Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Shirakawa Hanami: Kotoha and Takahiro

Kyoto Rewind: April 2, 2008

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!

Notice Kotoha's feet. Perfect.

Takahiro adjust Kotoho's dangling darari obi.

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."


songbird516 said...

Kotoha almost looks like she stepped out of a woodblock print to me. She has an "old-fashioned" look that is very beautiful and unique. Thanks for the wonderful pics and commentary :)

M.KATE said...

They are all so graceful and beautiful, how is it you find them all the time? I am amazed !!

Abbey said...

Kireeeeei! What a great day that was... for the record books. And I have come to agree with you on Kotoha's classiness (and no old-timey tattoos either!). She is definitely noble and striking. But Takahiro, she stole my heart that day...

Anonymous said...

Melissa I wondered if you had seen the picture on flickr showing that Takahiro's name isnt on her okiya anymore T_T and a regular at a ochaya she visits said yes he heard the news too and hopes that they just let her take a leave to fix her problems I dont think this is the case if her name plate is gone though T_T

Anonymous said...

Yeah I also hear Takahiro retired! Thats so sad. She was just starting her career. Her name was removed from the name "board" of the Okiya. They wouldn't remove their name plate if they just toke a leave of absence. It makes me sad that she quit so sudden.

Steve Pan said...

nice to find this elegant photo!

soul said...

Hi! I am from the Philippines and I am really fascinated about geiko. I someday want to visit Gion to see these lovely creatures. And i love your posts about them! Keep it up! I just love them so much!