, and traveled the world.  She was grounded in traditional Japanese arts and amazingly independent and fierce. Jonah Salz published a wonderful essay about Senrei Sensei in Kyoto Journal.

She was a strict teacher.  A sharp glance from her would be enough to make me wilt with embarrassment and regret.  But she was also patient and understanding.  I would be so honored to share The Kimono Tattoo with her, but she tragically died several years ago.

Such rich experiences! How did these help you craft the dance scenes in The Kimono Tattoo?

Admittedly, the dance teacher is loosely modeled on Senrei Sensei. She taught me so much about Kyoto and kimono.  She also taught me about art and about finding the source of art in yourself.

As I noted, I wasn’t very quick to pick up the steps and I often felt like a drag on the class. As we prepared for our recital, I was amazed by how smooth the young women in the class were.  They had no problem remembering all the steps.

Later, after one class when we were putting away our kimono, one of the students told me that they watched videos of earlier performances. They received them from previous students.  Aha! I could certainly use that help. I wanted to see those videos and practice at home with them, too.

Rebecca Copeland dancing Shizuka Gozen.

When I mentioned borrowing a video to Sensei,  she grew visibly irritated.  “Art is not about perfecting form!” she snapped.  “It’s not just about memorizing.  You have to feel it in your heart.”  Then and there, she forbade all of us from studying the videos.  She told me to listen to the music at home.  “Feel the music,” she said as she thumped my breast.  “Feel it here.”  So, I tried that.  I was never as smooth as the other students, but Sensei complimented me for having the right spirit. I think Ruth and her sensei share a similar relationship. Ruth isn’t perfect but she is keen to appreciate the spirit of the dance.

Looking back on these dance lessons, what did you take away from the Sensei’s guidance?

Strangely, I think her lessons helped me in other aspects of my life as well. I stopped worrying so much about making mistakes and getting facts wrong in my own lectures and classes.  My classes became better as a result.  And, perhaps it is this awareness of following the heart, trusting the heart, that gave me the courage to try my hand at a novel.

Do you have more in store for these characters?

Rebecca, I enjoyed the lively cast of characters in The Kimono Tattoo. My favorite is Ruth’s pal Maho, who wears a Mohawk.  And, of course, one gets attached to Ruth Bennett, who can’t pull away from signs of danger.  What’s next for them?

Thanks, Jan.  You know, it took so long to complete The Kimono Tattoo–almost ten years.  I started it in 2012, and I could only work on it during the summers.  That means that I have lived with Ruth and Maho for a long time.  They continue to visit me, especially when I return to Japan.  Ruth will walk alongside me and make comments.  I don’t think I’ve seen the last of her.

Will the next mystery take place in Kyoto, too?

Sarasa Nishijin Cafe. Posted to Matcha, 2016. https://matcha-jp.com/en/1224

Yes. A few years ago I started another Ruth Bennett story.  This one is set in the Nishijin area of Kyoto. It features the sumptuous brocade for which Kyoto is famous.

Fragment of Noh theater robe produced in Nishijin district. . Freer Gallery. Wikimedia Commons.

 

 

 

 

Nishijin brocades are exquisite.  But like so many works of art that rely on human labor, the people who enjoy the brocades and the people who labor to produce them live very different kinds of lives.  In earlier times weavers often lived subsistence lives and were exploited for their labor.  This kind of dichotomy, the bright side versus the darker underside, as in The Kimono Tattoo, fascinates me.  I want to see what happens when Ruth spends time with this art form.  Sadly, people will die.  And Ruth will find herself once more in the thick of things.

After this novel I would like to send Ruth on the road.  She’ll spend time in Fukuoka and perhaps Nagasaki exploring the traditional arts there and trying to stay out of trouble.  Nagasaki is a particularly interesting city with its different layers of cultural histories: Japanese, Chinese, Dutch, British, American, and more.

Thanks to Rebecca Copeland

Following Ruth Bennett to Kyushu will be an adventure for sure. And I look forward to learning more about Nishijin in her next Kyoto mystery.

Thanks for sharing your experiences with Japanese dance and photos, Rebecca. This gives me renewed appreciation for the evocative dance scenes in The Kimono Tattoo and Ruth’s brilliant sensei.

I highly recommend The Kimono Tattoo.   “Silks unravels. A tattoo is forever. Layer by layer the truth is revealed.”  And you can stay up all night watching the layers fall away.

Jan Bardsley, “Dance in The Kimono Tattoo: Interview with Author Rebecca Copeland.” janbardsley. web.unc.edu  June 3, 2021.