Five Views of Kotomi


“Repose”375 x 505 mm. 2009

For a week in October 2008 my youngest daughter, Lucy, and I stayed at Kyoto Kokusai Hotel opposite Nijo Castle.  Each Friday and Saturday evening, a maiko (apprentice geisha) arrived to perform two dances for the hotel’s guests.  I can’t promise that this still happens because I haven’t been to Kyoto Kokusai Hotel since 2009 (when it was still taking place).   The information about this regular traditional dance performance was nowhere to be found if you looked at the hotel’s website in English.  But…ahh…if you looked at the site in Japanese, there it was…a secret.  If I remember correctly, 7.30pm was the arrival time.

The maiko who turned up on Saturday evening was Kotomi from Gion Higashi (East Gion).  She was ethereal; unruffled and serene.  As was the routine, first she was displayed in the lobby in a specially designated area.  As she quietly sat, guests were allowed to politely interract with her; chat, pose and take photographs.  Lucy and I can’t speak Japanese but I think we managed to communicate our esteem and reverence!   The drawing “Repose” is a portrait of Kotomi in the lobby.


“Unfolding”305 x 655 mm. 2009

After Kotomi’s session in the hotel lobby, she disappeared for a while, perhaps to mentally prepare herself for the dancing.   Guests went outside to the beautiful courtyard garden to be seated and wait for her to appear on stage.  Between the small stage and the audience was a pond inhabited by a pair of swans.  Can you imagine the scene…sitting in the dark; the most exquisite Japanese garden around us, swans gliding on the black water and stage-lit Kotomi slowly dancing with her fan.

"Silk Cocoon"

“Silk Cocoon” 380 x 560 mm. 2009

“Unlike ballet, which is based on jumping and flying into the air, Nihon-buyo [Japanese dance] comes from our roots as agricultural people and from our worship of the gods of the earth.  It is based on bringing our feet down and connecting with the ground.  When the movements of the dance combine with the music and lyrics, customers can easily understand whether we’re crying, or enjoying ourselves, or feeling sad.  To me, that’s what dance is all about.”  A quote from Komomo from her book “A Geisha’s Journey.  My Life as a Kyoto Apprentice”  Published by Kodansha International Ltd, ISBN978-4-7700-3067-2  (Komomo is a geiko of Miyagawa-cho hanamachi.)

"Kotomi on Stage"

“Kotomi on Stage” 381 x 419 mm. 2008

When Kotomi finished her dances, she took a small white woven basket containing some sort of food and fed the swans.  This is what she is doing in my drawing “Kotomi on Stage”.  (Lucy took the photo which I used as source for this drawing.)  The swans were obviously used to food at the end of every performance.  They knew the score and were eagerly awaiting their evening treats, necks outstretched!

"After the Dance"

“After the Dance”375 x 495 mm. 2009

After the dance Kotomi wound her way down the garden path, past the pond, to the lobby.  She had spell-bound her audience with her performance. It was only right that she should be smiling to herself as she left the stage.

My five drawings of Kotomi were drawn in 2009.  Sadly Kotomi retired from being a maiko in early 2010.  (Click on the images to enlarge.)

ps One Kotomi drawing got ripped up.  You can see all that is left of it on my page Failures!

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11 thoughts on “Five Views of Kotomi

  1. Lyn Iorio

    breathtaking work! Love the details, that’s why I am so in love with colored pencils!
    Thanks for sharing your beautiful works!

  2. Nicholas Herbert

    I still am amazed by these drawings not just by your technical skill but also by their atmospheric quality that I can’t quite put my finger on. Best, Nicholas. Btw I love your work from your srchive too. You have great great skill.

  3. anna warren portfolio

    They are a lovely series, Julie, telling the story of a performance. I do like to be able to click on the images and see them large – then I can see the quality of your drawing technique and that they really are drawings, not photos! As Nicholas said, you have great skill.

  4. Ann Kullberg

    Oooh….I got chills as you described the scene…with the swans…and a maiko. I understand about your mentioned “reverence”. Having FINALLY seen a maiko in real life this past spring…it is a little like setting your eyes on a unicorn. You can hardly believe the quality of “perfection” that is like a glow around them. Your drawings are exquisite!

    1. juliepodstolski Post author

      “Like seeing a unicorn” – what a fantastic analogy, Ann. That is exactly how it is when you see a maiko. Otherworldly. No wonder artists can’t help themselves and want to draw them and photograph them!!!

  5. Robyn Varpins

    Kotomi is such an exquisitely beautiful creature and you have captured her “other world” qualities perfectly


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