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.
First days of December are always exciting within hanamachi. Although it’s slowly getting colder, maiko and geiko get into festive mood regardless. The very first week of the month is exclusively dedicated for kabuki—special “Kaomise/顔見世総見” review is held at Kyoto Minami-za Theatre. It’s, for sure, the highlight of the whole winter season. Kabuki plays during Kaomise gather the finest actors, celebrities, and guests—including geiko and maiko who get seated at the collateral galleries inside Minami-za. The theatre itself is decorated with wooden maneki boards on the facade that create a peculiar program of current performances, as the maneki are decorated with the actors’ names respectively. This year, however, Minami-za is going under seismic-protective construction, so Kaomise was moved to the ROHM Theatre of Kyoto. The maneki plates still can be found at the new location, as many Kyoto-natives cannot imagine the wintertime without a sight of these wooden tabs.
One of the most significant parts of a geisha’s appearance is a thick white makeup on the face and neck. Oshiroi (白粉, lit. “white powder”) is also essential for kabuki actors, nihonbuyo, jiutamai dancers, and other performing artists. While geisha wear this makeup for their everyday engagements, oshiroi is normally considered as a conception used strictly on stage. Performing arts in Japan happen to be connected with creating an individual character, a brand new role of the artist. It’s visible especially among geisha and kabuki actors—they adopt new first names and surnames upon entering the world of theatre and dance. Accordingly, they create a brand new character—connected to the pseudonym—with oshiroi. A dancer’s face has to be still as a mask—and oshiroi allows this kind of an emotional retreat. Sensations are locked in the dancer’s body motion and eyes expression. There’s no place for smirks, tears, nor frowns.
A dancer’s ensemble wouldn’t be complete without a proper hairstyle. The most accurate and suitable hairstyle for wearing a kimono on stage is a complicated nihongami. However, it is not made of the performer’s real hair. Even long time before the modern era, artists used handmade wigs (katsura). For actors and dancers, wigs were (and still are) an essential part of the stage costume, as certain hairstyles enhance and express the specific roles.
As autumn comes and leaves’ tones turn slowly into orange and red, all of the Kyoto hanamachi get into a festive mood again. October is the month of the sophisticated dance recitals which, unlike April’s Miyako and Kyou Odori, are not that much “touristic”. In fact, most of the tourists may have no idea about these shows, and the audience mainly consists of conscious spectators connected with this unique world of art. Tickets are usually hard to obtain and, if you ask me, maybe it’s better this way. Autumn dances of the Old Capital guard the mysterious aura of the upscale Kyoto entertainment.