A Glimpse Inside Kyoto’s Floating World
– a snippet from my chat with Katsuharu (a senior maiko in the Gion Kobu district)
It would be the first time to visit my ochaya (teahouse) in the Gion Kobu since the coronavirus outbreak. I have been going there for almost a quarter century. The Okaasan, (proprietress) has a real mother-like aura and her husband who runs it with her is like an uncle in a way. Just like family members rushed home to reconnect, I felt, that now things are loosening up and the hanamachi (geisha districts) have been reopened, I decided it was time and safe enough for my wife and I to start making the rounds and show our support for the hard hit karyukai (flower and willow world). Tourism is almost non existent so the gei/maiko and ochaya must depend on their regular clientele do help them bounce back from the quarantine that shut the districts down for months. After arriving , I was told by the Okaasan that maiko, Katsuharu would soon be joining us. About 30 mins later she arrived with her usual energetic “Ookini” (Thank you in Kyoto dialect) and warm smile. She then greeted the proprietors and the other guests and then took her place beside us (not in front-as a virus spreading prevention), sanitised her hands and our evening of jovial conversation began.
Here is a snippet of our conversation that evening:
E.K.: It has been awhile. How are you doing?
Katsuharu: “Yes, It has been a while. I am fine but things are slow”
E.K.: Do you mind if I ask you a few questions?
Katsuharu: (nodding her head) “Please, Go head.”
E.K.: You know, I never asked you why you wanted to become a maiko. So why did you?
Katsuharu: “Since I was young, I have been a big fan of kabuki. I also love kimono and the whole ritual of putting it on.”
E.K.: How did you enter the Odamoto okiya (boarding house)?
Katsuharu: “I was looking at the photographer Hiroshi Mizobuchi’s book, and noticed that at the back all of the Teahouses in Gion were listed with there addresses and phone numbers so I decided to contact them out of the blue.”
E.K.: Who is your Oneisan, (ritual kinship big sister) or mentor?
Katsuharu: “Katsugiku san, However, she retired last year.But, I still see her around quite often because she lives nearby. She was a kind big sister”
E.K.: Do you enjoy your job?
Katsuharu: “Yes, I do.”
E.K.: Whats your favourite food?
Katsuharu: “I love beef. Anything is fine.”
E.K.: So next time we hire you. I guess you would like to go out for dinner?
Katsuharu: “That would be great- I look forward to it.”
Here I explained about a project I was working on about taking the geisha abroad for events and that one of her fellow maiko joined me on a West Coast tour of the U.S.A. in September 2019. and asked her is she had heard about it. She said she did so I became curious and asked….
E.K.: Have you ever gone abroad for work?
Katsuharu: “No. Never. Actually, I have never been on a plane.”
Katsuharu: “Yes, it’s true I am afraid of flying.”
E.K.: “Believe it not, even though have flown numerous time, I still hate flying as well. I get tense during turbulence.(as I pretended to be holding on for dear life while I was shaking in my seat)”
*Katsuharu looked surprised as she laughed. I didn’t want to make her feel uncomfortable or get too personal so I decided it was a good time to change the topic.
E.K.: How was it during the closure due to the corononavirus?
Katsuharu:- “I went back to my hometown in Saitama prefecture (near Tokyo). It was nice to see my family.”
“Since I entered Gion, I never thought I would be able to spend so much time back at home while I was a maiko.”
E.K.: Did you ever think about not returning due to the long layoff?
Katsuharu: “No, not really, However, I did ask my self,what if the shutdown would have continued on for another month or two? Maybe then, my feelings might have changed . You know, before I went home, me and some of the girls actually did wonder if there were going to be any maiko/geiko who wouldn’t come back.”
E.K.: Now that you are back to work, are things back to normal?
Katsuharu: “Things are slow, There are no ozashiki -(banquets) really.” -And then with an apologetic look- “That is why I am not in my regular hikizuri -(banquet kimono for dancing and white make up).”
I then explained, that we we just out tonight for a casual evening to show our support for the district. Then I looked at I my wife and we both agreed that it was time to get back to a less personal conversation and talk about more upbeat topics…….
To learn more about geisha culture or have an similar authentic geisha experience including one which includes dancing, singing, traditional games and dinner, hire an Geisha (Geiko/maiko) yourself. Please see the website for more info or check the links below.