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

Tag: tenugui

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.


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).

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.”

Jan Bardsley, “Merry Maiko Christmas,”  December 20, 2021.

Nice shot, Maiko! Ooh, look at the golf ball soar!

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash.

Maiko sending golf balls flying?
A geiko golf tournament?

Today’s post dips into quirky golf stories and graphics. We go from maiko comedy to geiko as accomplished golfers.  Zooming back to the 1920s and 30s, we see golf shaping modern girl fashion in Japan.  Returning to golf comedy makes us re-think the maiko’s current status and training.

“Nice shot, Maiko! Ooh, look at the ball soar!”

Textile firm Eirakuya designed this tenugui (hand towel).

This funny tenugui (cotton hand towel) comes from Kyoto textile firm Eirakuya. It imagines formally dressed maiko on an expansive golf course. They play beneath a vivid lavender sky.  One holds a huge golf club. Her long kimono and obi don’t inhibit this maiko’s swing at all. Nice shot!

It’s a comic fantasy. But it recalls how hard one must practice to get good at sport. When proficient, the golfer makes it look so easy.  Just like a practiced maiko dancing gracefully.


“Geiko are good golfers, and it’s all because of Inoue dance training.”    –Kiriki Chizu

Some of Kyoto’s geiko do develop proficiency in golf.

Retired geiko Kiriki Chizu credits the geiko’s golf skill to her dance training. She develops core strength through practicing the Inoue form of Japanese dance.  Traditional dance, like Noh, emphasizes holding the hips low and the upper body still. Quite a feat. On an earlier post, we saw even world skating star Asada Mao struggling to do it.

The Gion way to skill in becoming loveable: A woman’s polish by Kiriki Chizu. Copyright © 2007. Kōdansha.

In her 2007 memoir, Kiriki describes an event that captures the playful spirit of the sporting maiko tenugui.  It’s called, Gion Golf Classic.

Held twice a year for over 20 years, Gion Golf Classic gathers about 20 Gion women– active geiko, retirees, and teahouse managers.  Although many teahouse clients also play golf avidly, they may not join the tournament. It’s a strictly women-only event. (Clients may contribute to the prize money though, Kiriki writes with a wink).  (Kiriki, 92; 96-97).

The vision of geiko and clients at the golf course reminds us of the luxury associated with teahouse culture, even outside the teahouse. It also recalls that clients are mostly well-off men, likely enjoying hefty corporate entertainment budgets. The scene also points to the easy camaraderie that develops in teahouse culture.

The Groundbreaking 1926 Women’s Golf Tournament

Golfing women, 1926.
Fujin Gahō magazine.

Curious, I researched a bit about the history of women and golf in Japan.  !920S fashions caught my eye.

Often played at expensive country clubs, golf has long connoted aristocratic leisure abroad and in Japan.  The women’s magazine Fujin gahō captured elite ladies playing golf in its November 1926 issue.  Historian Ikuta Makoto describes this event as the first major golf tournament for women.  The  skill of the players and the media attention to “elite ladies” out on the green made it a groundbreaking event in Japanese golf history.

Fujin gahō reproduced the images for its 150th anniversary. The magazine often featured women in western-style sports.  In one photo here, we see a woman giving golf lessons to a girl.

Modern girls as fashionable golfers in Japan 

Postcard by Suzuki Toshio. Early Showa. In Ikuta Makoto, Modern Girl,118.

Picture postcard, early Showa era. Ikuta Makoto, Modern Girl, 118.

Fashion magazines and films in the 1920s and 30s featured chic women active in sports. Each sport, including golf, had its own costume. Sportswomen at play conveyed leisure and self-confidence. In turn, sportwear shaped fashion design from Paris to Tokyo. Ikuta Makoto displays postcards of modern girls golfing.

Since Kyoto geiko were experimenting with modern dance styles and entertainments in the 1920s, too, I wonder if any photos of modern golfing geiko exist.

Japanese women’s global golfing success

Catching up with the times, we see Japanese women have achieved global success in golf. Hisako “Chako” Higuchi became the first Asian to win a major championship when she triumphed at the LPGA in 1977. In 2003, Higuchi “became the first Japanese golfer inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame” (Wikipedia). By the early 2000s, women may have comprised up to 15% of the golf players in Japan (Guttmann and Thompson, 212).

Back to maiko comedy: What more can we learn?

Textile firm Eirakuya designed this tenugui (hand towel).

It is no longer remarkable for young women to enjoy a round of golf today. Yet, it still remains an expensive sport—requiring access to clubs, proper gear, and the de rigueur golfing ensemble. The charming image of saucy maiko swinging clubs on the Eirakuya’s tenugui may seem at glance anachronistic. But it is no more so than observing a maiko perched properly on a chair in a fancy French restaurant.  Maiko point to affluence and training as well as to the subtle discipline demonstrated in a “nice shot.”


Guttman, Alan and Lee Thompson. Japanese Sports: A History. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2001.

Ikuta Makoto.  Modan gāru daizukan [Big picture book of the modern girl]. Tokyo: Kawade Shobō Shinsha, 2012.

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.

Steele, Valerie. Paris Fashion: A Culture History. London: Bloomsbury, 2017.

Jan Bardsley, “Nice shot, Maiko! Ooh, look at the ball soar!”,, March 29, 2021.

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