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Time travellers dressed for the late Edo or early Meiji era. K is dressed as a Maiko.

In March and April of 2003 we spent a few weeks visiting Kyoto and Nagoya. In the Gion district, one can occassionally see a Geisha (Geiko in the Kyoto dialect) or Maiko (Geisha apprentice) coming to or from an appointment - often just a glimpse as she leaves a restaurant and steps into a car to be whisked away. Sometimes people rent the costumes and walk through the souvenir shop lined streets around Yasaka Shrine or up to Kiyomizudera temple as if reliving an earlier time.

There are differences in the appearance of Geisha and Maiko. For Maiko ("dancing girl"), the kimono and obi (sash) are more colorful and patterned, have longer sleeves, and the obi is tied so that the material hangs down the back. Her hair is decorated with flowers, beads and ornaments. Her face has full white makeup with red lips. A red collar contrasts her white makeup. Her feet are covered by white tabi and she wears Oboko - very high platformed sandals.

A Geisha ("person of the arts"), being more mature, wears a more subtle kimono, with shorter sleeves and a white collar. The obi is tied in a bow in the back. Her hair has fewer decorations and her makeup may not include the full white face of the Maiko. On her feet are Zori (no, not the rubber kind worn to beach) - but flat, lacquered sandals. Her appearance is very beautiful and colorful, but more refined or understated than the Maiko.

K made an appointment to have our photo taken in costume. This is a popular thing to do, particularly with young women like K ;^) and as with any photo studio, one needs to make arrangements some time in advance. When that time came, we had been out sightseeing and caught a bus to get to the studio. The buses were jam packed and the streets clogged with cars. Our bus driver was alternately stomping on the brakes and then the accelerator, causing the standing passengers to slosh back and forth like so many socks in a washing machine. After just a few stops I'd had enough and announced that I was getting off. In Japan, one boards the bus in the middle and exits through the front, paying as you leave. Working with the motion of the bus, we oozed our way forward and got off. It was actually faster to walk, and a whole lot more comfortable.

The studio was down a narrow alley. In a small waiting room, we were served green tea and sweets. There were lots of magazines and even a television set with a selection of videos to keep those in wait occupied. K was presented with sample pictures and all the options were explained to her.

Most of the pictures taken were of just K, of course. There is a lot of waiting done by the men while a team dress the women with makeup, wig, and kimono. When she was almost ready, they called me up stairs to measure me for my outfit. Getting me dressed only took a few minutes (some things never change). In the picture, I am wearing a formal man's kimono with a haori coat and black tabi (a cotton sock which has fasteners up the back and is split at the toe to accomodate the thong of a sandal). The black "thingy" above my belt is actually a decorative knot on the braided cord that closes the haori. The belt is called kaku obi.

I wasn't crazy about the idea at the time, but now I am glad we had the pictures taken. I've worn hapi coats and yukata (summer kimono) to Bon Odori (Buddhist dances) for many years, but this was quite different. Clothing is an important element of any culture and, like trying to do some of the arts, listening to its music, or eating the food, putting on clothes of another culture or period can help to add a little more depth to one's understanding of it.

Edo-era Geisha with shamisen and biwa photographed by Felice Beato


YD said...

Kawaii desu ne!!!

Both K and you looked so cute and pretty! I like K's hair piece a lot.

panda, i m sure there are a lot more photos of you in the kimono, hmmm... where are they?

The Moody Minstrel said...


I've always liked Kyoto. Even with all the modernization and Westernization, Kyoto still has that certain atmosphere, a subtle sense of refinement and sophistication that is a hallmark of the city's long, proud history as the center of things Japanese. My first visit there, back in 1991, was a bit of a disaster, but I've been there many times since and have always appreciated it.

Over a thousand temples and shrines! Almost everywhere you go you catch a scent of incense and cypress wood! And of course, there is that Kyoto sense of decency, which never ceases to amaze our students when we haul them there every year.

Yes, I like visiting Kyoto...which is why I would never want to live there.

Nice pictures, Panda! It's cool that you and K did that!

Anonymous said...

I swear to you, every single time I visit your site, it's like going on vacation for me. BEAUTIFUL!!!!
And you are absolutely right on that Karma thing, too.

Martin J Frid said...

Thanks for posting such a private photo. Your blog is just making me so happy each time I visit. "Tack så mycket!"

Pandabonium said...

YD - you don't get see more - I hope. K is holding them as blackmail.

MM - I've only been to Kyoto twice, for about 2 weeks each time. The first visit was in 1987 and I knew I'd return to Kyoto someday. In fact, I tell people wanting to visit Japan on a short trip to just go to Kyoto and only include Tokyo if they have more time.

Hill Country Gal - thanks so much. I wish my Kyoto pics were digitized so I could share some of them. Moody Minstrel takes groups of students there every year, and has pics of Hiroshima, Kyoto, etc. on his blog Life In The Land of the Rising Sun. Check it out.

Martin - Cheers! Well, the pictures are from personal life, but they are just electrons spinning around after all. I'm happy if some people find things of interest in my posts, and I'm gratified know you read them.

YD said...

it's time to get Momo, the undercover dog to get those pictures! ^_^

Peceli and Wendy's Blog said...

Great photo. That costume of yours makes suits and ties look awfully boring.
There was a program about geishas on ABC television last weekend. I still aren't comfortable about the white makeup on the gals though.
PS Do they have cross-dressing there at all - guys dressed up as geishas?

Pandabonium said...

Wendy - Thanks. Yes and no on the male geishas. Yes there are male geishas of a sort, but their constume is much like I am wearing in the photo.

In ancient times there were men dressed up for feudal lords and were called taikomochi or houkan. They served as court jesters as far back as the 13th century and came from a sect of Pureland Buddhism that practiced ecstatic dancing as well as chanting. Their role evolved over the centuries and they became story tellers (borrowing the erotic style of kabuki humor).

When Geishas started up in the mid 18th century, they gradually displaced the Taikomochi. According to an article I read, at one time there were as many as 600 houkan, but there are only five today - four in Tokyo and one in Kyoto.

Kabuki theatre, however, has a long history of having male actors play the parts of female characters. Originally Kabuki was performed by all female casts who were also prostitutes and the performances could get pretty wild, so the Tokugawa Shogunate banned women from the stage and the casts have been all male ever since. This didn't solve the problem as the male actors also engaged in prostitution!

Reena said...

Thats K? Wow! Very nice picture

FH2o said...

That's a very very nice potrait!

Can you send me a copy if I may shamelessly ask?

Pandabonium said...

Thanks Reena.

FH2O - Wow. Really? I'll see what I can do.