The Kamishichiken district, the oldest of five hanamachi in Kyoto, seems to be so tranquil nowadays. The area lost its most famous faces and business suffered heavily. I visit Kamishichiken regularly, but this place resembles a ghost town sometimes, especially in winter and after dark. For me, Kamishichiken has a very peaceful and calming atmosphere, though. It’s certainly the best place to completely relax, far far away from the busy streets of Gion or Pontocho. Kamishichiken is ancient, quiet, and mysterious. And it gained new blood last Autumn!(more…)
I’ve been waiting anxiously for snowy weather over here. This year’s winter in Kyoto, however, is mild and quite warm. There were only four snowy days, including the past weekend, this season. Downtown Kyoto was covered only with a thin, fragile layer of wet snow. But up in the North, there is a magical area called Kibune. (more…)
Last year was rough. 2018 is marked with tragedies, sorrow, happiness, surprises, big decisions, and even bigger disappointments. Kyoto is still standing strong, though, despite the fact that a kanji for “disaster” is haunting us from the head temple of Kiyomizu complex. Indeed—what I like the most about Kyoto’s culture is its peaceful stability against all odds. But, as this culture greatly relies on weather conditions, sometimes the sacred customs need to be adjusted slightly. For me, personally, the kanji describing last year is “change” and “humbleness”. These two words are imminently related.
Meeting a real maiko in Kyoto might feel like an impossible challenge. Sometimes, geisha spotting in Gion can be a form of an extreme sport. Also, you can be fooled easily by random tourists dressed up in kimono. While I really don’t recommend chasing maiko on the streets, I’m very happy to discover much better ways for meeting a geisha in Kyoto. Open parties with maiko are now a big thing over here. It’s a fun, budget, and unique experience. The world of traditional entertainment has never been closer.
I arrived to Kyoto just in time to attend a farewell party of Kamishichiken’s top maiko, Umechie. During her super long career (exactly six years as a maiko!), she became one of the most recognizable faces in town. Her debut was marked by an NHK TV program which, thanks to YouTube, gained popularity all over the world. Three years later, the fans were anxiously waiting for Umechie’s debut as a fully-fledged geiko. But, sadly, it wasn’t meant to be.
Researching the World of the Flower and Willow has brought me a whole lot of mixed feelings, as well as several life opportunities. When I first started my little blog, back in 2011, I posted news from Kyoto for fun as I’ve never thought that anyone else could’ve been interested in the geisha community. It definitely wasn’t a fashionable topic, and usually, people were giggling when they found out what my passion is. That being said, I was in great shock when I noticed that things I write for myself (as a diary even!) are frequently read by more than 25 000 people from all over the planet.
The goal of a maiko’s career is to become a geiko. As for every other special occasion, this particular event is also celebrated with a meaningful ceremony. It’s called erikae (衿替え/襟替え) or, roughly translated, “turning the collar”. The collar worn with a geiko kimono is indeed different than maiko’s one—completely white, in the front and the back, carefully sewn onto a light pink undergarment (襦袢juban) which replaces maiko’s red robes. It’s not only a visual change but a mental transition as well. After the maiko adapts the new collar, she steps into an entirely different path. From now on, it’s expected from her to be more autonomous, liable, mature, and diligent, as she slowly adjusts to working for her account. It’s the final exam of her art skills, the one she’s been waiting for since she first stepped through the door of her okiya.
We, as a media audience, have certainly witnessed quite a few important social issues within the past year. Some of them led to an unnecessary extreme, yet they all raised an important question—how to treat women, minorities, and traditional culture possibly in the most respectful way?
A usual, sugar-coated image of a maiko stands in the opposite of Tatsuko Takaoka’s story. Tatsuko’s—later named Chiyoha, Teruha, and, eventually, Chisho—fate was heavy with tragic circumstances tied in a clichéd metaphor of blood, sweat, and tears. These three eras of her life were stained with fame, jealousy, depression, suicidal thoughts, faith, hope, and unfulfilled love.
Geisha are strongly connected with the traditional Japanese dance, yet some of them choose a slightly different career path. Being a maiko automatically means a commitment to the art of kyomai and making it a priority during the whole education process. However, after a ceremony of erikae artists are free to focus either on dancing or music. Such choice is, most often, quite obvious—normally, maiko attend excessive dance training for few long years, and it’s difficult to become a full-time musician afterward. Some of the hanamachi allow to blend these two fields of interests, and there’s no need to choose only one specialty. Music career in teahouses can establish an excellent opportunity to excel as an artist and utilize natural talents.