Life as Maiko
─What kind of person is Maiko?
I can’t explain it in one word…, but Maiko is a young girl training to become Geiko, who entertains customers at a dinner party in a tatami room. Right after graduating junior-high school, I became “Shikomi-san” and did a live-in training at a geisha house in Hanamachi. After a year of training, I became a Maiko.
In Kyoto city except Ponto-cho where I am in, there are areas, Kami-shichiken, Gion-higashi, Gion-koubu, and Miyagawa-cho called Gokagai in all. They each have different style of dance.
Usually, I’m called to a dinner party at night and perform dances, songs or talk with customers to entertain them. I really have fun meeting and talking with many customers.
Besides dinner parties, I sometimes dance at an event to introduce Japanese culture. Once, I have been invited to an event in Taiwan in this costume. Also, I’m invited to “Gokagai United Performance” in the end of June for dance. I practice for it.
─Please tell us about your regular schedule.
First, I dress up and start lessons around 10 o’clock. During the afternoon, I go to teahouses to say hello. To the teahouse that invited me yesterday and to the teahouse that invited me today. After that, I do “okoshirae.” Okoshirae is a preparation before going to a dinner party. I borrow a kimono from the mother of yakata (okami-san, the landlady) and get dressed with help. I do makeup by myself. Then, I get called to a dinner party.
─Why did you want to become a Maiko?
When I was in the 2nd grade of junior-high school, I saw “Kamogawa-odori” of Ponto-cho with my family. The dancing Maiko was so beautiful, and I was really impressed by that. I told my parents that I wanted to be a Maiko, and they were really happy about it. Including the fact that “Kamogawa-odori” was the beginning of my dream, I got a chance to get into the Hanamachi of Ponto-cho.
─“Shikomi-san” and Maiko, what kind of training do they do?
Shikomi-san do cleaning of yakata and help the older sister wear a kimono. After a while, she starts taking lessons of dances and tea ceremony. About a month before the debut, she becomes a “Minarai-san” (an apprentice) and starts to go to the dinner party. A year went by so fast.
After becoming a Maiko, I’m also practicing the shamisen, nagauta (Japanese classical music), and ohayashi (Japanese orchestra). I especially like ohayashi and shamisen. Maybe it’s because I was taking piano and violin lessons when I was young. The practice of dancing is a little hard, but lessons are all fun, and I like them.
─How does a Maiko make her debut?
Before becoming a Maiko, we have to exchange osakazuki of sisters with a Geiko in front of the god. The mother of yakata asked one Geiko to become my older sister, and this sister relationship will continue as long as we belong in Hanamachi. We also get one letter for our names from their sisters. My sister is Ichiraku, so I inherited the line of “Ichi” and also onomancy person looked the name for me. After that, the mother and the sisters discussed a good name that matches me. An older sister is someone who always takes care of a younger sister. This kanzashi (ornamental hairpin) is also prepared for me by my sister.
During the first 3 days of debut, the older sister comes together with me wearing a black crested kimono, but after that, I go around the dinner parties by myself wearing a colored crested kimono. Many people say I’m a person who brings rain. And it actually rained on the day I started to go around alone. It was a little tough (wry smile).
─Please tell us about the difference of Maiko and Geiko.
It’s basically the same about entertaining customers with traditional performance, but the appearance will be different. Maiko looks younger and Geiko looks more matured. In former days, much younger girls were on training as Maiko, so they put on obi in a higher position. Also, the shoulders and the sleeves of a kimono are tucked, so they look childish. Their dance movements of hands are in higher positions, so they look more gorgeous.
One major point of Maiko is the obi. It’s called “darari-no-obi” and it’s about 5 meters long. The mother of yakata helps me wearing it every day.
The hair is also different. Maiko makes this hairstyle with her own hair and do up the hair once in 5 days, or once in 10 days in longer places. We use a high pillow to keep this hairstyle until we do up the hair again. Geiko wears wigs. Maiko wears more gorgeous kanzashi… so it’s intended to look more younger and cuter.
─Were there any difficulties to live as a Maiko?
I get to dance with many different older sisters, so it’s still difficult for me to harmonize with them and make my dance look beautiful. Even when I dance alone, I carefully pay attention to the every movement of my body, from my eyes to my fingertips. Soon after I made my debut, it was difficult to breathe because the position of obi is high, and it tightens my chest. Kimonos are heavy, so we need to have good physical strength and the muscles of the legs are important, too. Before, all I could do was to remember the dance movements. So, I was thinking too much while I dance, and I sometimes forgot my movement. Now, I practice enough until my body moves naturally without thinking anything.
─Please tell us about your next dream.
“Kamogawa-odori,” which impressed me to become a Maiko, of course the dance of Maiko was wonderful, but Jikata (people who play music for the dance with shamisen or other instruments) livening up the stage for a long time was also impressive. I want to practice more and more, so I can become a good Geiko who can do Jikata.