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BOUND TO PLEASE / Photographer captures beauty of geiko, maiko

The Japan News

By Hiroko Ihara / Japan News Staff Writer The Kagai in Kyoto: Legendary Beauty of Geiko and Maiko

By Hiroshi Mizobuchi

Mitsumura Suiko Shoin, 303pp

Due to their youthful beauty, eye-catching outfits and impressive stage performance, these young women are adored not only by men, but also women, and they have foreign fans as well.

This may sound like praise for idol stars like AKB48 and Momoiro Clover Z, but it may be more suitable for maiko, who are trainee geiko (geisha).

Dressed up with obi sashes hanging down their backs and wearing high okobo wooden clogs, maiko personify Kyoto.

Hiroshi Mizobuchi’s “The Kagai in Kyoto: Legendary Beauty of Geiko and Maiko” illustrates their work and lifestyle with beautiful color photos on almost every page. Each photo has a brief text in Japanese and English.

The word “Kagai” refers to the five entertainment districts that are the homes and workplaces of maiko and geiko professional entertainers.

In chapters on their elegant style, dancing and seasonal events, Mizobuchi captures many beautiful details, such as elaborate hair ornaments with floral designs for each month.

It seems maiko and geiko in Kyoto are one of the last bastions for preserving Japan’s traditional performing arts and craftwork.

Readers learn how, when walking outdoors, maiko and geiko always use their left hands to hold the long bottoms of their robes as a sign that they are performing artists, not courtesans.

The author began taking photos in the districts in 1973. One evening, when he was walking through Kyoto, he saw a girl who looked like a classical Japanese doll crossing the street in front of him. It was his first vision of a maiko. He felt her presence completely changed the atmosphere.

“Take many good photos of maiko now, as I’m afraid there may be none in the near future,” the proprietress of an ochaya geiko banquet house urged him. In a time of drastic social change, the number of maiko had decreased to only about 10 in Gion Kobu, one of the Kagai districts.

Monochrome photos Mizobuchi took in Gion from 1973 to 1985 offer a rare record of the district’s old-fashioned atmosphere.

The last chapter is the jewel of this book — a five-year album tracing the path of Satsuki, now one of the most successful geiko, from the time of her first Japanese dance lessons to her maiko debut in 2011 and her geiko debut in February this year. The glamorous Satsuki in a light blue formal kimono at the end makes an impressive contrast to the 13-year-old childlike Satsuki in jeans at the beginning.

A hidden theme may be women’s career choices.

To be a maiko is a dream profession today. In recommending the work to girls who like dancing, the renowned writer Ryu Murakami warns: “You have no free time during the first year as all of it is spent either for dance training or assisting your proprietress and senior colleagues. It’s much tougher than expected and you definitely need to be physically fit.”

As the training starts right after finishing compulsory education, it’s too late to apply after graduating from university. Ironically, many Japanese women come to adore the classical culture and the world of maiko and geiko after 30 as they have almost no opportunities to learn about traditional music and dancing in today’s educational system.

Where to read

If you want to see beauty and feel happy, let this book take you on a virtual trip to Kyoto from wherever you are.

Maruzen price: ¥2,800 plus taxSpeech

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