Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Did I Mention...

I got to meet Miehina ? (^-^)/

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?"

"Well, I..."

"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.


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Marisa said...

so lucky! :D

she looks so grown up, i hope you will tell us more about that meeting :D

Sera said...

Awwwwwwwwwwwwww!!! ^___^-b

Anonymous said...

Hi Melissa!
I stumbled across your photo of two maiko in green Kimono laughing about a week ago (it is BRILLIANT) and then today I found your blog!! Completely by chance I am really enjoying exploring it!!


Cherry said...

Utterly dreamy!!

Sera said...

Oohhh, you got into an Ochaya! Sugoi! You are living a dream-life as well Melissa!!! I am so jealous. Thank you so much for sharing all your wonderful experiences with us! <3 <3 <3

alyson said...

Oh I would never trust some guy who grabbed me off the street! But, it clearly pays to! My GOD, that's amazing! I am sooo envious (in a good way, not the horrible evil way) right now. You lucky, lucky bum.

Abbey said...

I know you told me about this already, but this version was much better!

Melissa said...

Alyson: I don't think I would have gone with just any random ojiisan, but since I saw him stumble out of the ochaya, and since the shikomi was still seeing him off, I figured it was OK (^-^) Did you just call me a lucky bum? Hehee...

Abbey Yes, I believe you got the "resized-for-ketai-convienience" version, and perhaps a dose of 'spare-your-poor-uninterested-friend-the-never-ending-geisha-related-bable" version.

shigatsuhana said...

OMG!!! What an experience! Miehina is such a lovely girl! How fantastic is that????!!! How lucky you are to be in a position where people just offer you into an ochaya! WOW! It's all I can say! Now you know why I like her so much. She is so charming.

Jenny said...

I can't believe how lucky you are, it's astonishing ^^

Sara said...

Wow, what an experience! Thanks so much for the narrative and photos! We get to pretend that we were there with you :)

Remy said...

What a wonderful experience!! I can totally picture the whole scene, just wonderful. I love how they just love that you speak Japanese, and how they are always so surprised and thrilled that you do. I had a similar experience at Sengaku-ji in Tokyo. They couldn't get over that I spoke Japanese and that I had family living in Kamakura.

Royce Okobo 2007 said...

You are too lucky to be by Miehina! She seems like a very nice person! SO was it quite a pleasure talking to her?

Anonymous said...

I discovered your flickr galleries while trying to identify the maiko in my photos from Kyoto, and that led me to your story about meeting your favorite maiko, Miehina.

The first real maiko that I saw was in 2003 in Miyagawa-cho. She emerged from a teahouse, collected her umbrella and set off. However, she was kind enough to pause for a quick photo. I think it was a young(er) Miehina. Please have a look and tell me if you agree. Thanks.

Melissa said...


Your image is of Yasuha, who, as of tomorrow will be the highest ranking maiko in Miyagawa-cho. She will probably change her collar and become a geiko soon.

It was very kind of her to stop for you! How exciting. Hope you enjoyed Kyoto as much as I do!

Anonymous said...


Yes, of course, I had not noticed her photo before. I had never even considered being able to put a name to the photos of maiko we saw in Kyoto. Then someone identified a one of my photos of Suzuha. I searched for that name and it led me to your lovely galleries on Flickr.

We always enjoy Kyoto very much. It is one of our favorite places.

Thank you again,

David and Setsuko