After a enchanting day of geisha dances, temple-hopping, hanami, and all-around enjoying Kyoto, I decided to take one last stroll through Gion and Miyagawa on my way home. I always walk in Kyoto, very rarely taking the bus or trains, and my favorite time to walk is late at night, after the tourists go home and before most of the residents go to sleep. The pleasantly paved lanes of the hanamachi, spotted with the glow of red paper lanterns, fill with a anxious silence, as if even the machiya are holding their breath, waiting for something magical to happen. Every now and then, an outburst of laughter or the sound of a shamisen wafts through the cool night air, betraying the sleepy wooden lattice facades that line the street. Then the sound of a smooth wood Japanese door sliding open, the soft tinkling of bells, and the hollow clop of okobo on stone as a maiko steps out of a tea house.
As I walked down one of the deceivingly silent alleyways I heard that tell-tale rumble of sliding wood, the soft, silvery jingle of bells and the sweet, clear voice of a maiko and shikomi thanking customers at the door. The young shikomi stood in the street infront of the Okiya, bowing and watching the two, silver-haired men stumble away. "Konbanwa!" I smiled as they passed. They stopped in their tracks.
"You can speak Japanese?" One asked, astounded.
"Well, I do my best." I said giggling.
"Why? How?" He asked, confounded.
"Well, I live in Japan. I teach English in Gifu..."
"Gifu? You teach English? This is amazing! Come! Do you like sake? Let's have a drink! Do you know geiko? I will introduce you to Kyoto's famous geiko!"
He turned in his tracks back towards the okiya where the young shikomi was still standing, no doubt shocked and scared by what was transpiring. She tried to look calm as the man explained to her that he was sorry but he would like to bring the nice foreigner in with him. The young girl looked confused and called for the mistress of the house, who came to the door and bowed down on her knees. Again the man explained that he would like to bring me in, and she glanced out the door at me, standing stunned in the street, unable to move or respond in anyway. I finally managed to bow and mumble a meager "sumimasen" before the second man urged me along, past the shikomi and into the door of the ochaya.
"This isin't an ozashiki, but atleast you can meet geiko!" The man laughed as he stepped from the from the entrance. I was still in utter disbelief that I had just crossed the threshold of an ochaya. I followed him into a small room where three other men sat at a low bar, Japanese style, chatting with the geiko Yachiho who was pouring one of them a beer. "We're back, and we brought a foreigner!" One of the silver-haired men announced, and everyone laughed. "Don't worry, she speaks Japanese," he added, and chorus of shock and admiration filled the room.
Yachiho was only with us for a short time before she was called to an appointment. She disappeared between a golden-rod noren adorned with the crest of the ochaya, and a shimmering, powder-blue kimono appeared behind it, dangling sleeves hung almost to the floor. I can't express my suprise and excitement when Miehina slowly appeared through the slit in the curtain, bowing and taking her place at the low wooden bar to introduce herself.
"What's your name?" One of the men asked "I've never met you before."
"Miehina dosu." She answered with a bow. The man introduced me, easily remembering my name and pronouncing it with ease, but for some reason he couldn't quite grasp hers. He asked her two more times before she pronounced it syllable by syllable for him. "Mi-e-hi-na- dosu."
I'm sure she wasn't bothered, as she handled it with exceptional grace and patience, but I felt compelled to school the man. "Haven't you heard of Miehina? She is one of the most popular maiko in the world...Literally. People know her all over the world. She has many fans in England and the USA!"
"Really?" the man asked with a sudden sense of awe.
"Really?" Miehina asked, with a similar sense of suprise.
"Why? Why is she so popular? How do people in those places know her?" Someone asked.
"Why? Do you have to ask? Look at her! She's so cute! She's tall and elegant, and she's a beautiful dancer. Haven't you ever seen her dance? Its so moving, like a dream! I'm so looking forward to seeing her dance in the Kyo Odori this year! Will you be going?"
"I'm buying my tickets tomorrow. Miehina, may I ask? When will you be performing? I hope I'll have the pleasure of seeing you perform!"
"Ookini, onesan!" She said with a sweet smile, and wrote down the days she would perform on a dance pamphlet. "I hope you can come."
"What's her name again?" The man asked me,grinning. "I'm going to have to write it down."
"You don't remember? You better write it down!" I said laughing.
"Well, you know her name, but does she remember yours?" He asked.
"Melissa-san dosune." She smiled.
"Yes! Thank you!" I said.