About MAIKO/GEIKO, Kyoto Japan


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A Real story of Junior Geisha(Maiko) in Kyoto.

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About MAIKO/GEIKO, Kyoto Japan

  1. 1. The following is a recapitulated English translation, in form of a personal memo, of just a part of the book titled “ おおきに” =“ OOKINI” = “Thank you (very much)” consisting of 229 pages written by Madam MIMIKO TAKAYASU, Okami = Mistress of Ochaya = Teahouse “YOSHIUTA”, Gion Kyoto with its establishment of over 100 years. The book in Japanese came out in March 2007.   The book covers various things in detail as to MAIKO and GEIKO in Gion Kyoto, a part of the Japanese traditional cultures.   We, even to us Japanese, find the book very informative and interesting. So,we would be happy if you would find it enjoyable as well.     With best regards,   Translator - Introducer Kuretake, N. & Ohara, T.   Attachments: *Prefatory Remarks *Text of OOKINI March 2008
  2. 2.   Before going into the text of the book “OOKINI”, let us give you some basic ideas regarding the groups and districts of entertainment in Kyoto.   In the 4 th line of the 3 rd paragraph of the page 5, it goes as “… Here in Gion KOOBU = A-district…..”. There are a total of six districts of entertainment or hospitality in Kyoto City. The largest and very well-known one for its exceptional prestige is and used to be GION. In GION there used to be two districts called “KOOBU = A-district” and “OTSUBU= B-district or GION-HIGASHI=Gion East-district”. There used to be a saying in GION KOOBU as “Sell your accomplishments but not yourselves”. After the year 1958, no such specific name of the district “KOOBU” nor “OTSUBU” in Gion has existed any more. However, there still remain today some seasonal and traditional festivals with the name of KOOBU, such as “GION KOOBU MIYAKO ODORI = …DANCING FESTIVAL”. Also currently there still remain the names of KOOBU for corporations such as GION SHINCHI KOOBU Association, etc. March 2008
  3. 3. Now, to make the story short and straight, those MAIKO ・ GEIKO used to belong to KOOBU = A-district were all proud young girls and matured ladies with high artistic accomplishments. MAIKO girls spent their days under very strict discipline with decency and received all the hard and thorough-going training as described in the book. On the other hand, some of the so-called GEISHA girls referred to by foreign people used to belong to those districts other than KOOBU. It is generally known that the quality and the amount of accomplishments they acquired used to be incomparable to such by those in KOOBU.   Incidentally, apart from the above, there has been no such girl formally called “MAIKO” nor “GEIKO” in Japan other than those in Kyoto – neither in the past nor today.   E. O. M.
  4. 4. *I was born and brought up in GION, Kyoto and made my debut in 1956 as a regular Japanese traditional junior dancer “MAIKO” by the name “TOMIHARU” in GION district; got advanced to a regular Japanese traditional senior dancer “GEIKO”; and then in 1965 at the age of 24 succeeded to the 4 th Mistress “OKAMI” of OCHAYA “YOSHIUTA” where currently I still remain   as OKAMI with my own name of MIMIKO.   *Of late there are not many such women who are well experienced in all the positions as given above. Therefore, I might be one of such a few   women regarded as storytellers and now feel obligated to write here all about the true histories and traditional matters of GION otherwise all such things may be fading away from people’s mind sooner or later.  March 2008
  5. 5. For instance, GION Kyoto is often taken up and written about in various papers and I sometimes feel so disappointed to find that how such seriously wrong introduction can possibly be made on it! There are too many of such mistakes made, I should say. However, I now feel that it may be attributable to the fact that we have so far traditionally not tried to disclose the inside matters to the public. So, partly we may be to blame too.   Under the circumstances, in order to try to correct such misunderstanding on us I now would like to speak up openly all about what we always bear in mind and our efforts to polish up or improve ourselves based on the sense of beauty. I would be glad if people would understand our GION as it really is and the cordial way of entertainment or hospitality we provide.
  6. 6. *You should be surprised at the fact that various sorts of hard training and education are given to junior dancers MAIKO in order for them to be competent full-fledged MAIKO. You will also be surprised at their rich talent and enthusiasm for learning hard to be good eligible MAIKO. Also various important roles performed by OKAMI with their great responsibilities , leadership and so forth should be highly appreciated. *MAIKO get advanced to be GEIKO when they are around 20 years of age after through a ceremony called “ERI-GAE = change of collar” of formal KIMONO. Let me refer back to this matter further afterwards.  
  7. 7. *A word “OOKINI = Thank you”[To be exact, this word should be interpreted as “Thank you very much ”, according to a scholar of Japanese literature] introduced in this book is the word that GION ladies use most frequently. The word, as described in the book has so profound, broad and flexible meaning of goodwill. This golden word may be regarded as a key-word for you to understand what GION is. Now, it is my pleasure if you will go over the book with a feeling like going for a stroll with me on the streets of GION entertainment district.
  8. 8. *My MAIKO’s days – One day there was a guest who said to me “You are a thoroughbred of GION”. Then I responded to him “How come I am likened to a horse?” The guest taught me of its meaning and then added “So it is exactly a good fable for you. In other words, you were born and brought up right here in GION, so-called a genuine GION junior dancer MAIKO, very well educated and trained in various lessons to please your guests.”   *Now, immediately after finishing a summer vacation of my 3 rd year of Junior High, I had to get out of my own home and move into and stay at a house called “OKIYA”. We were going to schools from there too. In other words, I had to change my residence completely from my house to the OKIYA where I had to live and get training or practice as to the manners for many occasions, way to behave myself properly, etc., etc…under the strict supervision of senior instructors and supervisors called “OKAASAN = mother/s” treating us in so rigid and thorough way in our daily life.
  9. 9. OKIYA are referred to by people as “movie production houses”. We were for one year period called “SHIKOMI-SAN = trainees or apprentices” prior to becoming MAIKO. Let me add that the first year of OKIYA life, as SHIKOMI-SAN, we were actually treated like housekeepers. Our daily life was filled with various kinds of work including washing and cleaning of all kinds for seniors; ushering in and out our seniors; shopping, etc., etc. It was not an unusual case for us to be in bed around 3 o’clock in the morning, exhausted. Yet, on the other hand, we had to take various lessons for dancing, manners, arts and many others including the correction of provincial dialects, pronunciation and so forth for those girls from the areas other than Kyoto, in order to improve ourselves. Such super busy life of SHIKOMI-SAN lasted for a year. This system is still in practice now.
  10. 10. *After such a year of SHIKOMI-SAN period, we were transferred to a “OCHAYA = Teahouse”, where we became MAIKO after through a month of learners’ period followed by “OHIROME = introduction”.   By the way, during such one-month period we were dressed in KIMONO still with half-long OBI = sash for Japanese KIMONO. We attended to banquets, but it was just for us to get used to such occasions.   *Now, such teahouses are not common teahouses. This word “OCHAYA” is often heard of when guests ask for MAIKO and/or GEIKO to attend to them.   Basically, these OCHAYA make arrangements for MAIKO ・ GEIKO to come and attend to guests. In other words, OCHAYA send MAIKO ・ GEIKO to such places as restaurants, mostly called “RYOTEI = Japanese style restaurants –rather high class”, and to all other types of banquets. However, OCHAYA even can make, at guests’ requests, all the necessary arrangements for hotel reservations, tickets for shows and so forth besides their principal business of sending MAIKO ・ GEIKO to their guests. They are said to be like concierges at hotels. So, they are very useful for all round services, and it would be so convenient for you to know those OCHAYA in Kyoto.
  11. 11. Besides, they, OCHAYA are, so to say, sorts of cultural saloons with many notable persons or celebrities gathering there and getting relaxed. They are well-known writers, music composers, professors, company executives and so forth.   *Currently – in 2007-, there are about 30 regular MAIKO in Kyoto, while there were as many as about 80 of such regular MAIKO when I used to be a MAIKO about half a century ago. And, during that period a competition among us MAIKO used to be much keener than the recent years. So, it was not an easy thing for us to make an appeal of ourselves to guests as well as to our MAIKO’ s relevant circles. Currently, there are only about 80 OCHAYA while during that old time there were as many as about 250 to 260 of them. So, at that old time, it was a very important thing for us to keep visiting around OCHAYA one by one for self-advertisement.
  12. 12. *Apparently, to people in general the life of MAIKO looks so gay and colorful.But, we felt so blue and distressed when we were not asked for by guests for a while. One time I myself had such experience thinking as “am I on the right track for my own life…? and kept worrying.   There is a saying as “3 days; 3 months and 3 years are the periods of losing your way or being at a loss to think what to do…” I was at that time “no exception” either. I was at a steep slope in the 3 rd year of MAIKO life as well.I said to myself and questioned myself as “I do want to quit this profession. But if I quit this one now and shift it over to other different one,   then I will be losing the 3-year time and it will be a tough thing for me to take it back. So, I should keep going on the same old track where I am on now.” I repeated the above thought of mine over and over again for some period of time. I might have collapsed into pieces at that time if there were no such senior GEIKO whom I aimed at and had a great respect to. I was very fortunate indeed.
  13. 13. Also, there were persons often giving me words as “Tomiharu, Tomiharu” and supporting me in many ways. One of them was well-known Jukai-san very popular Kabuki star who was the father of Ichikawa Raizo-san also well-known movie star. Jukai-san gave me a special permission for me to visit him at his backstage/dressing room freely and such was a great encouragement to me at that time. In such way I was so fortunate to be able to get over the 3-year big barrier blocking my way ahead.
  14. 14. As mentioned earlier, there were various sorts of artistic accomplishments I had to master in order to become a MAIKO.   Essential lessons I had to master were “SADOU = the Japanese traditional tea ceremony”, “MAI = Japanese traditional dance”, “TSUTSUMI = Japanese traditional drums” “SHAMISEN = Japanese traditional guitars” and so forth. Here in Gion, “KOOBU =A-district” the style of tea ceremony is subject to the school of “URASENKE” and dancing is of “KYOMAI-INOUE-RYU”. As you know, head masters of these schools were known to be quite stern to their students.
  15. 15. One time when I repeated the same old mistake in playing SHAMISEN, I got a slap from my instructor on my hand with a Japanese fan = SENSU and was then told by her “How often do I have to tell you to make you understand …?!” My answer was just to repeat saying “Sorry, sorry…” then she shouted at me “Do you think it is over just by saying sorry?!” So, after having had such harsh words from the instructor I never have said “sorry” over again and used to say “I will do my best. Please keep teaching me”, instead. Also, one day I had tears in my eyes, then she said to me “Weeping means that you don’t think you are wrong, aren’t you? “ So there again, I was not even allowed to weep in front of her. And she added, “Your tears can run only inside your chest = heart, but not outside!”   *For a certain period of time, the number of MAIKO in Kyoto has greatly decreased. It might have been due to the hardship those girls had to go along with for many years. Currently, however, the number of MAIKO has turned upward in comparison with one earlier time.
  16. 16. *As referred to in the preceding page, I made debut as MAIKO on March 27,1956 and I cannot forget this very day. Even now, I can draw its picture in colors.   From the day on I was a regular MAIKO with a very long hanging Japanese style sash called “OBI” almost reaching my ankles. Such OBI is about 6 meters or about 20 feet long, when unfolded in an original state.
  17. 17. First, MAIKO wear very long OBI as mentioned above.   Secondly, they MAIKO wear Japanese style high footwear made of paulownia called “OKOBO” of about10cm or about 4-nch high, sounding like “kobott, kobott……..” as if sounding out of some Japanese wooden musical instruments.   The third one is the way they put their lipsticks on. During the first year of being MAIKO, however, they put their lipsticks only on their lower lips in order for their lips to look tiny and lovely. Lips of such type are called in Japan “OCHOBO-GUCHI”, meaning “tiny lovely lips”.   The second year and elder MAIKO put their lipsticks on their upper lips as well. So, when you come across with MAIKO, you can easily see if they are the first year fresh MAIKO or elder ones from the looks of their lips with lipsticks.   *Up to around 20 years old, those girls spend their life as MAIKO and then after that period they are to grow up and change themselves into GEIKO after through proper procedures.
  18. 18. *During the period of being MAIKO, they wear red collars on their KIMONO and then when they become GEIKO they change them to white ones. This change is called “ERIGAE = change of collar”. [This actually is the change in color of collar] This signifies that they are grown up and matured GEIKO. So, such GEIKO are treated accordingly by people around including their guests and occasionally they get blushed with sorts of sexual jokes thrown at them by their guests.
  19. 19. Some people say that the way MAIKO and GEIKO powder their faces and necks is too thick. However, it is not the right way to look at it. You should look at it as “BUTAI KESHO = stage makeup”, but not just heavily powdered all in white. So, please understand that the way they powder has different meaning.   *MAIKO girls should look properly different from those common girls because they MAIKO ・ GEIKO are professional entertainers with various high grade artistic accomplishments.   *By the way, to do such makeup in the right way is not an easy thing at all. If they made a mistake in the process of their makeup they should do it all over again after cleaning all the makeup off. As you can see, in such case, they get so nervous and in panic. Such a trifle mistake requires a lot of hard work and time to them. Therefore, they should be all so careful in doing their makeup.   From the way MAIKO’s makeup looks you can see their individual experience or careers. So, your attention is invited to this point as well.
  20. 20. They change their KIMONO and flowery ornamental hairpins to go with each season. Basically, they change the designs of their KIMONO each month and ornamental hairpins 24 times a year. They vary with each seasonal feature. For example, ornamental hairpins for January New Year would be with the patterns of pine-tree, bamboo and/or Japanese apricot blossoms. These signify happiness and joy here in Japan. During January the 1 st through the 15 th , ears of rice are added to the above three different patterns. The ears of rice signify the determination of MAIKO ・ GEIKO to make their bow politely towards their guests and people around. [Ears of rice in the harvest seasons packed with plenty of rice inside do bowing so low – deeply, signifying the politeness of the way they bow]
  21. 21. The way they do this is an art, showing Japanese traditional beauty. They always hold the ends of their KIMONO slightly up with their left hands. Also, underclothes they wear are in pink color with MAIKO and red ones with GEIKO.
  22. 22. Can you imagine that a full set of formal clothing with accessories MAIKO wear weighs as much as about 20 kgs or 44 pounds?! Also, imagine how hard it is for them, moving around elegantly in an excellent balance with light-hearted steps and smile under such physically heavy burden! I believe you can see that all such things can be gained by them only through all the tough training with firm spiritual determination to be eligible MAIKO ・ GEIKO. It is my firm belief that they need to be very healthy with strong bodies.   Incidentally, in order for one single MAIKO to be a regular one, it costs at least 30-million up to 50-million yen or 300-thousand up to 500-thousand U.S. dollars for a full set of KIMONO with OBI, ornamental accessories, fittings, etc., etc. In other words, these cost OKAMI a large amount of money with which she can buy, for example, a decent house to live in. Therefore, I would not suggest that you young girls get into this world with such a motive simply as you wish for it.  
  23. 23. *Such charges vary with the number of MAIKO ・ GEIKO per guest, the degree of services and working hours or portal to portal hours, provided by them plus the type of dinner taken. For example:   In case you start early in the evening for dinner with a few MAIKO ・ GEIKO for about ten or twenty guests, then naturally the cost per guest is different.As mentioned above, it varies also with the type of dinner guests take. But all in all, I would say it may probably cost you around fifty to sixty thousand yen for each guest with dinner. You can go with less expense if you request MAIKO ・ GEIKO joining you at somewhere like a private home-bar after dinner. In such case, for example, with one or two MAIKO ・ GEIKO for two to three guests, drinking together for an hour or two, such may cost you twenty to thirty thousand yen per guest. It would be most recommendable for you to speak to OKAMI about your plan beforehand.
  24. 24. As mentioned earlier in this book, the word “OOKINI” is used by people in Kyoto often, especially by MAIKO ・ GEIKO so often. There is none of such other word comparable to it. If and when MAIKO ・ GEIKO become being able to use this word properly, then they are entitled to be called “professional”.   However, the word “OOKINI” is not always the word signifying something in the affirmative. For instance, if a boy asks his girlfriend “How about going to see a movie together?”, and she answers “OOKINI”. Then he asks her further “How about on the coming Sunday?”, and then she answers “OOKINI” over again. In such case, he knows her answer is a negative one but she just does not want to spoil his feeling by saying “No” straight. Such is the reason why the words used in Kyoto are said to be with presumptive air and cultural tint. [But, you should be careful about YES or NO when associating with foreigners in consideration of the different culture and custom]   *Naturally, MAIKO ・ GEIKO are expected by their guests to behave themselves with soft, elegant and pleasant air making their guests feel pleased and relaxed. In order for them to attain the foregoing atmosphere the way they behave is required to be with flowery air and elegance. The way they greet their guests is an especially important matter and therefore they are so strictly trained for it.
  25. 25. When MAIKO ・ GEIKO are at work entertaining guests each of them always has “SENSU = Japanese folding fan” put between KIMONO and OBI. There is a special meaning for it. Each of them regards it as a goodwill border line between her and her guest/s and that on this side, herself, is an entertainer and the person/s on the other side is/are her important guest/s whom she should respectfully entertain. The SENSU each of them holds on her chest signifies her firm determination to entertain her guest/s with respect and sincerity.
  26. 26. Guests whom MAIKO ・ GEIKO entertain are so various, so-called “So many men so many minds”. Therefore, MAIKO ・ GEIKO read many books and try hard to acquire as much information as possible to cultivate themselves to be ready for a broad range of conversation with their guests. However, they should not show off the knowledge of their own to people around, meaning that they should be modest.   Those who are good MAIKO ・ GEIKO are good listeners to their guests. But, if they remain dumb then no conversation goes on with their guests and so it is no good either. If they, MAIKO ・ GEIKO get too nervous about how other people including their guests think about themselves , then they feel nervous and possibly make their guests feel tired and bored as well. So, I am telling them that in order not to make their guests bored but to make them pleased and relaxed instead, you should keep up your own personality and try to read the situation right. Then, you would be able to create a nice and comfortable mood among your guests. E. O. M.