Kotoha, a senior maiko of Gion Kobu, smiles beneath the cherry blossoms lining the Shirakawa stream.
No cultural tour of Kyoto would be complete without a proper maiko sighting, so half-way through our hanami party in Maruyama Park I led my friends down to Gion's Shirakawa district. Shirakawa-Minami-Dori is one of the very few areas of Kyoto where you can really imagine what the old capital must have been like before the twentieth century onslaught of 'modernization'. Lined on one side by magnificent cherry trees and whimsical willows on the other, the carefully paved lane follows the Shirakawa stream through the traditional teahouse district. Across the shallow waters of the Shirakawa, teahouses and restaurants hide behind bamboo blinds, peak through shoji screens, or gaze out through wide glass windows.
Kotoha laughs with Takahiro as she smooths her carefully styled coiffure.
With this timeless, quintessentially Kyoto backdrop, the city's tourism association had invited two maiko (or apprentice geiko), to make a come out and enjoy the cherry blossoms, giving the many tourists that flock to Kyoto in the spring the perfect photo op. Imagine my excitement when the maiko were two of my all-time favorites: Takahiro and Kotoha. \(^o^)/
Takahiro takes a rest beneath the cherry blossoms.
My enchantment with Kotoha set off a bit of a debate between my friends and I. I couldn'd help but comment on how stunningly beautiful I thought she was, but they were quick to disagree. To them, Kotoha seemed 'cold'. They were much more drawn to Takahiro's sweet expression and dimpled smile. Only Kachi Sensei, my friend and former colleague, and her 11 year old son agreed with me.
Takahiro has a certain child-like charm, with warm, friendly features and an adorable dimpled grin. With her long, slender neck and graceful limbs, she is an excellent dancer, and to be honest, I couldn't take my eyes off of her during Miyako Odori.
Kotoha, on the other hand, would never be described as child-like. Her features are striking. While Takahiro has "the (Japanese) girl next door" appeal, Kotoha is exotic. Even amongst other geisha, she stands out. Always perfectly poised, she looks noble, dignified, and refined. Her fey expression makes it seem as if she is above the concerns and cares of the ordinary, lost instead in the infinite beauty of the 'flower and willow world'.
As different as they are, the truth is that Takahiro and Kotoha are my favorite of all the Gion Kobu maiko. It's their differences that make them stand out, giving them a unique appeal. They are both beautiful, talented young women, and I look forward to seeing them turn their collar and blossom as full-fledge geiko. Ganbatte, girls! I'm cheering for you!Kotoha stands near the memorial to the poet Yoshii Isamu. Engraved on the rock is one of his most famous verses:
"No matter what they say,
I love Gion.
Even in my sleep
The sound of water
Flows beneath my pillow."