An Exceptional Day in Gion
On Saturday 29th September 2007 Lucy (youngest daughter) and I took the train from Kobe to Kyoto for an afternoon visit where we hoped, as always, to see maiko and geiko to photograph. Matthew (husband) and Alicia (middle daughter), who were not so enthralled at such a prospect, went shopping in Osaka instead. As Lucy and I glided towards Kyoto on the Nozomi Super-Express, we could not imagine what riches Kyoto had in store for us that day.
Travel finished (train and taxi), we set ourselves up outside Ichiriki tea-house in Gion. We didn’t have to wait long before a businesslike young maiko (Katsuyuki) rushed past. The drawing at the top of the page is a record of this encounter. Soon afterwards we saw a young lady in a kimono (not a maiko or geiko) being photographed at the entrance to Ichiriki tea house. I took photos but didn’t think I would draw her because she wasn’t a maiko. However a few months later I changed my mind. I called the drawing “Kyoto Chic”.
While the young lady in the kimono was being photographed, the first maiko I had seen (Katsuyuki) returned and chatted to her. The pair were soon joined by a second maiko. It was hard to get photos because suddenly there was a crowd of people also trying to photograph the fabulously-attired threesome. “The Feminine Mystique” is my drawing of the second maiko (Mameyuri) as she posed with and talked to her colleagues.
Lucy and I were ecstatic. We were getting good photos and having a wonderful time. Eventually the three girls wandered away. We stayed in the area for a while longer but then decided to meander north up Hanamikoji dori to the Shirakawa stream which is another area in Gion where one may encounter maiko and geiko. With its weeping willows and historic wooden buildings, it is a charming part of Kyoto.
Can you believe how our eyes widened (and jaws dropped) as we saw that Katsuyuki and Mameyuri were having a photoshoot at the Shirakawa stream!!! This was manna from heaven. For the next hour or so Lucy and I put on our invisible cloaks; that is, we tried not to get in the way or be noticed. We stayed with the small group of photographers who had undoubtedly paid a handsome sum to have this session with the two maiko. If they had asked us to leave we would have but nobody seemed to mind two interlopers. I wanted material for new drawings hence I was determined to stay as long as I could. You see, usually one has seconds to grab a photo of a passing maiko or geiko. Imagine having as long as you want while two maiko parade and pose amongst Kyoto’s most beautiful scenery.
Now I will show you the rest of the drawings I made from this window of opportunity.
Some time later in the day after the photoshoot was finished, Katsuyuki walked past us again. This time she didn’t look stern like the first time we saw her hours earlier. She acknowledged us with a polite nod. We called out our heartfelt thanks. I thought of all the drawings to follow…
If you look at the dates of the drawings, you can see that I have drawn them over several years. The drawing “Mameyuri-san” was only done last year. Eight drawings from one afternoon is incredible. It wasn’t until I got back to Australia and did some research on the internet that I found the names of the two maiko, Katsuyuki and Mameyuri. Because I drew them so many times, I was interested in following their careers as maiko and then geiko. Both became geiko eventually, however both have since retired and moved on to different lives.
In the following 15 months after our exceptional day in Gion, our family had some challenging health problems filled with medical procedures, operations and recuperations. Working on the 2007/8 drawings gave me tremendous comfort during these months. A point that I haven’t made in my posts before is that drawing can be calming and therapeutic when other parts of life resemble an out-of-control roller coaster ride. Katsuyuki and Mameyuri, thank you for your serenity and grace. Drawing you both has been pure joy.
Update: May 2016. I have made two more drawings from this photo session. These are from photos which Lucy took. Even though they are blurry (especially the first one) I like them very much and they have made lovely small drawings.
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