Life As A Geisha in Kyoto

I stumbled upon this book while doing a random search of interesting picture books in the library. I was attracted to the picture on the book cover, which featured a back/side profile of a geisha with her head slightly turned backward toward the camera. What made me borrow this book was not so much the fact that she was a geisha, but that she was a modern day Japanese who decided to immerse herself into the tradition and culture of old Japan. I really admire people who take a personal stand and willingly choose to do something out of personal choice and not by influence of peers or society.

Just a background briefing on her. Her real name’s Ryukiko but her stage name as a geisha is Komomo. She was 15 years old when she told her parents that she wanted to be a Geisha apprentice. (In the book, they refer to the Geisha as maiko and geiko). Having grown up and studied in Mexico, studied in China and eventually staying in Kyoto, Japan, this is a feisty girl whose spirit of dedication to her goal is one we can all look to with admiration.

Her journey as a Geisha apprentice started off with an e-mail correspondence with an active Geisha living in Kyoto, who started a website advertising her services to young Japanese girls who wished to learn to be a Geisha and wanted a “teacher”. Her e-mail correspondence with this active Geisha lasted several months while Ryukiko was studying in China, before they finally agreed to meet. Her supportive parents went with her to see this “sensei” who would be taking their daughter, Ryukiko under her wing.

So begins her journey, from being a maiko to being a geiko and becoming a full-fledged Geisha. For a 15 year old girl who has grown up in a liberal society, having to adjust to the strict routines and learning the importance of bowing, greeting everyone she met with proper salutations and learning to follow strict guidelines. She almost ended up quitting once, when she became enamoured with an older “sister” staying in the same hanamaki as her and when the “sister” told the “sensei” she wanted to quit, Ryukiko (now known as Komomo) followed suit. However, thanks to the sensei’s words of sense, Komomo realised she had very nearly thrown away her ambition to become a Geisha all because she had wanted to follow in the footsteps of her older “sister”.

The book touches on the various aspects of life as a Geisha. From having to wear kimonos made from incredibly heavy fabric, to make-up that can only be bought in specialist cosmetics stores. You also learn the nuances of small accessories the Geisha wear. From the patterns on a kimono, to the colours of a kimono, to the colour of the make-up on the eyes, to the hair-do, to the hair pins, to the colour of the straps on their okobi (the high platform clogs we see Japanese in olden days wear). So many things!