E73B Becoming Maiko
Show Notes for episode 73B of our Podcast – Becoming Maiko.
We continue today the tale of Mineko, as she comes ever closer to becoming a fully fledged Geisha. But it is not going to be an easy time for her.
On January 9th one of her nephews came to the okiya. His name was Masayuki and he and Mineko had started becoming friends. But six days later the heard the he had gone missing. They all raced home, except for Yaeko his mother as she was at an appointment. They found a group of policemen waiting for them.
It appeared to them, based on fingernail scratches on the embankment around Mineko’s old home that her nephew had fallen into the canal. They assumed he had drowned. That night heartbroken she returned home to find her sister in a rage.
“It should have been you that died, not my son.” he sister said, “you worthless piece of nothing!”
Her hatred for Mineko only deepened after this. Yaeko decided to ignore the rules of the okiya now, bringing her other son to live there. She didn’t want to find a place for her and her son so she moved him in to her room despite all objections from Madam Oima. She even started sneaking her boyfriend into the okiya at night to stay there even though it was forbidden. She thought now she could do whatever she wanted.
Situations worsened for a while until it came to a head one night when her other nephew Mamoru tried to rape her. He was 15 and she was 12. Luckily her sister Kuniko came in at the moment and threw the boy across the room. Everyone was in a rage and demanded Yaeko and her son leave immediately. It took them two weeks to do so as they said they had nowhere to go. For those two weeks, Mineko stayed at the house of Miss Sakaguchi, another older woman who was also kind of in charge of the okiya. After two weeks Sour Puss managed to find a home for Yaeko and her son and they left. But so the okiya didn’t lose face, Madam Oima agreed to maintain Yaeko’s career.
Sakaguchi implemented more punishments on Yaeko. He could not dance for years, she could not enter any building they owned, she could not approached Mineko, and she would no longer be her Big Sister or mentor.
She moved back in to the okiya when she was almost 14 and Yaeko’s debt had finally been paid off. However, in true vulgar fashion, Yaeko presented a gift of an amethyst obi, knowing full well how it was an ostentatious display. Everyone knew how expensive it has been, so how could she have afforded it if she had been paying back her debts?
Mineko around this time decided to break one of the okiyas rules, and luckily no one ever found out. She was forbidden to undertake activities which would cause her harm, but none the less she secretly joined a basketball team, telling Sour Puss she was merely going to a flower arranging class.
In November 1964 Madam Oima becomes ill and is confined to her bed. Mineko’s fifteenth birthday passed, and she spent as much time as she could with Madam Oima.
On December 13th she was told she was to have a sudden exam the next day after tomorrow. Madam Oima looked like her old self in that instant, smiling and singing. And even Sour Puss looked excited, it was one of the exams to start off her life as a maiko, an apprentice geisha. Sour Puss cancelled all her plans for the next three days to help Mineko prepare, and they invited other girls round so they could all practice together.
December 15th arrived, it was exam day. Sour Puss woke her early so they could be on time, and off they went. Mineko took the stage, before her were more than she had expected. Many women there. She was asked to perform The Story of a Butterfly and A Cole Blossoms and so she began.
Mineko being a perfectionist made one slight error in the dance and stopped asking if she could begin again. Those before her said they had even noticed the mistake was so minor, and that it was ok for her to merely continue and finish the exam. After Mineko was convinced she had failed and was worried it would affect the already ill Madam Oima. In the end she need not have worried she passed in 1st place that day.
It was during this that she realized how hard Sour Puss had worked all these years to help her, how excited she was when she had passed the exam. And it was the first time now she ever called her Mother after being adopted into the okiya.
Decisions were made, it was December 15 and she was to become a maiko in February 15th and make her debut March 26th. She would become a maiko a year earlier than usual and so would start taking classes before finishing secondary school. It was going to be a busy year.
One of the decisions to be made was which ochaya she would be apprenticed to and Fusanoya tea house was the one chosen even though typically they would have gone to the Mankiku tea shop. (These places not to be confused with normal teashops. Provides a wider range of traditional food and entertainment to guests, oftentimes in the company of geisha.)
On January 26th after coming home from a dance lesson, Mineko went to tell Madam Oima of her day. And as if she had been waiting to see her one last time, she passed away in front of her. Mineko helped with the cremation picking up her cremated bones with chopsticks to place them in an urn. And one week after, one her first memorial service Mineko realized Madam Oima was no longer there, she cried with Madam Sakaguchi and afterwards Miss Sakaguchi applied Mineko’ s makeup ready for a photoshoot to happen that day. A shoot to show who would be taking part in the Miyako Odori that year. 49 days after her death they buried her in Iwasaki gravesite at Otani Cemetery.
Moving to February 1965 rehearsals for the Miyako Odori began as did her maiko apprenticeship (as she was not a true maiko she was known as a minarai) and her training at the ochaya. Sakaguchi helped her dress, painting her face in the traditional Geisha white and when she turned to leave she stopped in confusion. The streets were packed, and all the people had come to see her debut. They had been waiting years for this moment. Her delay in leaving the okiya that day made her late to the ochaya for her first lesson, much to the annoyance to the man in charge.
That same evening she went to her first ozashiki. An ozashiki being a geisha gathering of sort with guests, often in the ochaya. There guest of honor was Elia Kazan, an American director. Mineko was amazed to have met him, as he was the only American director she knew of. After Elia heard she was to be a dancer he asked her to perform, which was something never done.
After much discussion with someone who could play the music she danced to Imperial Horse Cart. Everyone was delighted with the performance. It had been hard to choose this dance. The one playing the music knew all the songs maiko danced to, but Mineko knew none of them. This dance was one she had learnt from her dance lessons, and they were both luckily they both knew how to do Imperial Horse Cart.
The following day she went to entertain at the Tsuruya Restaurant and was accompanied by the owner of the Fusanoya teashop. She entered, supposed to bow and offer sake, but she was instantly distracted by a wall of beautiful dolls exclaiming how beautiful they were. No-one found the breach of etiquette offensive and would often laugh about the event in the future.
One night Mineko receives a call asking her to go to the Tomiyo Ochaya, there she was ushered into a banquet room full of other girls. Before arriving a girl had already been chosen from the group by President of the Kimono Dealers Association. Choosing that girl to be the model for their annual posters, hung in all kimono and accessory stall around the country. But upon seeing Mineko he went against his choice and chose her instead. The following day, every girl ignored her. She was still only fifteen at this point. And Mineko wanted everyone to like her.
And so March 26th, 1965 arrives and it was time for her maiko debut. Known as a Misedashi.
Waking up at 6 she took a bath and went for her hair doing. Sakaguchi came at nine to put on her makeup. Applying the white make up she left three strips unpainted on the back of her neck. A custom when Geisha or maiko where formal kimono. In total she believes everything she wore that day, from the kimono to the hair ornaments amounted to £50,000.
That day they would make rounds to pay respects to people. In total they went to thirty-seven places each time thanking people and asking them for their support. Half way through they stopped to perform a ritual known as osakazuki. It was time for Mineko and Yaeko to formalize their bond, even though Yaeko has been banned from being close to her. Still this ritual needed to happen as part of being a maiko. She was no longer her Older Sister, in charge of teaching her, but no-one had been told this. So everyone could save face. But at the very least Yaeko was given a seat of inferior position and could not sit next to Mineko.
Mineko relates in his autobiography that the rest of the misedahi ritual was a blur. Having visited so many places over the course of several days. She complained, wanting to know when she was able to rest, but Kuniko could only say she didn’t know.
Her first request as a maiko came and she was to attend an ozashiki at Ichirikitei. The most famous of ochaya in all of Gion. Sadly Yaeko was there when she arrived. And all Yaeko did was ridicule her sister in front of all the other patrons. People still thought Yaeko was acting as her Older Sister and no one could understand why Yaeko was treating her in such an awful way. She said Mineko was not a nice person, and that she was only here because powerful people were behind her. When Yaeko was told she said she protect Mineko, she said no.
Luckily it was soon time for Mineko to go to her next appointment in the same place, and it was then she met Jiro Ushio, the CEO of Ushio Electric. (After a quick search online it appears he is still alive, and in 2020 stepped down as CEO. Her meeting with him vastly improved her evening. They talked and Ushio said he would love to be considered a friend and a fan of hers.
But the evening ended on a low for Mineko. She still has duties to do for her Older Sister, which including cleaning up her dressing table. And so that night she went to Yaekos home to do the duty. She entered to find a maid cleaning the house. And it turned out it was Mineko actual mother. Before they had chance to talk Yaeko appeared saying this was the woman who murdered her child.
Mineko left then and never went back.
The poem today we have for you is a senryū, penned by someone known as Mokuryū. Now this name translates as ‘Silent Dragon’ and so it is likely to have been a pen name.
The senryū today goes as follows:
Ni-san-pyou geisha no ude mo kazu ni ire
Two or three votes included by the geisha’s cleverness.
The meaning behind this poem is something along the lines of, a man in parliment wanted to stay in power, and so asks a Geisha he likes to vote for him, and to also ask some of the Geisha she knows to vote for him.
Header Image: Geisha from pixabay.
- Blyth, R.H. (1949) “Senryu: Japanese Satirical Verses”. Japan: Hokuseido Press.
- Iwasaki, M. (2002) “Geisha of Gion: The True Story of Japan’s Foremost Geisha.” London: Simon & Schuster Ltd.
You can listen to the full episode over on Anchor here: Japan Archives, or wherever you listen to Podcasts.
Be sure to check out Heather’s blog on lifes little adventures here: HeatherOverYonder.