Erikae coincided with a time of change for a lot of us with Hachihana starting to move into a more independent stage and Hachidori moving from being a college girl to being out in the wider world.
This gave me a chance to experience life as Jimae (Independent) Geisha. Jimae Geisha move out of the okiya and live in their own apartment and space and become mostly responsible for their own bookings and activities – though of course with a link to the Mother house they are often called to appointments by Okaasan still and have their little art sisters to think of from time to time.
It has been an interesting year or so exploring what place a Geisha has in the wider world that is not related to home life, and nurturing a more extended art community. I have had a fair few requests… some in simple kimono and some in a full ensemble and done a little travelling – though I haven’t the energy to go far! Finding out things like would I prefer to dress before and travel in my full ensemble on the train – or wait til I get to the venue. I think without an overnight stay I prefer to travel full Geisha as many do in Japan.
I played for the opening of the Flour and Rice Japanese/Italian restaurant in town.. did some interviews both online and off.
I have also done a fair amount of teaching.. some in the Okiya and some in other places like local schools. Local art projects reached out to me for assistance and advice on how to enjoy and incorporate Japanese art in a sensitive and accurate manner ^^
I also went to Holloway in London to study some Noh Theatre during the summer. It was an exhausting schedule and a real test as my seizure frequency ramped up continuously during the week but I learnt lots and do not regret it.
Learning as I go what it means to be a Totnes Geisha, making time for blogging has been hard – hence the long gap. It has also been rewarding but draining being in many situations where I am explaining how Geisha are empowered women and where in their lives people themselves can find a zen like balance for themselves. It is tricky trying to be knowledgeable, assertive and approachable as a woman – when you are softly right about something it can still be a shock to some. But I am practicing and increasing my Okaasan power by being firm when need be…
…… like when I had to tell a photographer off for mimicking my ‘girlish’ walk when he was insisting that I walk straighter through extremely tall buttercups in a kimono. Give me advice after you have accomplished what you yourself demand from me ne?
Going back in time a little now… (life as an Independent Artist has been busier than I expected), to remember my preparations close to entering the phase of full Geisha (Geiko) for Hachiko. Just as the preparations for Misedashi required me to make a Kuro Montsuki kimono with the Hachisu Okiya mon painted on it.. so I again needed to make an equivalent one for Erikae – my debut as full Geisha.
I had decided a long time ago that each of these kimono would have the lotus flower upon them. For the Okiya misedashi kimono the lotuses would be growing.. to reflect the effort being applied by the Maiko.. with the roots of the flowers spreading into the Devon mud of their home. This is also a reference to the fact that all Maiko live in the Okiya during this stage of their training, learning about the regular routines of the house as well as having their Oneesan to hand from whom they learn much about the surrounding Hanamachi’s ‘Floating World’.
To assist in the new Kuro Montsuki’s creation I brought her ‘little sister’ out to have alongside whilst I worked on the new design – this time with the lotuses floating along the stream of art and ideas collected in my Geisha mind during the years spent as a Totnes Maiko.
Another art to turn my hand to was the creation of Mokuroku. These are the big posters that are created to celebrate a debut in the Geisha world. We made some quite lively ones for Hachihana for her Misedashi (leaving people mystified at Darla-chan telling people she had been ‘painting the inside of a whale’). For Hachiko’s Erikae we made two.. one depicting our famous Totnes Castle and another of the older of our two bridges. I took charge of the calligraphy and design and Obasan painted the pictures 🙂 I hear that there is only one traditional Mokuroku painters in Kyoto who is kept quite busy.. With our amateur mind and skill we tried the best we could for a place so far away from his efforts!
Mokuroku with Totnes Castle and it’s hikizuri-like hill 🙂
Ritual and retreat are interesting things… when we make a point of doing something it brings it into our awareness.. makes it definitely part of our world. In anticipation of being a Geisha rather than Maiko my mind is building its own path into a world of art and communication. A new confidence rises to meet the challenge of the new role and I am conjoined with it… ready to be presented to Totnes.. as it’s new Geisha!
After the main Ozashiki the guests for the evening started to file out and wend their ways home as our regulars stayed behind for the private ceremony that is the (literal) end to Sakkou.
Those who had the special invitations I sent out had come to witness the end of my time as Maiko and celebrate the Geisha I was ready to become. I was very nervous and went to the back room to prepare to be presented and perform my last dance as Maiko, Kurokami.
When everything had calmed down (including me) and I knew the celebratory sparkling sake and cups were set out ready I was announced by Hachisaru, who thanked those present for supporting the development of the Maiko who was about to perform. I danced Kurokami.. trying to maintain my presence of mind, sinking my awareness into each moment and it’s bodily representation of the lyrics in the song. Luckily my Shamisen Sensei had been teaching me to sing and play the music so that helped me a lot with my connection.
I felt especially nervous about movements that were usual to this piece.. its a very slow dance so technically one is worried about fast movements and coordination.. but then that means you have to be confident in holding emotion in the slower parts. And also there are a considerable number of moves on the floor!
After the dance it was time to celebrate and reminisce. I had bought some special Sparkling Sake for the occasion so Obasan poured for everyone and we made a toast.. to Art and to the new chapter…Geisha Hachiko!
The End of Sakkou Ceremony.
As part of my anthropological study of ‘Learning by Doing’ and with my path being a echo of the one walked by Maiko in Kyoto turning into Geiko we performed the traditional ceremony… Sakkou is a special style – the only one to experience this ceremony of it gradually being cut apart by those who are close to the artist wearing it. Patrons, Mentors, Sisters… all take in turns to cut a little of the bonds that tie together this style representing the last moments of Maiko.
It was so lovely to have so many people who have supported me as I have grown in confidence as an artist.. a social artist and a performer. I have been quite nervous as I have been learning, along with my epileptic interruptions, how I fit as a western explorer of Japanese art. Each person has been so important in that path! Douzo Yoroshiku 🙂
Congratulations to Obasan for helping people through the steps of the hairstyle that I constructed… quite a labyrinth I suspect!
I shall write next when I have time about my first steps as Geisha.. over the year I have been requested more and more and it drains my blogging energy ^^
2016 was a big year for me as Maiko and Geisha.. I send thanks to the many who have helped and supported me! I am now a full Geisha having experienced my debut and other things associated with becoming more independant and reaching out with my art into the world.
January looks like a good time for blogging.. so I hope to write about many things that have happened, but for now I shall speak of Sakkou period and the special Ozashiki at which I first danced Kurokami!
The date was Saturday 16th January and also our special Ozashiki time for celebrating the New Year. So it fitted that we would all be in formal kimono for the special event of Hachiko’s last Ozashiki as maiko ^^
Normal preparations were made.. plans for the 3 course Japanese Meal, checking outfits.. deciding which performances were appropriate for season.. alongside sending some special invites to patrons we have been grateful to over the 5 or so years of practice and support that have led us to this point.
The weather was good so we dressed people processed to our Birdwood Ochaya venue together whilst helpful people packed up and delivered our stage and catering equipment via the hire car 🙂
After set up we spent some private time as an arts family, discussing how things have gone over the past year and our future dreams and aims for the New Year. Obasan Hachitsuki oversaw the ceremonials as we made our art promises and shared a meal as is our tradition in the afternoon of January Ozashiki. Hachiko and Hachitsuki discuss the New Year Ceremony
After meal discussion – has Norman just said something shocking??
Then it was time for Ozashiki proper.. serving food, playing games, dance performance and song performance…
Part two coming soon ^^
With thanks to Norman from https://www.facebook.com/FlipitLENSphotography/
for taking a lot of the pictures!
So what has resulted from all this wandering? We were invited to return to the town’s New Year’s festivities at the Civic Hall the next year where I was able to play my shamisen with much more confidence – including singing and playing a kouta that accompanies one of the dances Hachihana performs.
Live music and dancing at once – not to concert standard on my part but good enough for either ozashiki or to give people a taste of Japan’s most iconic instruments. I performed a public Tea Ceremony at last summer’s ozashiki which resulted in tasty matcha tea and wagashi sweets and was invited to perform at a few private parties around the town.
One particular party I remember was hosted by Transition Town Totnes. It was in collaboration with the local Japanese community and for people who were visiting from Japan to learn more about the movement. One of my supporters asked me to come and perform at this event so I went along with my dance props and shamisen and did some nihon buyo and played and sang some songs. The warmth that exuded from the party towards me is something I will never forget, and the nostalgic murmurs from those who knew the tunes and sang along with me was a defining moment in my understanding of what I can do artistically and diplomatically.
The journey of what it has been like to be a Maiko for Totnes, to assemble a team that can provide competent ozashiki for the town and to be able to share some traditional Japanese culture with Gaijin and Nihonjin alike has been full of challenging and educational moments. After 5 years of Maikohood; many shakuhachi and shamisen lessons, self driven and nurtured study of dance and Tea Ceremony, and struggling less and less with the language, – it’s time to start thinking about what a Geisha is, and what it will mean to be a Geisha for Totnes.
All our members, past and present, have taught me things.. the practicality of living, working and sharing art together. The fact that we all view art from different angles means one Geisha will be very different from another Geisha. Maybe they all might look the same to some people from a distance but viewed up close maybe as a non ‘first customer’ at a party the personality and differences shine out. When we paint our faces it doesn’t ‘hide our face’ it makes our face stand out and draw in those who seek something of interest today, in this moment. We paint the parts of our faces that portray our emotion so that you can sense the kindness we like to share and so that you can join us in celebration.
A journey of zen.. the presence of the moment hidden, perhaps, in a lot of colour and laughter and art and games… but present none the less. And a dull mind is a boring mind where a distracted happy mind can become aware of new opportunities, plans, vistas and ideas. Sleeping minds awake!
I am enjoying this path of bringing Japanese art into my life and letting it describe a valley path through Sumi-e style mountains. I can feel it filtering into my art and expressions like the detail of the bright Maiko kimono colours and kanzashi.. off the ‘page’ and into my heart.
For a “little lotus” this is a big story….
October beckons…. and brings with it that sort of autumn mists that evoke memories and with it a nostalgia that reflects on the feeling of just how much has passed over the last year.
I will make an attempt to blog over the next few months of the story of how we are doing as an okiya with two Maiko. I now am a senior maiko.. having left okobo and much hanakanzashi behind. Hachihana is gaining confidence in performance, conversation and dealing with her younger sisters. We are very happy and so grateful for all the experiences we have been having and the people we have met, each one adding a new colour or note to our story! In my next blog I will talk about Hachihana’s Misedashi Ozashiki ^^