2020, a highly anticipated year, was expected to be groundbreaking, especially for Japan. The upcoming Olympics were exciting not only for the tourists but also for the business owners who invested a lot in one safe bet: the sports games would make the economy great again. The tourism industry, in particular, was thriving in 2019 indeed and 2020 would only accelerate the boom. Because of it, it might have been secure to assume that tourism is an endless gold mine of Japan. The increasing number of tourism-related services is overwhelming, especially in Kyoto and Gion, where even the famous school for geiko is being transformed into another hotel. But then, the most unexpected and terrifying thing has happened—the coronavirus pandemic, described by the Japanese prime minister as “the biggest crisis since the II World War”. What does it mean for the geisha business?(more…)
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.
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.