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.
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.
“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.)
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 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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