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.
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.
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:
We shall always conduct ourselves beautifully,
with gentleness and kindness.
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
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/
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.