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.
Jikata geiko (地方) are definitely not the ones in the spotlight during a performance. They need to create, with their presence, a subtle background for the tachikata geiko. Therefore, usually, jikata tend to choose simple houmongi kimono, natural makeup (not oshiroi), and a plain hairdo. It’s a matter of a personal choice and taste, after all. The minority of jikata, especially the ones just starting or specialized in both fields of art, prefer to wear a full stage geiko attire with all of its advantages and discomforts.
Jikata population within all four Kyoto hanamachi has visibly decreased in the last 20 years. CD and MP3 players quickly replaced living musicians in the tatami-tiled party rooms. Maiko and geiko changed the profile of their profession a bit, too. Commercial performances at department stores, train stations, or museums were rather unusual before—now it’s a standard part of their job. Replacing jikata geiko for an electronic music player is just another economic factor of lowering the cost of traditional entertainment. Nonetheless, jikata geiko are slowly brought out of its niche, as more and more young geiko pick up this path and study such instruments as shamisen, kokyu, fue, koto, and tsuzumi, along with proper training of traditional singing.
One of the most famous jikata geiko of our times may be Katsuna (勝奈) from Kamishichiken district. Her decision, shocking for some of her devoted fans, of giving up dancing entirely after her erikae was one of the highlights of 2017. The graduating ceremony was a turning point of jikata’s professional doom. Katsuna has been one of the most popular and talented maiko, as well as one of the highest earners in Kyoto’s entertainment districts. She’s been a star, not only inside the oldest Kamishichiken teahouses, but even in the whole world of the traditional art. Surprisingly for most, we won’t be able to see her graceful dance again. She realizes other dreams instead; the dreams of the cheerful violin player of her childhood years.
Katsuna’s renown has started with a TV documentary presenting her experiences and struggles during the first stage of a maiko career. She won the audience’s hearts with her inevitable smile and her adorable disability of getting on time (she had me there, too—I’m the biggest latecomer in the history of being late). But, what is most important, Katsuna had no difficulties with brand new tasks at dance or music classes, as she used to take a violin course during secondary school. Previous experience with classical music helped her along the maiko career, but it was also the factor of the major decision later.
Katsuna’s erikae might cause a consternation for some of the observers. She wore a formal, crested black kimono on this special day, yet it turned out to be simple and modest (not a trailing type for stage dancers—hikizuri). Her hair was free from a heavy wig (katsura) and face adorned with a delicate makeup. This mature and subtle look is now her trademark that stands against her bubbly personality and bright smile.
Indeed, the music world of hanamachi longed for such strong character as Katsuna. Hopefully, her story will encourage other young maiko to follow her steps and indulge in the intriguing sound of the shamisen. In 2017, two ladies debuted directly as jikata (they skipped the maiko stage due to their age)—Mamewaka 豆わか and Danmitsu だん満 of Gion Kobu.
All photographs in courtesy of Gaap san: